The Early Missile Defense Deployment Option: Fort Greely, Alaska, in 2004
Council for a Livable World
July 23, 2001
The Bush Administration has declared its intention to deploy a "rudimentary" national missile defense system at Fort Greely, Alaska, as early as 2004. Work on clearing the site could begin this summer. The first construction that may violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty could begin in the spring of 2002.
While the Administration has justified Fort Greely as a new testing site that also could be turned into an emergency deployment location, there are many questions about the usefulness of Fort Greely for either testing or early deployment.
The first word of this deployment scheme appeared in early July through talking points developed by the National Security Council for circulation to U.S. embassies abroad. The talking points stated, "Deployment of an interim ground-based system could be completed in Alaska as early as 2004 by upgrading existing radar capabilities and emplacing interceptors drawn from test assets."
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz provided more details at a July 12 Senate Armed Services committee hearing. He announced that construction at Fort Greely is scheduled to begin in April 2002 to permit testing "under realistic operational conditions."
At a July 17 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Wolfowitz submitted an information sheet on the Fort Greely site. It said that construction of five silos there will begin "in the spring or early summer" of 2002. The fact sheet also said that two launcher silos will be constructed at Kodiak, Alaska, in the spring/summer of 2003. Both sites are designed for an expanded testing program of the land-based, mid-course interceptor program begun during the Clinton Administration. The large phased-array radar called Cobra Dane at Shemya Island in Alaska will be upgraded as well.
At that July 17 hearing, Wolfowitz spoke of making the investment in the Alaska test bed "convertible to operational capability, if and when we decide to go forward." In response to a question from Sen. Levin, Wolfowitz described the deployment option as "a very rudimentary one." At the same hearing Ballistic Missile Defense Organization director Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish stretched the deployment window to "sometime in the calendar year '04 to '06 . . . because of the nature of the uncertainty that we have."
When Sen. Levin asked Wolfowitz whether "you want the Fort Greely activity to have an operational capability, albeit rudimentary, as soon as possible," Secretary Wolfowitz replied "I think that's a fair statement."
Levin also asked General Kadish if "operational capability is one of the purposes here. Is that not correct?" General Kadish replied affirmatively.
The Administration witnesses conceded that it would take very little to transform Fort Greely from a testing site to a "rudimentary" deployment. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson asked at the July 17 hearing: "Is it a very short shade-of-gray difference from being a testbed to an operational facility?" Wolfowitz replied: "This developmental capability could become, with very little modification, an operational capability."
Later, in response to a question from Florida Senator Bill Nelson, Wolfowitz replied: "It would be essentially a software change to turn it into an operational capability."
Senator Levin asked how difficult it would be to make the software changes. General Kadish replied: "I wouldn't expect the changes to be difficult to implement."
The ease of turning Fort Greely into an early deployment site concerned some Senators. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson anxiously declared at the July 12 hearing: "I certainly don't have any understanding what 'deployment' is, when it starts. I think I'll know when it's over, but I won't know when it's started. And that worries me."
Problems with Fort Greely as a testing site:
While touted as a testing site, the Pentagon concedes that Fort Greely will not be used to fire interceptors from the five silos to be constructed. South Carolina Representative John Spratt pointed out at a July 19 House Armed Services Committee hearing: "You acknowledge that we will not test out of Fort Greely because if you tested out of Fort Greely, you would have to drop stages in the boosters on populated areas in Alaska. So even though it's called a testbed, testing is precluded."
On July 19, Philip Coyle, who served six and a half years as the Pentagon's director of Operational Test and Evaluation, confirmed Spratt's conclusion at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. No testing is expected from Fort Greely "because of nearby populations and caribou and the like." In fact, Coyle pointed out, the missiles at Fort Greely would have to be hauled by truck 500 miles to Kodiak when needed for deployment, missiles that can just as easily be stored at Kodiak.
Coyle listed other drawbacks of the Greely site: "It gets miserably cold there in the winter," so cold that the Army has its cold-regions test center there.
When Sen. Levin asked Coyle whether any testing planned for Fort Greely could be conducted with one silo instead of the planned five, Coyle replied: "Yes sir."
When Levin further asked whether "the testing advantages of what is being proposed for Fort Greely could be achieved . . . at Kodiak," Coyle again responded "yes sir."
In short, Fort Greely cannot be justified as a flight-test facility; its real purpose can only be early deployment disguised as a test program.
