Damning new report chronicles missile defense slip-ups

Since 2012, Congress has required that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provide an annual assessment of the Missile Defense Agency’s activities. Previous reports haven’t been particularly encouraging of the MDA’s progress, but this year’s report, which was released last week, was especially incriminating.

Noting that the “MDA did not meet its planned goals,” the report states that the MDA only completed 65-70% of its planned deliveries and tests for FY18, chalking it up to “failures, cancellations, and delays.”

The two most troubling sections of the report were the appendices which respectively describe the setbacks of the Aegis Ashore missile defense infrastructure in Europe, intended for regional threats like North Korea and Iran, and the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, intended for homeland protection of the United States.

Last year, the Polish Ministry of Defense announced that the completion of the planned Aegis Ashore site at Redzikowo would be pushed back by two years, to May 2020. The announcement came amid rumors of poor contractor performance, but details were otherwise scarce. The GAO report finally offers more of an explanation, noting that the construction team “has failed to meet schedule milestones from the start of the contract.” In particular, “MDA has found the contractor’s performance is still particularly poor in the areas of construction management, identification, procurement, timely delivery of important materials, and timely hiring of staff with appropriate skills.” According to the MDA, these delays will require at least an additional $90 million of taxpayer money.

Performance and technical failures with the interceptors themselves have caused additional delays. Technical issues with the SM-3 Block IB’s throttleable divert and attitude control system forced the program to suspend its deliveries, thereby missing most of its FY18 delivery targets. Similarly, when the SM-3 Block IIA failed a crucial intercept test (FTM-29) in January 2018, its subsequent testing schedule was subject to disruption and delay.

The most damning section, however, describes the setbacks of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program. The report notes the program’s poor testing record (“less than 50 percent operational realism”), and for the first time provides a distribution breakdown of the different types of kill vehicles.

Nearly half (20/44) of the currently deployed GMD interceptors are fitted with the Capability Enhancement (CE)-I kill vehicle, which has only succeeded in two of its four interceptor tests (the most recent of which took place in 2008). Similarly, over a third of the interceptors are fitted with the CE-II kill vehicle, which also has a 50% testing record. In last year’s report, the GAO noted that the MDA intended to replace the unreliable CE-Is as soon as possible by expediting the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) program. However, this year’s GAO report suggests that the RKV program was accelerated too quickly because of “advancements in the North Korea missile threat.” As a result, “the program accepted too much risk,” causing significant technical delays and costing taxpayers an additional $600 million before eventually being cancelled on May 24th.

Although the MDA’s cancellation of such an expensive and technically deficient program is certainly welcomed, it leaves the GMD program in quite a mess. GMD interceptors only have an initial service life of 20 years, which the twenty currently-deployed CE-Is will reach in the mid-2020s. With nothing scheduled to replace them, the GMD program will lose nearly half of its deployed interceptor arsenal in just over five years. However, given the wasteful, destabilizing, and disastrous nature of the GMD program on the whole, this probably isn’t such a bad thing.

One line in the GAO report serves as a particularly brilliant––and somewhat passive-aggressive––indictment of the entire GMD program: “Our prior work has shown that stabilizing system design before making major production commitments and relying on knowledge rather than deadlines to make acquisition decisions at key milestones are best practices of successful product developers.”


This publication was made possible by generous contributions from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Prospect Hill Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Mixed Messages On Trump’s Missile Defense Review

President Trump personally released the long-overdue Missile Defense Review (MDR) today, and despite the document’s assertion that “Missile Defenses are Stabilizing,” the MDR promotes a posture that is anything but.

Firstly, during his presentation, Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan falsely asserted that the MDR is consistent with the priorities of the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS). The NSS’ missile defense section notes that “Enhanced missile defense is not intended to undermine strategic stability or disrupt longstanding strategic relationships with Russia or China.” (p.8) During Shanahan’s and President Trump’s speeches, however, they made it clear that the United States will seek to detect and destroy “any type of target,” “anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” either “before or after launch.” Coupled with numerous references to Russia’s and China’s evolving missile arsenals and advancements in hypersonic technology, this kind of rhetoric is wholly inconsistent with the MDR’s description of missile defense being directed solely against “rogue states.” It is also inconsistent with the more measured language of the National Security Strategy.

Secondly, the MDR clearly states that the United States “will not accept any limitation or constraint on the development or deployment of missile defense capabilities needed to protect the homeland against rogue missile threats.” This is precisely what concerns Russia and China, who fear a future in which unconstrained and technologically advanced US missile defenses will eventually be capable of disrupting their strategic retaliatory capability and could be used to support an offensive war-fighting posture.

Thirdly, in a move that will only exacerbate these fears, the MDR commits the Missile Defense Agency to test the SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM-class target in 2020. The 2018 NDAA had previously mandated that such a test only take place “if technologically feasible;” it now seems that there is sufficient confidence for the test to take place. However, it is notable that the decision to conduct such a test seems to hinge upon technological capacity and not the changes to the security environment, despite the constraints that Iran (which the SM-3 is supposedly designed to counter) has accepted upon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Fourthly, the MDR indicates that the United States will look into developing and fielding a variety of new capabilities for detecting and intercepting missiles either immediately before or after launch, including:

There exists much hype around the concept of boost-phase intercept—shooting down an adversary missile immediately after launch—because of the missile’s relatively slower velocity and lack of deployable countermeasures at that early stage of the flight. However, an attempt at boost-phase intercept would essentially require advance notice of a missile launch in order to position US interceptors within striking distance. The layer of space-based sensors is presumably intended to alleviate this concern; however, as Laura Grego notes, these sensors would be “easily overwhelmed, easily attacked, and enormously expensive.”

