A Brief History of Ballistic Missile Defense

Joseph Cirincione, Senior Associate

Adapted from "The Persistence of the Missile Defense Illusion," presented at a conference in Como, Italy, 2-4 July 1998

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The Early History of Ballistic Missile Defense

    The earliest recorded use of powered missiles in warfare was in 1232 at the military siege of Kaifeng, former capital of the Chinese province of Henan, in which rockets were used to set fire to tents and wicker-work fortifications. European technology developed these rockets into larger and longer-range weapons. In 1807, for example, Copenhagen and a large French fleet in its harbor were almost totally destroyed by a British naval attack using thousands of iron rockets. The national anthem of the United States reflects the common use of these weapons in naval battles in the 17th and 18th centuries, when Francis Scott Key saw the American flag "by the rocket’s red glare."

    The first true ballistic missile—one that has a brief period of powered flight, continues on a ballistic trajectory outside the atmosphere, then curves back to an impact point on earth—was developed at the end of World War II. Serious efforts to find a defense against ballistic missiles began shortly after the first German V-2 slammed into London, without success. Overall, the United States has spent more than $100 billion (in current dollars) in the pursuit of missile defense since the mid-1950s (plus $17 billion on the Patriot system, developed separately by the Army as an anti-aircraft system.) The United States remains the only nation devoting a significant portion of its national defense budget to missile defense.

    President Eisenhower began the search for a defense to these missiles when he authorized the operational development of a nuclear-tipped interceptor missile, Nike-Zeus, and commissioned Project Defender to develop components for a nationwide ballistic missile defense system. In the late 1960s, President Richard Nixon approved the deployment of the Safeguard Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) system, in response to the Soviet development of an ABM system around Moscow. Although many in Congress were concerned that the system would be ineffective, vulnerable to attack, and easily overwhelmed, it was approved in order not to undermine America’s negotiating position in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

    In 1972, the Soviet Union and the United States announced the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT 1) as well as an agreement limiting defensive systems--the ABM Treaty. Both nations agreed "that effective measures to limit anti-ballistic missile systems would lead to a decrease in the risk of outbreak of war involving nuclear weapons." In attaining both of these agreements at the same time, the negotiators intended to insure strategic stability by stopping large scale deployment of strategic defensive systems while attempting to limit offensive forces.

    The broad purpose of the ABM Treaty is to prevent either party from fielding a nationwide ballistic missile defense of its territory. The Treaty prohibits the development, testing or deployment of sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based ABM systems, as well as components based on advanced physical principles (Article V and Agreed Statement D). The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency notes the ABM Treaty is designed to "decrease the pressures of technological change and its unsettling impact on the strategic balance."

    The proven logic behind the prohibition against a nationwide defense is that an arms race in strategic defense systems fosters the proliferation of offensive missiles and the development of countermeasures to defeat the defense.

    The ABM Treaty permitted a limited deployment of defenses. Russia for years maintained today a site of 100 nuclear-tipped interceptors around Moscow. Administration officials have always been confident that United States missiles could penetrate and overwhelm this defense. If the Soviets had deployed more advanced or proliferated defenses, the United States would surely have deployed more advanced devices to ensure the continued capability to penetrate. Russian officials recently indicated that they have recently taken all nuclear warheads off the Moscow ABM interceptors.

    In the Administration of President Gerald Ford, officials and military advisors determined that defenses permitted us under the Treaty were not worth maintaining since they could easily be penetrated by Soviet ballistic missiles. As a panel of the George C. Marshall Institute (proponents of deploying a space-based defensive system) noted during the Star Wars debates of the late-1980s, the problems with the 1970s defensive systems were that "a 'ground-based' defense is readily overwhelmed" and that the fixed, ground-based radars on which the system depends are 'easily targeted by the Soviets and vulnerable to destruction in a surprise attack." Ultimately, although the Safeguard system was deployed, it was operational for only a few months in the mid-1970s, and then shut down as obsolete.
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The Modern Era of BMD Research

    Under President Jimmy Carter, the United States continued an active research program into strategic defenses, averaging just under $1 billion per year. At the beginning of the Reagan Administration, the consensus in the defense community was that ballistic missile defenses could not be militarily effective. Some, however, disagreed and promoted two systems — High Frontier and space-based lasers — each considered by the Reagan Administration and rejected before the President's surprise "Star Wars" speech of March 23, 1983.

