June 9, 2000


Washington, D.C. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

"On May 11, Mr. Ted Postol, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote to a number of Clinton administration officials claiming to have discovered evidence that the National Missile Defense system now being tested will be easily defeated by simple countermeasures, that the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's own data proved this, and that BMDO and its contractors conspired to hide this information by tampering with flight test data. Mr. Postol also claimed that BMDO had altered the National Missile Defense flight test program in order to hide the truths he claimed to have discovered.

Mr. Postol says he discovered the fatal weakness in the NMD system after studying BMDO data from Integrated Flight Test 1A, which was conducted in June, 1997, and was a test of a prototype kill vehicle built by the Boeing Company for the NMD interceptor missile. The test was not an attempt to destroy the target, but only to understand the seeker's performance. It was intended specifically to understand how well the infrared sensor on the kill vehicle performed, compared to expectations, when it encountered a target warhead and a number of decoys and other penetration aids.

Mr. Postol contends that the results of Flight Test 1A showed that the NMD kill vehicle could not distinguish between a simple balloon decoy and an actual warhead, and that the entire test program, beginning with Integrated Flight Test 2, was restructured using far simpler targets to cover up this deficiency in the capacity of the vehicle to operate properly.

This contention by Mr. Postol is just not true. The facts are that Flight Test 1A involved a kill vehicle built by the Boeing Company. Flight Test 2 was conducted with a kill vehicle built by Raytheon, and used exactly the same target complex as Flight Test 1A, contrary to Mr. Postol's claims. Simpler targets were used in Flight Tests 3 and 4 because these tests had different objectives. Flight tests 1A and 2 were intended to characterize the performance of the competing seekers; Flight Test 3 was the first attempt to intercept and destroy a target warhead. Just as testing of any new aircraft begins with a taxi test, then a simple takeoff and landing, the first NMD intercept testing began with a single warhead accompanied by a balloon decoy. Subsequent tests will become progressively more difficult, an approach which follows the recommendations of a panel of experts headed by retired Air Force Chief of Staff Larry Welch. In fact, the Welch panel recommended that the Defense Department attempt its first intercept without countermeasures of any kind, in order to begin the testing as simply as possible, but BMDO believed it was worth the risk to attempt a more complicated test.

Mr. Postol appears to be unaware that the Boeing kill vehicle is no longer being used in the flight test program. The competing kill vehicle built by Raytheon, which has independently developed software, was selected for the NMD system and has been used in every test since Flight Test -1A.

Mr. Postol claims to have discovered in the data from Flight Test -1A that - and I quote - "the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) will be defeated by the simplest of balloon decoys." The fact is that in Flight Test-3, on October 2, 1999, exactly the opposite happened, when the EKV disregarded a balloon decoy and successfully destroyed its target.

This isn't the first time Mr. Postol has been notoriously wrong about our missile defense program. In 1994, when the United States was preparing to conduct the first flight test of its Theater High Altitude Area Defense - or THAAD - system, he and some of his colleagues at MIT, in an article in Arms Control Today, claimed to have demonstrated that theater missile defenses like THAAD would - and I quote - "almost certainly have significant capabilities against strategic RVs [reentry vehicles]" and that any agreement permitting such capabilities would - I quote - "significantly erode the ability of the ABM Treaty to control strategic defenses by allowing systems that could defend areas of tens of thousands of square kilometers."

As it turns out, in spite of that suggestion by Mr. Postol and his colleagues at MIT, even the government of Russia never complained about THAAD or similar systems which Mr. Postol said would so upset the strategic balance. And when other technical experts challenged his conclusions, Mr. Postol adopted the tactics of questioning the competence and integrity of his critics. A technical team under contract to the Defense Department reviewed Mr. Postol's THAAD findings and found they contained errors. Mr. Postol's response was to write a series of letters to government officials, accusing the technical team whose findings differed from his of "spreading false and misleading information" that "impugns the scholarly reputation of myself and my colleagues." He accused the general officer heading the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization of mismanagement and of "providing false information to members of the Russian Duma" in an attempt to - in his words - "influence the Russian debate through subterfuge." Mr. Postol demanded that the Defense Department retract its study and issue a letter acknowledging its errors. DoD did not do this because they were right all along and it was Postol and his MIT colleagues who were wrong again.

