Yousaf Butt of the Federation of American Scientists attempts yet again to distort facts about the U.S. missile defense program and convince the public that missile defense is a waste of resources. He is wrong.

Butt attempts to give the reader an impression that mounting decoys on the top of ballistic missiles to prevent interceptors from discriminating among the real warhead and other objects in space is a cheap way to overcome one’s missile defense system. While decoys in terms of unit costs might be cheap, it is a very difficult technological problem to mount them on ballistic missile warheads. Additional costs and technological skills are required to miniaturize a nuclear weapon enough to make space for decoys in the reentry vehicle itself.

The Defense Science Board Task Force’s report concludes that the early intercept of ballistic missiles is not a particularly useful goal or protocol for design of a regional BMD system. It states that “the feasibility of achieving the very high regional missile burnout velocity, depending upon siting, far in excess of what has currently been achieved, to provide this [missile defense] benefit over a large portion of the U.S. is uncertain.” However, the Navy already conducted a successful ascent-phase intercept test against a short-range missile with its Standard Missile interceptor in November 2002.

While Butt attempts to convince readers that missile defense does not work, he is not shy of saying that it “will therefore strengthen the hands of overcautious, misinformed, opportunistic or hawkish elements within the Iranian and North Korean—as well as Russian and Chinese—political and military establishments.” He is attempting to assign these states action-reaction dynamic.

Missile defense is considered a reason for more hawkish policy and presumably a larger nuclear buildup. Yet this is inconsistent with any kind of historical experience, because, as Butt himself recognizes, countries have their own motives for a weapons and nuclear weapons buildup. Their motives are often independent of U.S. actions.

Butt goes so far to say that missile defenses are strategically useless. One suspects that is not what the people of Japan and South Korea thought during the most recent North Korean long-range ballistic missile launch. In the current proliferated environment, it does not make sense to make the United States and its allies deliberately vulnerable from a ballistic missile attack.

According to Lowell Wood, former astrophysicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “Just as individuals can burden themselves severely over long intervals with seemingly-minor ‘poor life choices,’ so can nations impair their futures significantly by making poor choices with respect to their means of defense against various threats.”

To avoid and mitigate U.S. missile defense “poor life choices,” the Administration should:

  • Expand and continually improve the Navy’s proven and popular sea-based Aegis missile defense system;
  • Pursue and expand advanced integration of the various components of a layered missile defense system, including ground-based interceptors; and
  • Develop and deploy space-based missile defenses, particularly space-based interceptors, to counter ballistic missile attacks.