Additionally, boost-phase intercept would require US interceptors to be placed in very close proximity to the target––almost certainly revealing itself to an adversary’s radar network. The interceptor itself would also have to be fast enough to chase down an accelerating missile, which is technologically improbable, even years down the line. A 2012 National Academy of Sciences report puts it very plainly: “Boost-phase missile defense—whether kinetic or directed energy, and whether based on land, sea, air, or in space—is not practical or feasible.” 

Overall, the Trump Administration’s Missile Defense Review offers up a gamut of expensive, ineffective, and destabilizing solutions to problems that missile defense simply cannot solve. The scope of US missile defense should be limited to dealing with errant threats—such as an accidental or limited missile launch—and should not be intended to support a broader war-fighting posture. To that end, the MDR’s argument that “the United States will not accept any limitation or constraint” on its missile defense capabilities will only serve to raise tensions, further stimulate adversarial efforts to outmaneuver or outpace missile defenses, and undermine strategic stability.

During the upcoming spring hearings, Congress will have an important role to play in determining which capabilities are actually necessary in order to enforce a limited missile defense posture, and which ones are superfluous. And for those superfluous capabilities, there should be very strong pushback.

An X reveals a Diamond: locating Israeli Patriot batteries using radar interference

Amid a busy few weeks of nuclear-related news, an Israeli researcher made a very surprising OSINT discovery that flew somewhat under the radar. As explained in a Medium article, Israeli GIS analyst Harel Dan noticed that when he accidentally adjusted the noise levels of the imagery produced from the SENTINEL-1 satellite constellation, a bunch of colored Xs suddenly appeared all over the globe.

SENTINEL-1’s C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) operates at a centre frequency of 5.405 GHz, which conveniently sits within the range of the military frequency used for land, airborne, and naval radar systems (5.250-5.850 GHz)—including the AN/MPQ-53/65 phased array radars that form the backbone of a Patriot battery’s command and control system. Therefore, Harel correctly hypothesized that some of the Xs that appeared in the SENTINEL-1 images could be triggered by interference from Patriot radar systems.

Using this logic, he was able to use the Xs to pinpoint the locations of Patriot batteries in several Middle Eastern countries, including Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Harel’s blog post also noted that several Xs appeared within Israeli territory; however, the corresponding image was redacted (I’ll leave you to guess why), leaving a gap in his survey of Patriot batteries stationed in the Middle East.

This blog post partially fills that gap, while acknowledging that there are some known Patriot sites—both in Israel and elsewhere around the globe—that interestingly don’t produce an X via the SAR imagery.

All of these sites were already known to Israel-watchers and many have appeared in news articles, making Harel’s redaction somewhat unnecessary—especially since the images reveal nothing about operational status or system capabilities.

Looking at the map of Israel through the SENTINEL-1 SAR images, four Xs are clearly visible: one in the Upper Galilee, one in Haifa, one near Tel Aviv, and one in the Negev. All of these Xs correspond to likely Patriot battery sites, which are known in Israel as “Yahalom” (יהלום, meaning “Diamond”) batteries. Let’s go from north to south.

The northernmost site is home to the 138th Battalion’s Yahalom battery at Birya, which made news in July 2018 for successfully intercepting a Syrian Su-24 jet which had reportedly infiltrated two kilometers into Israeli airspace before being shot down. Earlier that month, the Birya battery also successfully intercepted a Syrian UAV which had flown 10 kilometers into Israeli airspace.

The Yahalom battery in the northwest is based on one of the ridges of Mount Carmel, near Haifa’s Stella Maris Monastery. It is located only 50 meters from a residential neighborhood, which has understandably triggered some resentment from nearby residents who have complained that too much ammunition is stored there and that the air sirens are too loud.

The X in the west indicates the location of a Yahalom site at Palmachim air base, south of Tel Aviv, where Israel conducts its missile and satellite launches. In March 2016, the Israeli Air Force launched interceptors as part of a pre-planned missile defense drill, and while the government refused to divulge the location of the battery, an Israeli TV channel reported that the drill was conducted using Patriot missiles fired from Palmachim air base.

Finally, the X in the southeast sits right on top of the Negev Nuclear Research Centre, more commonly known as Dimona. This is the primary facility relating to Israel’s nuclear weapons program and is responsible for plutonium and tritium production. The site is known to be heavily fortified; during the Six Day War, an Israeli fighter jet that had accidentally flown into Dimona’s airspace was shot down by Israeli air defenses and the pilot was killed.

The proximity of the Negev air defense battery to an Israeli nuclear facility is not unique. In fact, the 2002 SIPRI Yearbook suggests that several of the Yahalom batteries identified through SENTINEL-1 SAR imagery are either co-located with or located close to facilities related to Israel’s nuclear weapons program. The Palmachim site is near the Soreq Centre, which is responsible for nuclear weapons research and design, and the Mount Carmel site is near the Yodefat Rafael facility in Haifa—which is associated with the production of Jericho missiles and the assembly of nuclear weapons—and near the base for Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines, which are rumored to be nuclear-capable.