High Frontier

    Retired General Daniel Graham promised that by using "off-the-shelf" technology the United States could build a network of several hundred satellites carrying rocket interceptors that would defeat any Soviet attack. He claimed the U.S. could launch this system for some tens of billions of dollars. This plan met with nearly universal rejection by defense analysts. In November 1982, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger wrote Graham,


"Although we appreciate your optimism that ‘technicians will find the way and quickly’ we are unwilling to commit this nation to a course which calls for growing into a capability that does not currently exist....While there are many instances in history where technology has developed more quickly than the experts predicted, there are equally as many cases where technology developed more slowly."

Weinberger based his view, in part, on an Air Force Space Division analysis that had concluded High Frontier "has no technical merit and should be rejected... No alternate configuration supported a favorable conclusion." Another Defense Department analysis stated, "It is the unanimous opinion of the Air Force technical community that the High Frontier proposals are unrealistic regarding state of technology, cost and schedule."

Lasers in Space

    Another possible defensive system, space-based lasers, was also found to be unpromising. In 1981, the Department of Defense's Science Board concluded unanimously:


"It is too soon to attempt to accelerate space-based laser development towards integrated space demonstration for any mission, particularly ballistic missile defense."

On March 23, 1983, the day of President Reagan's speech, Air Force officials were on Capitol Hill testifying about the space laser programs they ran. General Donald L. Lamberson told the Senate that he could not recommend an acceleration of the space-based laser program on technical grounds "at this point in time." General Bernard Randolph told the House of Representatives that a laser weapon system would require many megawatts of power, would need a precision mirror much larger than any yet manufactured, would weigh 150,000 pounds, and would cost "many, many billions of dollars." He explained that "to point the system at a target would be like pointing from the Washington Monument to a baseball on the top of the Empire State Building and hold it there while both of you are moving.... I view the whole thing with a fair amount of trepidation."

The President's Vision

    That night, President Reagan made his speech, asking:


"What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?"

President Reagan called on the scientific community "to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." The President said he was directing "a long term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles." He said, "It will take years, probably decades, of effort on many fronts."

    Congress responded to the President's vision—continued by President Bush—appropriating over $44 billion between 1983 and 1993 for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The annual budget for ballistic missile defense research quadrupled, from $991 million in 1983 to a peak of $4 billion in FY 1988.

    Throughout Reagan years, the President's personal sponsorship and persistence propelled the SDI program through Congress far beyond its technical and strategic merits. The President kept his vision alive with repeated references to his hope that SDI could, as he told a 1986 high school graduating class, "put in space a shield that missiles could not penetrate—a shield that could protect us from nuclear missiles just as a roof protects a family from rain."

    During those years, the SDI program produced technological advances in some areas, such as sensors, miniaturization, and lasers. In the summer of 1987, the SDI Organization presented to the Department of Defense's Acquisition Board a plan to move from research to the "phased" deployment of strategic defenses. SDI officials advocated the development of a "Strategic Defense System." The Department of Defense approved the new plan, despite the sharp warnings of its own Defense Science Board, which said "there is presently no way of confidently assessing" the system's price or its effectiveness.

    The primary mission of Phase I of this system, which was to be deployed in the 1990s, was protecting only nuclear forces and key command centers. The lowered goal now was to "reduce Soviet confidence in the military utility of its ballistic missile force" and to "complicate Soviet attack plans." As SDI officials explained in a 1988 report to Congress:


"These first phases could severely restrict Soviet attack timing by denying them cross-targeting flexibility, imposing launching window constraints, and confounding weapon-to-target assignments, particularly of their hard-target kill capable weapons."

The centerpiece of Phase I was the space-based interceptor, much like BAMBI and High Frontier. Phase I was to have- also include ground-based interceptors; ground- and space-based sensors to detect, track, and target Soviet missiles; and a command, control, and communications network to manage the battle.

Technical Analysis

    The major technical problems that remain unresolved and eventually forced the cancellation of these ambitious plans are the same obstacles that have ruled out an effective ballistic missile defense for forty years. The basic problems are:

  • the ability of the enemy to overwhelm a system with offensive missiles;
  • the questionable survivability of space-based weapons;
  • the inability to discriminate among real warheads and hundreds of thousands of decoys;
  • the problem of designing battle management, command, control and communications that could function in a nuclear war; and,
  • low confidence in the ability of the system to work perfectly the first and, perhaps, only time it is ever used.

These problems have been detailed at length in many independent expert studies, including two that played a major role in the Star Wars debates—the 1987 American Physical Society Directed Energy Weapon study and the 1988 Office of Technology Assessment Ballistic Missile Defense study.

