Two serious technical flaws have been identified in the ground-launched anti-missile interceptors that the United States would rely on to defend against a nuclear attack by North Korea.That is, fixing the defects that make these missiles unreliable would interfere with the purchase of more missiles that don't work.And we are collecting a whole bunch of them.
Pentagon officials were informed of the problems as recently as last summer but decided to postpone corrective action. They told federal auditors that acting immediately to fix the defects would interfere with the production of new interceptors and slow a planned expansion of the nation's homeland missile defense system, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.[my bodling]
As a result, all 33 interceptors now deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County and Ft. Greely, Alaska, have one of the defects. Ten of those interceptors — plus eight being prepared for delivery this year — have both.
Summing up the effect on missile-defense readiness, the GAO report said that "the fielded interceptors are susceptible to experiencing … failure modes," resulting in "an interceptor fleet that may not work as intended."
The flaws could disrupt sensitive on-board systems that are supposed to steer the interceptors into enemy missiles in space.
The GAO report, an annual assessment of missile defense programs prepared for congressional committees, describes the problems in terse, technical terms. Defense specialists interviewed by The Times provided more detail.
The interceptors form the heart of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, GMD for short. Four of the massive, three-stage rockets are stationed at Vandenberg and 29 at Ft. Greely.
They would rise out of underground silos in response to an attack. Atop each interceptor is a 5-foot-long "kill vehicle," designed to separate from its boost rocket in space, fly independently at a speed of 4 miles per second and crash into an enemy warhead — a feat that has been likened to hitting one bullet with another.The second defect involves the 'divert thruster'.
The GMD system was deployed in 2004 as part of the nation's response to Sept. 11, 2001, and a heightened fear of attack by terrorist groups or rogue states. It has cost taxpayers more than $40 billion so far and has been plagued by technical deficiencies.
One of the newly disclosed shortcomings centers on wiring harnesses embedded within the kill vehicles' dense labyrinth of electronics.
A supplier used an unsuitable soldering material to assemble harnesses in at least 10 interceptors deployed in 2009 and 2010 and still part of the fleet.
The same material was used in the eight interceptors that will be placed in silos this year, according to GAO analyst Cristina Chaplain, lead author of the report.
The GAO report refers to "performance issues" with the thrusters. It offers few details, and GAO auditors declined to elaborate, citing a fear of revealing classified information. They did say that the problem is different from an earlier concern that the thruster's heavy vibrations could throw off the kill vehicle's guidance system.
The report and interviews with defense specialists make clear that problems with the divert thruster have bedeviled the interceptor fleet for years. To address deficiencies in the original version, Pentagon contractors created a redesigned "alternate divert thruster."
Long story short: the DOD decided to continue to purchase equipment it already knew wouldn't work. Write your own explanation, but be sure to include the phrase: 'military industrial complex' and for bonus points: 'security theatre'.
The government planned to install the new version in many of the currently deployed interceptors over the next few years and to retrofit newly manufactured interceptors, according to the GAO report and interviews with its authors.
That plan was scrapped after the alternate thruster, in November 2013, failed a crucial ground test to determine whether it could withstand the stresses of flight, the report said. To stay on track for expanding the fleet, senior Pentagon officials decided to keep building interceptors with the original, deficient thruster.