Google Earth’s images of Israel have been intentionally blurred since 1997, due to a US law known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment which prohibits US satellite imagery companies from selling pictures that are “no more detailed or precise than satellite imagery of Israel that is available from commercial sources.” As a result, it is not easy to locate the exact position of the Yahalom batteries; for example, given the number of facilities and the quality of the imagery, the site at Palmachim is particularly challenging to spot.

However, this law is actually being revisited this year and could soon be overturned, which would be a massive boon for Israel-watchers. Until that happens though, Israel will remain blurry and difficult to analyze, making creative OSINT techniques like Harel’s all the more useful.


Sentinel-1 data from 2014 onwards is free to access via Google Earth Engine here, and Harel’s dataset is available here.

BMD Flight Test Schedule Must Be Unclassified

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense classified the schedule of flight tests of ballistic missile defense systems, even though such information had previously been unclassified and publicly disclosed.

Rejecting that move, Congress has now told the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency that the flight test schedule must be unclassified.

A new provision in the FY2019 national defense authorization act (sect. 1681) would “require that MDA make the quarter and fiscal year for execution of planned flight tests unclassified.”

“Together with the release of each integrated master test plan of the Missile Defense Agency, and at the same time as each budget of the President is submitted to Congress…, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency shall make publicly available a version of each such plan that identifies the fiscal year and the fiscal quarter in which events under the plan will occur,” the provision states.

This legislative action will effectively override the classification judgment of the executive branch. That is something that Congress rarely does and that the executive branch regards as an infringement on its authority.

Missile Defense Flight Test Secrecy May Be Reversed

Some members of the House Armed Services Committee want the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency to return to its previous practice of publicly disclosing information about planned flight tests of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems and components.

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense said that information about BMD flight tests, objectives and schedules was now classified, even though such information had routinely been made public in the past. (DOD Classifies Missile Defense Flight Test Plans, Secrecy News, March 5, 2018).

But in their initial markup of the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act, members of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee said that the new secrecy was unacceptable, at least with respect to the test schedule.

They directed that “Together with the release of each integrated master test plan of the Missile Defense Agency, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency shall make publicly available a version of each such plan that identifies the fiscal year and the fiscal quarter in which events under the plan will occur.”

The pending provision would “require that MDA make the quarter and fiscal year for execution of planned flight tests unclassified.” (h/t Kingston Reif)

Aside from the merits of the House language, it represents a noteworthy legislative intervention in national security classification policy.

Under other circumstances, the executive branch might consider it an intolerable infringement on its authority for Congress to require information to be unclassified over and against an agency’s own judgment or preference.

But in the context of the context of the ambitious and contentious defense authorization act — which among other things would establish a new U.S. Space Command under U.S. Strategic Command — this particular dispute over classification authority recedes into comparative insignificance.

Somewhat relatedly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have updated DoD doctrine on space operations, with an expanded discussion of natural and man-made threats.

“Our adversaries’ progress in space technology not only threatens the space environment and our space assets but could potentially deny us an advantage if we lose space superiority.”

The doctrine describes general approaches to defending against threats to space-based assets, including defensive operations, reconstitution, and enhanced resilience through distribution, proliferation and deception. See Joint Publication (JP) 3-14, Space Operations, 10 April 2018.

An Airborne Defense Against North Korean ICBMs?

Could an airborne network of drone-based interceptors effectively defend against the launch of North Korean ballistic missiles? A recent assessment by physicists Richard L. Garwin and Theodore A. Postol concludes that it could.

“All of the technologies needed to implement the proposed system are proven and no new technologies are needed to realize the system,” they wrote.

Their concept envisions the deployment of a number of Predator B drones loitering outside of North Korean airspace each bearing two boost-phase intercept missiles.

“The baseline system could technically be deployed in 2020, and would be designed to handle up to 5 simultaneous ICBM launches.”

“The potential value of this system could be to quickly create an incentive for North Korea to take diplomatic negotiations seriously and to destroy North Korean ICBMs if they are launched at the continental United States.”

See Airborne Patrol to Destroy DPRK ICBMs in Powered Flight by R.L. Garwin and T.A. Postol, November 26, 2017.

The asserted role of such a system in promoting diplomatic negotiations rests on certain assumptions about how it would be perceived and evaluated by North Korea that are not addressed by the authors here.

DOD Classifies Missile Defense Flight Test Plans

The Department of Defense has decided to classify previously public information regarding future flight tests of ballistic missile defense systems and components.

Information about pending missile defense flight tests, their objectives, and their timing had previously been included in each year’s budget request documents. But that is no longer the case, and such information was withheld from the FY 2019 Missile Defense Agency RDT&E budget book that was published last month.

“Due to the need to safeguard critical defense information, the DOD will not provide timing or test details in advance beyond the required safety notifications for any planned flight tests,” Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves told Jason Sherman of InsideDefense, who noticed the newly restrictive disclosure practice. See “DOD now treating missile defense flight test plans — once public — as classified” by Jason Sherman, Inside the Pentagon, March 1 (subscription req’d).

Classification of flight test information makes it harder for outside observers and overseers — not just foreign intelligence services — to monitor the progress of US ballistic missile defense programs. The Missile Defense Agency’s specific justification for classifying previously unclassified categories of flight test information has not been publicly explained.

JASON on BMD Midcourse Discrimination (2010)

A comprehensive defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles remains difficult — and perhaps impossible — for several reasons, including the difficulty of achieving “midcourse discrimination” to identify weaponized payloads in a cloud of debris or decoys.