    But there are literally hundreds of other major technical problems that would have to be resolved before an effective defense can be deployed. In the long term, new technologies, particularly directed energy weapons, hold out the prospect that some of the problems might be solved in the next century. In the short term, there is little reason for technological optimism.

Protecting Against Accidental Launches

    The technological problems, the exorbitant cost estimates for deploying a system such as SDS (over $250 billion), and the collapsing Soviet threat led to a restructuring of the program. In January 1991, President Bush abandoned plans to protect against a massive Soviet first strike and redirected the program to a "Global Protection Against Accidental Launch System" (G-PALS) to protect the United States, its forward deployed forces, and its allies and friends from limited ballistic missile attack. This policy shift (though not this particular still-expansive system architecture) had been long urged by some influential members of Congress, including then-Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn. He had said as early as 1988 that:


"If carefully redirected, our research efforts could produce options for limited deployments to deal with the frightening possibility of an accidental or unauthorized missile launch.... This should be coupled with a rigorous unilateral review by both sides of their respective fail-safe procedures and safeguards."

However, analysis of proposed ABM Treaty-compliant accidental launch protection options have raised serious technical, strategic, cost and arms control implications. Dr. Theodore Postol, former scientific advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations, has done extensive work in this area, including an analysis for the House Democratic Caucus in 1988 of the first Accidental Launch Protection system.

    Dr. Postol concluded that a limited deployment of 100 missiles, such as the original ERIS system proposed by Lockheed Corporation, might be effective against a small accidental launching, if no penetration aids were used, but the system would have trouble dealing with a launch of more than five missiles. Dr. Postol noted that such a system could not defend the major industrial and population centers of the entire Northeast against a missile launched from a submarine off the coast of the United States. Just what kind of coverage is possible is not clear.

    Many analysts believe that an accidental launch protection system would require interceptor sites on both coasts. Such a multiple-site system might require several new large radars and would be much more expensive than a single site system. It would require an abrogation or amendment of the ABM treaty.

    Most disturbing, this type of system deployed by either country would have a very large capability to target satellites. Dr. Postol noted in 1988,


"Such a system would introduce a qualitatively new scale of ASAT threat to the satellites of other nations. For example, if the U.S. has an ERIS-like defense system with geosynchronous altitude capabilities in place today, it could be-used to launch a simultaneous attack on two thirds of the Soviet Union's satellites. A similar Soviet ERIS-type system, in turn, could simultaneously attack more than ninety percent of U.S. satellites."

If the Russians viewed the limited nation-wide defense as a foot-in-the-door effort to break out of the ABM Treaty or as a partial defense of ICBM fields (a capability noted by several contractors), they could develop methods to overcome it with relative ease. If the U.S. deploys such a system and the Russians do too, then both sides would certainly deploy penetration aids on their missiles. In that case, our ability to even deal effectively with an accidental launch of a single ICBM would be undermined. (The U.S. now has penetration aids on some of its missiles in response to the limited Russian defense around Moscow.)
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The Budget Decline and the Rise of Patriot

    From a peak of $4 billion in 1988, funding dropped to an average of $3 billion per year as technology and interested waned. President Bush’s down-sizing of the program’s mission did not convince Congress to provide funding above that level until 1991. Then, the perceived success of the Patriot missile in the Gulf War was used to boost funding back up to $ 4 billion.

For example, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 21, 1991:


Patriot missiles have demonstrated the technical efficacy and strategic importance of missile defenses. This underscores the future importance of developing and deploying a system for GPALS, to defend against limited missile attacks, whatever their source...Defenses against tactical ballistic missiles work and save lives. The effectiveness of the Patriot system was proved under combat conditions."

SDI Director Henry Cooper told the House Committee on Appropriations on April 17, 1991:


"It is difficult to imagine a better validation of President’s Bush’s redirection of SDI and continued approach to our negotiations with the Soviet Union than the clear lessons of the recent Gulf War."

The SDI Director also told the Government Operation Committee that year:


"Another observation of the Gulf War is that missile defense can ‘work’ well enough to be extraordinarily useful...In the Gulf War, Patriot intercepted 51 to 52 Scuds engaged. This level of effectiveness against a very limited threat would be extremely useful whether the offensive missiles were armed with conventional warheads or weapons of mass destruction."

Israeli officials and experts agree that the Patriot failed in its military mission. The only debate in Israel is whether the Patriot hit one or none of the Scuds it attempted to intercept. Israeli officials tracked each Scud to the ground and thus had the craters to prove that the initial claims of intercept success were false.

