With Ballistic Missile Defenses, There’s a Secret to Success

John LaForge

Having attracted over $200 billion since 1983, the corporate boondoggle known as Star Wars, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), or just Missile Defense is finally celebrating a “successful” test. On May 31, 2017 the Pentagon claimed that on it hit a missile shot from the Pacific with a missile shot from California.  

The veracity of the claim is impossible to confirm because, as always, the military did not provide details. Actual success is highly unlikely. Since 2002, the Pentagon has been allowed to keep secret all key test information, including flight test data on all its BMD experiments.

The military’s blanket classification of these testing results was imposed in the face of highly embarrassing scientific evidence of test fakery, and two years after the FBI began an investigation into fraud and cover-up inside the program.   Nukewatch asked Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapon & Nuclear Power in Space if the secrecy rules are still in place. In an email Gagnon wrote: “Sure they are. Many of the tests are scripted, what [City University of New York physicist Dr.] Michio Kaku calls ‘strap down rabbit tests.’ They can’t afford to release [details]. It would sink their boat.”  

Secrecy could be the only thing successful in the BMD program. It’s been savaged, except in the federal budget, by independent and government scientists for over 26 years. In 1997, Professor Gordon Mitchell of Univ. of Pittsburgh blasted “secrecy and misinformation on missile defense research,” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, arguing that the “shackles of secrecy and classification” should be removed so that scientific peer review could protect taxpayers from fraud. Mitchell wrote: “Given the lack of grave or immediate ballistic missile threat to the US … BMD research data should be presumptively public, not born secret.” One program centers on a rocket known as Standard Missile 3 or SM-3, which the Pentagon claimed in 2010 had succeeded in 84% of its tests. But Dr. Theodore Postol, an MIT physicist, and George Lewis, a Cornell physicist, studied the military’s data and reported that only 10 to 20 percent of the tests worked. “The system … will intercept warheads only by accident, if ever,” Postol told the New York Times May 18, 2010.  

Postol has been exposing corruption in the scandal-ridden missile industry since the 1991 US war on Iraq. Back then, he proved that not one Patriot air defense rocket stopped a Scud missile. The Pentagon had claimed then the Patriot’s success rate was 80% in Saudi Arabia and 50% in Israel.   Calling the program “delusional,” Postol, Lewis, Kaku, Mitchell, Gagnon and other long-standing critics remind taxpayers that any enemy sophisticated enough to field intercontinental ballistic missiles will produce decoys and other means confounding defenses. Laura Grego, a physicist with Union of Concerned Scientists, lampooned the Pentagon’s claim of a May 30 success, blogging that the military could honestly say that the test had actually worked only in the presence of real countermeasures like decoy warheads. In 2012, the National Research Council, the nation’s preeminent group of scientists, issued a 260-page report critical of the program, saying current enemy “countermeasures” make the anti-missile system unworkable. The report also called a planned $28 billion group of satellites used to track enemy warheads “unneeded.”  

Time nailed the military’s fundamental reason for secrecy with its July 10, 2000 headline: “Missile Impossible: This week’s $100 million test of the space shield is all but fixed.” In June that year, 53 House Democrats asked the FBI to investigate the anti-missile program for “serious allegation of fraud and cover up.” The bureau later looked into allegations that the giant military contractor TRW committed fraud and a cover-up while developing a key component of BMD system.   For a more detailed look at anti-ballistic embezzlement, ask Nukewatch for its Special Report, “Missile Defense Fraud Goes Ballistic.”