A newly released summary of a classified 2010 report on the subject prepared by the JASON scientific advisory panel explains the issue.

“In the context of missile defense, to discriminate is to distinguish among lethal RVs [reentry vehicles] in mid-course flight that should be targeted by defensive kill vehicles, and non-lethal accompanying objects, whether deliberate countermeasures such as decoys or objects that usually accompany a missile launch, such as booster stage and rocket fuel tanks. Even in the absence of countermeasures, discrimination is still necessary to distinguish RVs from these launch-associated objects.”

“Discrimination of countermeasures is a stringent challenge, because given a reasonable amount of time, money, initiative, and expertise, the offense can (in principle) field countermeasures that the defense cannot handle at any reasonable marginal cost.”

See MDA Discrimination (executive summary), JASON report JSR-10-620, August 3, 2010, released under the Freedom of Information Act on October 3, 2016.

The JASON authors found that the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) was not well-equipped to address this fundamental problem.

“MDA today has a good record of intercepting RVs, but under conditions that often do not challenge the discrimination capabilities of the missile defense system.”

Even the scope of the discrimination problem is not entirely clear, the JASONs said at the time. “Much remains to be learned about the practical feasibility and effectiveness of countermeasure threats.”

MDA itself “is not agile and flexible, and it may have trouble responding to opponents’ timelines for developing and fielding decoys and other countermeasures,” the JASONs said.

The JASON report recommended that MDA incorporate critical reviews of its programs by independent experts, establish a countermeasures test program through an independent agency, and work more closely with intelligence agencies on analyzing foreign missile threats and countermeasures. It was not immediately clear if the recommendations had been acted upon.

Intelligence for Air and Missile Defense

A new U.S. Army manual addresses the challenges of intelligence support for air and missile defense programs.

“A large number of adversary countries possess or are trying to acquire TBMs [tactical ballistic missiles] and Advanced Air Breathing Threats (ABTs) (i.e. Fixed-Wing (FW) aircraft, Rotary-Wing (RW) aircraft, Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARMs), and Cruise Missiles (CMs)), for prestige and/or military purposes,” the Army manual stated.

“These aerial and TBM threats have the potential to give the adversary a military advantage against the United States (US) and multinational forces. The threat the adversary presents is a complex, multi-dimensional, intelligence problem.”

To meet this emerging threat, the Army prescribes an Air and Missile Defense (AMD) Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) process, as outlined in the manual. See Air and Missile Defense Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, ATP 3-01.16, March 31, 2016.

“AMD IPB identifies facts and assumptions about the battlefield environment and the air and missile defense threat. AMD IPB determines enemy air and missile defense courses of action (COAs), their associated branches and sequels, and describes the operating environment for air and missile defense operations. This supports commander and staff planning and the development of friendly COAs.”

“Applied properly, AMD IPB provides for the timely and effective neutralization and/or destruction of the aerial and TBM threat, while minimizing the requirement for friendly AMD assets. ”

Air and missile defense systems may be vulnerable to attack through cyberspace, the Army manual noted, so consideration should be given to “what mitigations can be put into effect to limit or negate the effects of an attempted cyber-attack on the AMD system.”

Seeking China-U.S. Strategic Nuclear Stability

“To destroy the other, you have to destroy part of yourself.

To deter the other, you have to deter yourself,” according to a Chinese nuclear strategy expert. During the week of February 9th, I had the privilege to travel to China where I heard this statement during the Ninth China-U.S. Dialogue on Strategic Nuclear Dynamics in Beijing. The Dialogue was jointly convened by the China Foundation for International Strategic Studies (CFISS) and the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). While the statements by participants were not-for-attribution, I can state that the person quoted is a senior official with extensive experience in China’s strategic nuclear planning.

The main reason for my research travel was to work with Bruce MacDonald, FAS Adjunct Senior Fellow for National Security Technology, on a project examining the security implications of a possible Chinese deployment of strategic ballistic missile defense. We had discussions with more than a dozen Chinese nuclear strategists in Beijing and Shanghai; we will publish a full report on our findings and analysis this summer. FAS plans to continue further work on projects concerning China-U.S. strategic relations as well as understanding how our two countries can cooperate on the challenges of providing adequate healthy food, near-zero emission energy sources, and unpolluted air and water.

During the discussions, I was struck by the gap between American and Chinese perspectives. As indicated by the quote, Chinese strategic thinkers appear reluctant to want to use nuclear weapons and underscore the moral and psychological dimensions of nuclear strategy. Nonetheless, China’s leaders clearly perceive the need for such weapons for deterrence purposes. Perhaps the biggest gap in perception is that American nuclear strategists tend to remain skeptical about China’s policy of no-first-use (NFU) of nuclear weapons. By the NFU policy, China would not launch nuclear weapons first against the United States or any other state. Thus, China needs assurances that it would have enough nuclear weapons available to launch in a second retaliatory strike in the unlikely event of a nuclear attack by another state.

American experts are doubtful about NFU statements because during the Cold War the Soviet Union repeatedly stated that it had a NFU policy, but once the Cold War ended and access was obtained to the Soviets’ plans, the United States found out that the Soviets had lied. They had plans to use nuclear weapons first under certain circumstances. Today, given Russia’s relative conventional military inferiority compared to the United States, Moscow has openly declared that it has a first-use policy to deter massive conventional attack.