Two years later, in 1996, Postol's campaign against missile defenses had taken a new approach. In addition to arguing that systems like THAAD would undermine the Russian strategic deterrent, Postol argued that they would be easily defeated by countermeasures. He said in effect that the TMD systems the U.S. was developing were so good that they would threaten the Russian strategic force and at the same time so bad that they could be easily defeated by even the simplest of countermeasures. Both those claims could not be true.

Nonetheless, Mr. Postol continued to promote this argument, and created detailed drawings illustrating how an aspiring missile power might go about deploying countermeasures to U.S. missile defense systems. These ideas were elaborated in an 80 page document which Mr. Postol distributed widely and which was eventually made available on the Internet, so that anyone - including those who would benefit most from measures that could defeat U.S. weapon systems - could obtain it.

The claim that Theater Missile Defenses would both threaten deterrence and at the same time be overwhelmed by simple countermeasures is now being made by Postol and his colleagues at MIT on the subject of the National Missile Defense program. He is arguing that any nation which can build a long-range ballistic missile can necessarily build in measures that will allow it to penetrate missile defenses. At the same time, these concerned scientists believe, or say they believe, that deployment of a limited NMD system - even though they believe they can scientifically prove it will not work - will cause Russia to maintain higher force levels and China to conduct a strategic buildup. All of this is contained in an elaborate, glossy, 175-page document which Mr. Postol and his colleagues have distributed widely.

It is relatively easy to conceive of devices that are theoretically possible using scientific principles. The best science fiction employs just such an approach. But it is another thing altogether to transform those concepts from the realm of ideas into hardware. Actually engineering a complex device like a weapon system is far different from merely imagining it. For every idea that is transformed into hardware and subjected to the real world's trials, many others, thought up by smart people with Ph.D.s from the best universities, are discarded as impractical. Countermeasures are no less subject to this reality than are the weapon systems they are intended to frustrate. Imagining is one thing; designing, building and testing is quite another.

And, countermeasures aren't free. Every countermeasure which someone attempts to put on a ballistic missile costs real money. Countermeasures also consume weight and space, which means lowered performance or less payload. Countermeasures introduce complexity, which means more things can go wrong and engineers must spend more time trying to ensure they go right. Engineers trying to perfect countermeasures are diverted from other activities they could be working on, such as extending a missile's range or improving its reliability. In short, successful pursuit of countermeasures means sacrificing something else, and some may not choose to make that sacrifice.

Countermeasures are an issue that must be taken seriously by the designers of our missile defense systems. And, fortunately, they are. Whether the weapon is an artillery piece or a ballistic missile, it will have to confront efforts to counter it. In fact, missile defense is itself a countermeasure to the ballistic missile. Missile defense should not be abandoned because of the probability that someone will attempt to develop a countermeasure. The talented men and women of our National Missile Defense program - who are operating in the real world in which ideas must be translated into hardware that works - are anticipating and preparing for countermeasures. This is a point that has apparently been lost on Mr. Postol and his concerned colleagues, who would have us believe that new capabilities materialize because they can imagine them.

I believe we are going to see more not less criticism as we move forward to implement the provisions of the National Missile Defense Act, Public Law 106-38, and begin to deploy our national missile defense system. Some of the critics have impressive academic credentials. Fortunately, however, people who are impressive experts in the design and construction of our modern weapon systems, including BMD systems, are working hard to carry out the mandates of our government to build missile defense systems that will protect our Nation and all American citizens.

An interesting article on missile defenses entitled "By Winding Stair," written by Mr. John O'Sullivan, appeared in the June 5 issue of National Review.

I ask unanimous consent that this article be printed in the Record."