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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 41, November 1999

Pentagon Panel Urges National Missile Defence Delay

Editor's note: The Clinton Administration is due to make a decision in July 2000 on whether to go ahead and deploy its planned NMD system. The Pentagon will assess technical readiness in a Deployment Readiness Review (DRR) to be conducted in June 2000.

A panel of independent missile defence experts appointed by the Pentagon and led by Gen. Larry Welch, USAF (ret.), issued a highly critical report on NMD on November 19. The panel have been involved in missile defence and other Pentagon programmes for many years and have strong backgrounds in testing and developing new weapons systems. The Welch Report recommends delaying a deployment decision from 2000 to 2003. The report came to a number of conclusions summarised below:

1. Postpone the deployment decision scheduled for 2000: "Consider DRR event as a system development feasibility review rather than a deployment readiness review." … "The NMD program is not structured to produce confidence, by the DRR date [summer of 2000], that the full suite of essential elements will be ready for deployment as planned."

2. A deployment readiness decision should not be made until 2003 at the earliest: "The fact that the system configuration is not fixed until 2001 and the operational version of the EKV [Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle] will not be tested until FY2003 lead the panel to conclude that the DRR should more properly be considered a Deployment Feasibility Review under the restructured program… The demonstration of readiness to deploy will not come until 2003 at the earliest, when the integrated GBI [ground-based interceptor] is to be demonstrated."

3. The 2000 deployment decision should slip: "The top program risks identified by the LSI [Boeing, the Lead System Integrator] are dominated by schedule concerns -- reinforcing our conclusion that further compression of events leading to the DRR must be avoided. Instead, the panel recommends slipping the DRR date to accommodate any further delays in key events leading up to the DRR."

4. Managers of the programme are over-optimistic: "The panel believes there is a legacy of over-optimism about the state of progress in developing reliable HTK [hit-to-kill] performance…"

5. Too much "concurrency" - the process of moving into production and deployment while testing is incomplete: "High concurrency exists in the requirements, program definition, and system engineering planning-driven by the DRR date. RECOMMENDATION: Recognize that the first DRR milestone is a deployment feasibility milestone since the decision process is phased over decision milestones through 2003."

6. Fragmentation and confusion about authority in the programme: "As noted in this report, instead of unusual clarity, there is unusual fragmentation and confusion about authority and responsibility."

7. Problems at Raytheon facility: "The visit to the Raytheon facility in Tucson highlighted the impacts of the 'hardware-poor' nature of the EKV program. There were no spares, no development articles, and no articles available for parallel activities that could significantly reduce development and test risk. The first article built appears to be the one that will fly… the lack of spare hardware is driving flight test delays."

8. It will not be known if the interceptor can withstand launch shock until 2003: "One of the highest EKV risk areas is its ability to withstand the environmental loads of the new booster that will fly on IFT-7 [integrated flight test] . . .We are not certain that the EKV will be able to withstand these loads, and we will not know with any degree of certainty until IFT-13, the flight on which the EKV and new booster are first mated together. This flight is planned for 2003."

The Review Group Members were Gen. Larry Welch, USAF (ret.), Chair Charles Adolph, Dr. Penrose Albright, Lt. Gen. Aloysius Casey, USAF (ret.), Dr. Charles Cook, Edgar Cortright, MG Eugene Fox, USA (ret.), Michael Fossier, LGEN Donald Lionetti, USA (ret.), RADM Wayne Meyer, USN (ret.), Robert Pedraglia, and Dr. Maile E. Smith.

Source: Further information is available at the Council for a Livable World website at http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/index.html and the full text of the Welch report is on the BMDO web site at http://www.acq.osd.mil/bmdo/bmdolink/pdf/welch.pdf

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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