Can NFU be demonstrated? Some analysts have argued that China in its practice of keeping warheads de-mated or unattached from the missile delivery systems has in effect placed itself in a second strike posture. But the worry from the American side is that such a posture could change quickly and that as China has been modernizing its missile force from slow firing liquid-fueled rockets to quick firing solid-fueled rockets, it will be capable of shifting to a first-use policy if the security conditions dictate such a change.

The more I talked with Chinese experts in Beijing and Shanghai the more I felt that they are sincere about China’s NFU policy. A clearer and fuller exposition came from a leading expert in Shanghai who said that China has a two-pillar strategy. First, China believes in realism in that it has to take appropriate steps in a semi-anarchic geopolitical system to defend itself. It cannot rely on others for outside assistance or deterrence. Indeed, one of the major differences between China and the United States is that China is not part of a formal defense alliance pact such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the alliance the United States has with Japan and South Korea. Although in the 1950s, Chairman Mao Zedong decried nuclear weapons as “paper tigers,” he decided that the People’s Republic of China must acquire them given the threats China faced when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur suggested possible use of nuclear weapons against China during the Korean War. In October 1964, China detonated its first nuclear explosive device and at the same time declared its NFU policy.

The second pillar is based on morality. Chinese strategists understand the moral dilemma of nuclear deterrence. On the one hand, a nuclear-armed state has to show a credible willingness to launch nuclear weapons to deter the other’s launch.  But on the other hand, if deterrence fails, actually carrying out the threat condemns millions to die.  According to the Chinese nuclear expert, China would not retaliate immediately and instead would offer a peace deal to avert further escalation to more massive destruction. As long as China has an assured second strike, which might consist of only a handful of nuclear weapons that could hit the nuclear attacker’s territory, Beijing could wait hours to days before retaliating or not striking back in order to give adequate time for cooling off and stopping of hostilities.

Because China has not promised to provide extended nuclear deterrence to other states, Chinese leaders would also not feel compelled to strike back quickly to defend such states. In contrast, because of U.S. deterrence commitments to NATO, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, Washington would feel pressure to respond quickly if it or its allies are under nuclear attack. Indeed, at the Dialogue, Chinese experts often brought up the U.S. alliances and especially pointed to Japan as a concern, as Japan could use its relatively large stockpile of about nine metric tons of reactor-grade plutonium (which is still weapons-usable) to make nuclear explosives. Moreover, last July, the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a “reinterpretation” of the Article 9 restriction in the Japanese Constitution, which prohibits Japan from having an offensive military. (The United States imposed this restriction after the Second World War.)  The reinterpretation allows Japanese Self-Defense Forces to serve alongside allies during military actions. Beijing is opposed because then Japan is just one step away from further changing to a more aggressive policy that could permit Japan to act alone in taking military actions. Before and during the Second World War, Japanese military forces committed numerous atrocities against Chinese civilians. Chinese strategists fear that Japan is seeking to further break out of its restraints.

Thus, Chinese strategists want clarity about Japan’s intentions and want to know how the evolving U.S.-Japan alliance could affect Chinese interests. Japan and the United States have strong concerns about China’s growing assertive actions near the disputed Diaoyu Islands (Chinese name) or Senkaku Islands (Japanese name) between China and Japan, and competing claims for territory in the South China Sea. Regarding nuclear forces, some Chinese experts speculate about the conditions that could lead to Japan’s development of nuclear weapons. The need is clear for continuing dialogue on the triangular relationship among China, Japan, and the United States.

Several Chinese strategists perceive a disparity in U.S. nuclear policy toward China. They want to know if the United States will treat China as a major nuclear power to be deterred or as a big “rogue” state with nuclear weapons. U.S. experts have tried to assure their Chinese counterparts that the strategic reality is the former. The Chinese experts also see that the United States has more than ten times the number of deliverable nuclear weapons than China. But they hear from some conservative American experts that the United States fears that China might “sprint for parity” to match the U.S. nuclear arsenal if the United States further reduces down to 1,000 or somewhat fewer weapons.1 According to the FAS Nuclear Information Project, China is estimated to have about 250 warheads in its stockpile for delivery.2Chinese experts also hear from the Obama administration that it wants to someday achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world. The transition from where the world is today to that future is fraught with challenges: one of them being the mathematical fact that to get to zero or close to zero, nuclear-armed states will have to reach parity with each other eventually.

The Fallacy of Proven and Adaptable Defenses

It is currently U.S. policy to deploy missile defenses that are “proven, cost-effective, and adaptable.” As outlined in the 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review, proven means “extensive testing and assessment,” or “fly before you buy.” Adaptive means that defenses can respond to unexpected threats by being rapidly relocated or “surged to a region,” and by being easily integrated into existing defensive architectures.

While “extensive testing” in the field is an important step towards proven defenses, this article argues that it is insufficient for truly proven—that is, trustworthy—defenses. Defenses against nuclear weapons face a very high burden of proof because a single bomb is utterly devastating. But even if defenses achieve this level of trustworthiness in one context, this article argues that they cannot immediately be trusted when they are adapted to another context. Calls for proven and adaptive defenses thus promote a dangerous fallacy: that defenses which are proven in one context remain proven when they are adapted to another.