    In the United States, confusion over the Patriot’s performance still fuels overly optimistic estimates of the effectiveness of new, proposed defensive systems. Many officials, journalists and experts rely on the Army report on Patriot. The Army evaluation was performed by a small team of nine officials from the Patriot Program Office and related Army offices and others from the prime contractor on the program, the Raytheon Company. On average, between three and nine Raytheon personnel supported the Army in the post-war performance analysis and approximately 12 Raytheon personnel provided support to the Army in Saudi Arabia and Israel in analyzing Patriot performance and operations. The Army paid Raytheon $520,000 to provide analysis of Patriot performance in the war. Still, this report remains the only official government assessment ever conducted on the Patriot’s performance.

    As a result of Congressional investigations into the performance of the Patriot, the Army revised its claims in 1992. The Army now reports that during Desert Storm, 88 Scuds were launched by Iraq. The first 12 were launched at Israel prior to the deployment of Patriot units in that country. Of the remaining 76 Scuds, somewhat less than 45 were actually engaged by Patriots.

A total of 158 Patriot missiles were fired during the war:


86 Patriots were launched at Scud targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel

30% of the Patriots were launched as Scud debris mistaken for targets

15% of the Patriots were launched against false targets caused by radar backlobe and sidelobe interference (including one launched by accident in Turkey.)

The Army claims, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Patriot Missile system destroyed 52 percent of the Scuds.

    The General Accounting Office does not share that confidence. Independent review of the evidence in support of the Army claims reveals that, using the Army’s own methodology and evidence, a strong case can be made that Patriots hit only 9 percent of the Scud warheads engaged, and there are serious questions about these few hits. (GAO Report: "Operation Desert Storm: Data Does Not Exist to Conclusively Say How Well Patriot Performed, " September 1992, NSIAD 920340) The speed of the Scuds, the limitations of the Patriot missile system, and the confusion and targeting difficulties caused by the break-up of the Scud missile as it re-entered the atmosphere seem to have contributed to the high failure rate.
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Appendix I: Countries Possessing Ballistic Missiles

Appendix II: Ballistic Missile Defense Program Descriptions 

Current Budgets and Plans

In 1993, President Clinton reduced the missile defense budget to under $3 billion and changed the name "Strategic Defense Initiative Organization" to the "Ballistic Missile Defense Organization" (BMDO), while leaving program personnel largely unchanged. President Clinton also reversed the program's funding priorities to favor spending on theater ballistic missile defenses over national missile defense system. In so doing, he followed previous congressional preferences. Congress first voiced their preference for theater ballistic missile defenses by enacting the Missile Defense Act of 1991, which stated that it is:


"...a goal of the United States to provide highly effective theater missile defenses to forward deployed and expeditionary elements of the armed forces of the United States and to friends and allies of the United States."

By 1994, funding for national missile defense was relegated to only research programs, with total funding in the low hundreds of millions of dollars. Since the Republican Party assumed control of Congress in 1995, however, the Congress has consistently added funds to the Administration's request.

In July 1999, the President signed the Missile Defense Act of 1999, which made it U.S. policy to deploy NMD "as soon as it is technologically plausible." The bill included two compromise amendments. One amendment assures that Congress will play a part in determining the system's costs, and the other states that the system must be consistent with policies to reduce Russia's nuclear stockpiles. As he signed the legislation, President Clinton stated that the final decision would be made only after careful consideration as to how the system "would affect our objectives with regard to achieving further reductions in strategic and nuclear arms under START II and START III."

This year, as part of the $305.4 billion total defense budget requested for Fiscal Year 2001, the Defense Department has requested $4.7 billion (1.5% of DoD's total spending request of $291.1 billion) for all the programs of BMDO. The Pentagon has included $4.5 billion for missile defense. The request for National Missile Defense is $1.9 billion. For the first time since the Clinton Administration took office, proposed spending on National Missile Defense has exceeded the amount proposed for theater missile defense.

DoD's $4.7 billion budget for Missile Defense programs in FY2001 breaks down as follows:


BMDO: $4.5 billion

$1.9 billion for National Missile Defense (43%):


$1.7 billion for continued system development
$101 million for military construction
$74 million for procurement of long-lead items like sensor components.
*non-development funds are contingent on the President's decision this summer to deploy NMD by FY-05.

