New missile defense sites would throw good money after bad

Wilbert McClay’s Sept. 12 letter “Missile defense system may be best hedge against nuclear Iran” mischaracterized what the recent ground-based missile defense test revealed about this system.

This summer’s test was the first success in three attempts for the current version of the GMD interceptor. A 33 percent success rate is a poor basis for expanding the missile defense system.

The current interceptor’s first test, in 2010, reportedly failed because of ongoing quality-control problems in manufacturing. The second test failure, a year later, revealed a design flaw that requires repairs to 10 interceptors that were put in silos before their design was even tested.


Overall, the Missile Defense Agency has staged only nine GMD intercept tests since it fielded a rudimentary system in 2004. Interceptors destroyed an incoming warhead in only three of them.

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These failures shouldn’t come as a surprise. The system’s rushed development schedule and reduced congressional oversight abetted numerous engineering failures and cost overruns.

Missile defense industry contractors also must shoulder some of the blame. This month, the Defense Department’s inspector general issued a report criticizing them for substandard quality control.

Building a new missile defense site in the Midwest or, as McClay recommends, on the East Coast would be throwing good money after bad. Missile Defense Agency officials would rather spend that money on improving what we have. Taxpayers should demand accountability, not another site for an unproven system.

Laura Grego

Senior scientist

Union of Concerned Scientists