To explain why defenses should not be regarded as both proven and adaptable, this article begins by outlining a little-noted yet critical challenge for missile defense: developing, integrating, and maintaining its complex and continually-evolving software. A second section uses experience with missile defense to illustrate three key reasons that software which is proven on testing ranges does not remain proven when it is adapted to the battlefield. A third section outlines some of the challenges associated with rapidly adapting missile defense software to new threat environments. The article concludes that while missile defenses may offer some insurance against an attack, they also come with new risks.

Missile defense as an information problem

Missile defense is a race against time. Intercontinental ballistic missiles travel around the globe in just thirty minutes, while intermediate, medium, and short range ballistic missiles take even less time to reach their targets. While defenders would ideally like to intercept missiles in the 3-5 minutes that they launch out of the earth’s atmosphere (boost phase), geographic and physical constraints have rendered this option impractical for the foreseeable future. The defense has the most time to “kill” a missile during mid-course (as it travels through space), but here a warhead can be disguised by decoys and chaff, making it difficult to find and destroy. As missiles (or warheads) re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, any decoys are slowed down, and the warhead becomes easier to track. But, this terminal phase of flight leaves only a few minutes for the defender to act.

These time constraints make missile defense not only a physical problem, but also an informational problem. While most missile defense publicity focuses on the image of a bullet hitting a bullet in the sky, each interception relies critically on a much less visible information system which gathers radar or sensor data about the locations and speeds of targets, and guides defensive weapons to those targets. Faster computers can speed along information processing, but do not ensure that information is processed and interpreted correctly. The challenge of accurately detecting targets, discriminating targets from decoys or chaff, guiding defensive weapons to targets, and coordinating complementary missile defense systems, all falls to a very complex software system.

Today’s missile defense systems must manage tremendous informational complexity—a wide range of threats, emerging from different regions, in uncertain and changing ways. Informational complexity stems not only from the diverse threats that defenses aim to counter, but also from the fact that achieving highly effective defenses requires layering multiple defensive systems over large geographic regions; this in turn requires international cooperation. For example, to defend the United States from attack by Iran, the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) relies not only on radars and missiles in Alaska and California but also on radars and missiles stationed in Europe. Effective defenses require computers and software to “fuse” data from different regions and systems controlled by other nations into a seamless picture of the battle space. Missile defense software requirements constantly evolve with changing threats, domestic politics, and international relations.

Such complex and forever-evolving requirements will limit any engineer. But software engineers such as Fred Brooks have come to recognize the complexity associated with unpredictable and changing human institutions as their “essential” challenge. Brooks juxtaposes the complexity of physics with the “arbitrary complexity” of software. Whereas the complexity of nature is presumed to be governed by universal laws, the arbitrary complexity of software is “forced without rhyme or reason by the many human institutions and systems to which [software] interfaces must conform.”

In other words, the design of software is not driven by predictive and deterministic natural laws, but by the arbitrary requirements of whatever hardware and social organizations it serves. Because arbitrary complexity is the essence of software, it will always be difficult to develop correctly. Despite tremendous technological progress, software engineers have agreed that arbitrary complexity imposes fundamental constraints on our ability to engineer reliable software systems.

In the case of missile defense, software must integrate disparate pieces of equipment (such as missile interceptors, radars, satellites, and command consoles) with the procedures of various countries (such as U.S., European, Japanese, and South Korean missile defense commands). Software can only meet the ad hoc requirements of physical hardware and social organizations by becoming arbitrarily complex.

Software engineers manage the arbitrary complexity of software through modular design, skillful project management, and a variety of automated tools that help to prevent common errors. Nonetheless, as the arbitrary complexity of software grows, so too do unexpected interactions and errors. The only way to make software reliable is to use it operationally and correct the errors that emerge in real-world use. If the operating conditions change only slightly, new and unexpected errors may emerge. Decades of experience have shown that it is impossible to develop trustworthy software of any practical scale without operational testing and debugging.

In some contexts, glitches are not catastrophic. For example, in 2007 six F-22 Raptors flew from Hawaii to Japan for the first time, and as they crossed the International Date Line their computers crashed. Repeated efforts to reboot failed and the pilots were left without navigation computers, information about fuel, and much of their communications. Fortunately, weather was clear so they could follow refueling tankers back to Hawaii and land safely. The software glitch was fixed within 48 hours.

Had the weather been bad or had the Raptors been in combat, the error would have had much more serious consequences. In such situations, time becomes much more critical. Similarly, a missile defense system must operate properly within the first few minutes that it is needed; there is no time for software updates.

What has been proven? The difference between field tests and combat experience

Because a small change in operating conditions can cause unexpected interactions in software, missile defenses can only be proven through real-world combat experience. Yet those who describe defenses as “proven” are typically referring to results obtained on a testing range. The phased adaptive approach’s emphasis on “proven” refers to its focus on the SM-3 missile, which has tested better than the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD). The SM-3 Block 1 system is based on technology in the Navy’s Aegis air and missile defense system, and it has succeeded in 19 of 23 intercept attempts (nearly 83 percent), whereas the GMD has succeeded in only half (8 of 16) intercept attempts. Similarly, when Army officers and project managers call the theater high altitude area defense (THAAD) proven, they are referring to results on a test range. THAAD, a late midcourse and early terminal phase defense, has intercepted eleven out of eleven test targets since 2005.

While tests are extremely important, they do not prove that missile defenses will be reliable in battle. Experience reveals at least three ways in which differences between real-world operating conditions and the testing range may cause missile defense software to fail.