$1.7 billion for Theater Missile Defense (38%):


$900 million for Upper Tier
$550 million for the Army's THAAD
$382 million for the Navy's theater-wide (NTW) program
$720 million for Lower Tier:


$274 million for Navy's Air Defense program's EMD (area-wide) phase
$447 million for the Army's Patriot PAC-3 program:


- $81 million set aside for EMD
- $365 million for low-rate initial production of the interceptor

$231.2 million for TMD "family of systems" interoperability (5%)
$205.5 million for support technology and applied research (5%)
$272.6 million for BMD technical operations (6%):


$144.4 million for threats and countermeasures efforts, international cooperative programs and BMDO's relocation costs (3%)
$117 million for international cooperative programs:


- $73.6 million for Israel's Arrow program
- $43 million for Russian-American Observational Satellite (RAMOS) program (contingent on a pending political decision.)

Additional DoD missile defense programs:


$63 million for the U.S.-German-Italian Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS)
$149 million for the Airborne Laser program
$75 million for the Air Force's Space-Based Laser program

The Pentagon also recently added $2.3 billion for National Missile Defense deployment over the next five years, bringing the total over that period to $12.7 billion -- with an anticipated deployment decision scheduled this summer.

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Program Descriptions

National Missile Defense

The NMD system consists of space and ground-based sensors, ground-based interceptors, and associated Battle Management Command, Control, and Communications capability. The program included logistics, readiness, and support operations. The revised program structure will develop, demonstrate and prepare for deploying an Initial Operating Capability (C1) in FY 2005. This would comprise an effective system capable of defending against a limited number of threats from a rogue nation. A deployment decision has been scheduled for June 2000, and will be based on the extent of the threat and the maturity of the technology as demonstrated in development and testing. Key decisions are phased to occur after critical integrated flight tests. The DoD added resources in response to the Welsh Panel study citing high-risk in the prior NMD schedule. Resources have also been programmed to expand capabilities beyond the initial NMD Capability-1 (C1) to meet the expected threat, including funding for additional interceptors by the end of FY 2007, an upgraded X-band Radar, upgrading five Early Warning Radar facilities, and a larger weapon system complex.

Theater Missile Defense

When deployed, TMD defense systems should provide U.S. forces overseas with a defensive capability against a broad spectrum of short and longer-range theater-class ballistic missiles.

Upper-Tier Programs:

Upper-Tier programs have been restructured by the DoD to identify two distinct program elements (net zero sum adjustment). Additionally, The DoD increased funding for Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Navy Theater Wide (NTW) programs. A single Upper-Tier Program element (PE) has been established to foster competition between THAAD and NTW in the hope of achieving a quicker and more efficient First Unit Equipped (FUE) by FY07. At that point, the leader of the two programs would receive the majority of the funding and thus would move at an accelerated pace.

THAAD is a land-based, air-transportable system that will fulfill user requirements for the capability to intercept and destroy medium to long-range theater ballistic missile threats. The system has an expanded coverage capability that will enable the defense of larger areas and population centers. The current design has an interceptor with a peak speed of about 2.6 kilometers per second, with intercept altitudes above 40 kilometers. The DoD has adopted a phased approach in order to balance and meet fielding objectives with reduced risk. This approach would maintain a FUE for initial configuration (C1) in FY 2007. The C1 capability would meet key performance parameters outlined in the Operational Requirements Document while deferring sophisticated countermeasures and battalion operational software to a FY 2011 deployment.

The NTW program will field a sea-based capability to intercept medium to intermediate range theater ballistic missiles. This system would use the AEGIS phased-array radar and vertical launcher systems deployed on the Navy's AEGIS cruisers and Arleigh Burke class destroyers. The interceptor would probably be a LEAP kill vehicle deployed on a variant of the Navy's Standard anti-aircraft missile, with a peak speed of about 4.5 kilometers per second and a minimum intercept altitude of 80 kilometers. Depending on the location of the ship, NTW will be capable of ascent, midcourse, and terminal phase exoatmospheric intercept of theater ballistic missiles. NTW is currently funded to continue the AEGIS LEAP Interceptor (ALI) test program through F2002, after which funding continues through FY 2005 to support substantial development of the program. At the completion of the ALI testing, the DoD will determine the future course of the NTW program. In addition, the NTW will leverage its development towards Japanese Cooperative efforts.