Problems with Fort Greely as a deployment site:
On July 19, Coyle provided a definition of effective missile defense deployment in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
"Deployment means the fielding of an operational system with some military utility that is effective under realistic combat conditions, against realistic threats and countermeasures, possibly without adequate prior knowledge of the target cluster composition, timing, trajectory or direction, and when operated by military personnel at all times of the day or night and in all weapons."
The Fort Greely site between 2004 and 2006 does not meet that definition.
Coyle estimated that rather than four years, it will take a decade to produce an effective defense:
"Development of an effective NMD network, even one with only a limited capability to intercept and destroy long-range missiles, will take a decade of more. This is for simple technical and budgetary reasons."
While the Administration is trying to accelerate deployment, Coyle pointed out that on the contrary, the program schedule keeps slipping. He stated that since he testified to the House in September 2000, "NMD fell another six months further behind in its planned testing." He added that the testing of a new two-stage booster eventually to be used for the interceptor has also slipped about six months.
With all the delays, the U.S. will have little basis by 2004 to be confident in the performance of the interceptors. A July 20 Union of Concerned Scientists briefing paper pointed out that operational testing under a variety of realistic conditions will not take place for the land-based midcourse system before 2007-08 at the earliest.
Coyle highlighted one of the contrasts between the rushed missile defense system and previous testing programs. While the Pentagon has just completed the fourth of about 20 planned intercept tests, the Safeguard missile program, the one system that the U.S. deployed in the 1970's, conducted 165 flight tests and the Polaris submarine program 125 flight tests.
Sen. Levin asked Coyle point-blank whether the Fort Greely site would be "effective in shooting down an operational long-range missile." Coyle replied: "If it only had five interceptors, and if it didn't have capability to deal with decoys and counter-measures, which so far we haven't demonstrated any capability to do that, it would not be effective."
Rep. Spratt provided another reason why Fort Greely would be an ineffective defense at the July 19 hearing. "There won't be any X-band radar," a radar planned for the future and needed for a functional intercept program.
Rep. Spratt also pointed out that another key element of an effective defense, SBIRS-low -- low altitude satellites designed to track missiles -- is 10 years away.
Spratt added that proceeding with many new testing programs may wind up meaning: "We may be losing the focus that has accomplished the [July 14] testing success."
After pointing out that there would only be five silos there, Spratt called Fort Greely "kind of a tenuous and terribly thin deployment, and yet it's probably a violation of the ABM Treaty."
Coyle added that the rush to deploy a national system in Alaska is slowing what he called the more critical theater missile defenses: "Debate about National Missile Defense has drowned out the most urgent missile defense need, namely, defending our troops on the battlefield . . . The area and theater missile defense systems have been set back by the pressures to push NMD."
The Union of Concerned Scientists briefing paper defined another flaw in a Fort Greely deployment: an upgraded Cobra Dane radar would be vulnerable to being fooled by even simple decoys. Because Cobra Dane is a fixed radar, the 2004 deployment would be unable to pick up North Korean missiles launched toward Hawaii and have marginal capability to pick up missiles headed toward southern California.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has argued that missile defense does not have to be perfect to be worth deploying. Coyle responded on July 19:
"It is hard to believe than an adversary who is not afraid of nuclear retaliation would refrain from shooting missiles at the United States simply because of a missile shield that only works part time. It is also hard to believe that any U.S. president would be comfortable in taking action that might provoke a missile attack knowing that one or more of the weapons might well hits its target."
The Bush Administration has launched a new offensive; Fort Greely is the warhead aimed at the ABM Treaty. The target is not Russia, China, nor "rogue states" North Korea or Iraq.
After Bush adviser Richard Perle testified on July 19, former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger stated: "I think you heard from Mr. Perle, in perhaps slightly more pure form than you heard from Mr. Wolfowitz, what the objective is here: the principal objective is, get rid of the [ABM] treaty."
Coyle added: "The United States faces a very complex and difficult set of expensive NMD development problems -- problems that abrogating the ABM Treaty will not overcome. Rather than focusing on the red herring of the ABM treaty, the NMD program would do better to concentrate on crafting long-term, affordable approaches to technology development."
This past weekend, the announcement that Presidents Bush and Putin will discuss offensive and defensive weapons provides an opportunity for the two countries to reach an agreement. However, the Bush administration must slow down its rush to test and deploy a national missile defense if the discussions are to succeed.