First, missile defense software and test programs make assumptions about the behavior of its targets which may not be realistic. The qualities of test targets are carefully controlled—between 2002 and 2008, over 11 percent of missile defense tests were aborted because the target failed to behave as expected.

But real targets can also behave unexpectedly. For example, in the 1991 Gulf War, short range Scud missiles launched by Iraq broke up as they reentered the atmosphere, causing them to corkscrew rather than follow a predictable ballistic trajectory. This unpredictable behavior is a major reason that the Patriot (PAC-2) missile defense missed at least 28 out of 29 intercept attempts.Although the Patriot had successfully intercepted six targets on a test range, the unpredictability of real-world targets thwarted its success in combat.

Second, missile defense tests are conducted under very different time pressures than those of real-world battle. Missile defense tests do not require operators to remain watchful over an extended period of days or weeks, until the precise one or two minutes in which a missile is fired. Instead crews are given a “window of interest,” typically spanning several hours, in which to look for an attack. Defenders of such tests argue that information about the window of attack is necessary (to avoid conflicts with normal air and sea traffic), and realistic (presumably because defenses will only be used during a limited period of conflict).

Yet in real-world combat, the “window of interest” may last much longer than a few hours. For example, the Patriot was originally designed with the assumption that it would only be needed for a few hours at a time, but when it was sent to Israel and Saudi Arabia in the first Gulf War, it was suddenly operational for days at a time. In these conditions, the Patriot’s control software began to accrue a timing error which had never shown up when the computer was rebooted every few hours. On February 25, 1991, this software-controlled timing error caused the Patriot to miss a Scud missile, which struck an Army barracks at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 Americans. The fix that might have helped the Patriot defuse the Dhahran attack arrived one day too late.

A third difference between test ranges and real-world combat is that air traffic is often present in and around combat zones, creating opportunities for friendly fire; the likelihood of friendly fire is increased by the stressful conditions of combat.For example, in the first Gulf War, the Patriot fired two interceptors at U.S. fighter jets (fortunately the fighters evaded the attack).When a more advanced version of the Patriot (PAC-3) was sent to Iraq in 2003, friendly fire caused more casualties.  On March 23, 2003, a Patriot battery stationed near the Kuwait border shot down a British Tornado fighter jet, killing both crew members. Just two days later, operators in another battery locked on to a target and prepared to fire, discovering that it was an American F-16 only after the fighter fired back (fortunately only a radar was destroyed). Several days later, another Patriot battery shot down an American Navy Hornet fighter, killing its pilot.

A Defense Science Board task force eventually attributed the failure to several software-related problems. The Patriot’s Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) algorithms (which ought to have clearly distinguished allies from enemies) performed poorly. Command and control systems did not give crews good situational awareness, leaving them completely dependent on the faulty IFF technologies. The Patriot’s protocols, displays, and software made operations “largely automatic,” while “operators were trained to trust the software.” Unfortunately this trust was not warranted.

These three features—less predictable targets, longer “windows of interest,” and the presence of air traffic—are unique to combat, and are among the reasons that software which is proven on a test range may not be reliable in battle. Other differences concern the defensive technology itself—missile seekers are often hand-assembled, and quality is not always assured from one missile to the next. Missile defense aims to overcome such challenges in quality assurance by “layering” defensive systems (i.e. if one system fails to hit a missile, another one might make the kill). But unexpected interactions between missile defense layers could also cause failures. Indeed, some tests which produced “successful” interceptions by individual missile defense systems also revealed limitations in integrating different defensive systems. Layered defenses, like most individual defensive systems, have yet to be proven reliable in real-world battle.

The Fallacy of “Proven” and “Adaptive” Defenses

As this brief review suggests, field testing takes place in a significantly different operational environment than that of combat, and the difference matters. Missile defenses that were “proven” in field testing have repeatedly failed when they were adapted to combat environments, either missing missiles completely, or shooting down friendly aircraft. Thus, talk of “proven” and “adaptable” defense furthers a dangerous fallacy—that defensive systems that are proven in one context remain proven as they are adapted to new threats.

Defensive deployments do not simply “plug-and-play” as they are deployed to new operational environments around the world because they must be carefully integrated with other weapons systems.  For example, to achieve “layered” defenses of the United States, computers must “fuse” data from geographically dispersed sensors and radars and provide commands in different regions with a seamless picture of the battle space. In the first U.S. missile defense test that attempted to integrate elements such as Aegis and THAAD, systems successfully intercepted targets, but also revealed failures in the interoperability of different computer and communications systems. In the European theater, these systems confront the additional challenge of being integrated with NATO’s separate Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD).

Similar challenges exist in the Asia-Pacific region, where U.S. allies have purchased systems such as Patriot and Aegis. It is not yet clear how such elements should interoperate with U.S. forces in the region. The United States and Japan have effectively formed a joint command relationship, with both nations feeding information from their sensors into a common control room. However, command relationships with other countries in the Asian Pacific region such as South Korea and Taiwan remain unclear.

The challenge of systems integration was a recurring theme at the May 2014 Atlantic Council’s missile defense conference. Attendees noted that U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea mistrust one another, creating difficulties for integrating computerized command and control systems. They also pointed to U.S. export control laws that create difficulties by restricting the flow of computer and networking technologies to many parts of the world.Atlantic Council senior fellow Bilal Saab noted that the “problem with hardware is it doesn’t operate in a political vacuum.”