Lower-Tier Systems:

The so-called lower-tier systems are designed to intercept missiles within the atmosphere and to try to protect relatively small areas, with dimensions of tens of kilometers, and are intended to counter short-range missiles with ranges under 1,000 kilometers. They include:

The PATRIOT system remains a mainstay of lower-tier theater missile defense. It provides a transportable field system to the Army Corps and theater low-tier air and missile defense forces. PAC-3 is a major upgrade of the PAC-2 Patriot missile used in Israel and Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War with little, if any, success. The PAC-3 will provide improved interceptor performance and increased lethality; Improvements include the new hit-to-kill missile, enhanced remote launch, communications, and computer software and radar upgrades to improve tracking and target handling capability. The BMDO began the PAC-3 Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) in FY 2000 after two successful intercepts (March 15 and September 16, 1999).

The actual Patriot missile will be replaced by an entirely new system, the ERINT, which will be much more maneuverable than the original Patriot interceptor and have a hit-to-kill warhead instead of an explosive warhead and proximity fuse. Four ERINT will fit in each of the Patriot launcher canister and be deployed along with PAC-2 Patriots as part of the overall system. An improved "multi-mode" Patriot failed in two out of three intercept tests conducted after the war. The Army found it "operationally unacceptable, "choosing the new ERINT instead. The ERINT will not be fully tested and deployed until 1999.

The Navy Lower Tier (Area-Wide) system is an upgrade to the US Navy's AEGIS radar air defense system and Standard missile to give them anti-TBM and a sea-based lower-tier BMD capabilities. The Navy would like to deploy this system on over 50 AEGIS cruisers and destroyers. The program has a phased development structure with early demonstration of AEGIS theater ballistic missile capability. The BMDO and the Navy are planning for LRIP in FY 2001 provided that there are three successful Block IVA interceptor tests, including two against tactical ballistic missiles (TBM) and one against Anti-Air Warfare (AAW).

Other Missile Defense Systems:

The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) is an entirely new missile defense system. Formerly known as Corps SAM, it is being developed jointly with Germany and Italy. France, an original partner, has dropped out, citing the high cost of the program. MEADS is intended to be a highly mobile defense to protect forces on the battlefield. The higher-tier systems are designed to protect larger areas (hundreds of kilometers) and counter missiles with ranges up to 3,500 kilometers. No nation hostile to the United States currently has such missiles, but this is the threat represented by systems reportedly under development in North Korea. Both the Administration and the Congress favor developing systems to intercept these missiles, with Congress trying to force a faster development and deployment schedule. These systems would attempt to intercept targets above the atmosphere.

International Cooperative Efforts

The DoD added funding to continue cooperative efforts between the United States and Russia, to support the Israel Arrow 3rd Battery program and to continue cooperative efforts with Japan within the NTW program.

Laser Systems

The Airborne Laser (ABL) would attempt to fit a laser into a Boeing 747 for a demonstrated shoot down in 2002. The Air Force proposes to build a fleet of such planes for $1 billion a copy to patrol friendly airspace. The plane would cruise about 13 kilometers above the surface (and most cloud layers). It would attempt to shoot down tactical ballistic missiles in the boost-phase, (the brief period of powered launch), as the missile rises above the clouds. The beam, which travels at the speed of light, will have to dwell on the target for several seconds in order to weaken the 1-3 mm of steel skin of the missiles, triggering either a rupture from the internal pressure of the fuel tanks or a collapse of the missile along the weakened area. Experts estimate the laser would have to be within 320 to 470 kilometers of an Al-Husayn Scud (the 650 km-range missile encountered in the Gulf War) or within 185 to 320 km for a North Korean Nodong-1 missile (with a reported 1000 km range) in order for it to bring its laser beam on target. This would mean that it could not be used to counter a Nodong launched from Iran, as the closest friendly territory (Turkey, Israel or the Gulf) would be out of its range.

The Space-Based Laser would attempt to make real the original cartoon images of the SDI program. At a cost of $1.5 billion, the BMDO hopes to orbit a half-size demonstration satellite in 2005. Based on the Zenith Star program SDI program the so-called "Star Lite" project hopes to build a 17,500-kg laser weapon that can be launched into space atop a Titan IV rocket. It would target missiles in their more vulnerable boost-phase as they rise from the atmosphere. While there have been some advances in mirror technology, miniaturization and beam compensation since cost and technical failures caused the cancellation of the original Zenith Star program in 1993, the space laser may still be decades away. Even if the formidable technical problems can be solved, officials estimate it could cost as much as $100 billion to build, launch and maintain a constellation of laser weapons in space. And, of course, there are countermeasures that could be deployed by determined opponents to thwart such lasers.

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