Neither does software. All of these constraints—export control laws, mistrust between nations, different computer systems—produce arbitrarily complex requirements for the software, which must integrate data from disparate missile defense elements into a unified picture of the battle space. Interoperability that is proven at one time does not remain proven as it is adapted to new technological and strategic environments.

Risky Insurance

Although defenses cannot be simultaneously proven and adaptive, it may still make sense to deploy defenses. Missile defenses that have undergone robust field testing may provide some measure of insurance against attack. Additionally, cooperative defenses may provide a means of reducing reliance on massive nuclear arsenals—although efforts to share NATO or U.S. missile defenses with Russia are currently stalled.

But whatever insurance missile defense offers, it also comes with new risks due to its reliance on tremendously complex software. Other analyses of missile defense have pointed to risks associated with strategic instability, and noted that defenses appear to be limiting rather than facilitating reductions of offensive nuclear arsenals. An appreciation for the difficulty of developing, integrating, and maintaining complex missile defense software calls attention to a slightly different set of risks.

The risks of friendly fire are evident from experience with the Patriot. More fundamentally, the inability of complex software to fully anticipate target behavior limits its reliability in battle, as seen in the first Gulf War. The PAC-3 system appears to have performed better in the second Gulf War; according to the Army, the defenses incapacitated nine out of nine missiles headed towards a defended asset. Thus, the PAC-3 system may be regarded as truly proven against a particular set of targets. But however well defenses perform against one set of targets, we cannot be assured that they will perform equally well against a new set of targets.

Additionally, defenses must be exceedingly reliable to defend against nuclear-armed missiles. In World War II, a 10 percent success rate was sufficient for air defenses to deter bombers, but the destructive power of nuclear weapons calls for a much higher success rate. If even one nuclear weapon gets by a defensive system, it can destroy a major city and its surroundings.

The greatest risk of all comes not with defenses themselves, but with overconfidence in their capabilities. In 2002, faith in military technology prompted then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to overrule seasoned military planners, insisting that high technology reduced the number of ground troops that were necessary in Iraq.  As we now know, this confidence was tragically misplaced.

The decision to rely upon a missile defense deployment should thus weigh the risks of a missile attack against the risks of friendly fire and of unreliable defenses. While the fly-before-you-buy approach is an essential step towards trustworthy defenses, field testing does not yield truly proven, or trustworthy, defenses. However proven a defensive system becomes in one battle context, it does not remain proven when it is adapted to another. Ultimately, the notion of proven and adaptive defenses is a contradiction in terms.

White House Office of the Press Secretary, “Fact Sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy,” September 17, 2009. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/FACT-SHEET-US-Missile-Defense-Policy-A-Phased-Adaptive-Approach-for-Missile-Defense-in-Europe/

Department of Defense, “Ballistic Missile Defense Review,” (January 2010): vi, 11. http://www.defense.gov/bmdr/docs/BMDR%20as%20of%2026JAN10%200630_for%20web.pdf

See National Research Council, Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives (Washington D.C.: National Academies Press, 2012). “Report of the American Physical Society Study Group on Boost Phase Intercept Systems for National Missile Defense,” July 2003. http://www.aps.org/policy/reports/studies/upload/boostphase-intercept.PDF

Frederick Brooks, “No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering,” IEEE Computer (Addison-Wesley Professional, 1987), http://www-inst.eecs.berkeley.edu/~maratb/readings/NoSilverBullet.html.

When software engineers gathered for the twenty-year anniversary of Brooks’ article, they all agreed that his original argument had been proven correct despite impressive technological advances. See Frederick Brooks et al., “Panel: ‘No Silver Bullet’ Reloaded,” in 22nd Annual ACM SIGPLAN Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications (OOPSLA), ed. Richard Gabriel et al. (Montreal, Canada: ACM, 2007).

For a summary of such techniques, and reasons that they are not sufficient to produce reliable software, see David Parnas, “Software Aspects of Strategic Defense Systems,” Communications of the ACM 28, no. 12 (1985): 1326.

“F-22 Squadron Shot Down by the International Date Line,” Defense Industry Daily, March 1 2007. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/f22-squadron-shot-down-by-the-international-date-line-03087/ Accessed June 15, 2014.

See for example, White House “Fact Sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy,” September 17, 2009 http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/FACT-SHEET-US-Missile-Defense-Policy-A-Phased-Adaptive-Approach-for-Missile-Defense-in-Europe

For results on the SM3 Block 1, see Missile Defense Agency, “Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense testing record,” http://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/aegis_tests.pdf October 2013. On the GMD, see Missile Defense Agency, “Ballistic Missile Defense Intercept Flight Test record,” last updated October 4, 2013 http://www.mda.mil/news/fact_sheets.html

See  for example, comments in “THAAD Soldiers take part in historic training exercise,” Fort Bliss Bugle, http://fortblissbugle.com/thaad-soldiers-take-part-in-historic-training-exercise/ ; BAE, “Bae Systems’ Seeker Performs Successfully In Historic Integrated Live Fire Missile Defense Test,” Press release, 7 February 2013, http://www.baesystems.com/article/BAES_156395/bae-systems-seeker-performs-successfully-in-historic-integrated-live-fire-missile-defense-test . Both accessed June 15, 2014.

Missile Defense Agency, “Ballistic Missile Defense Intercept Flight Test record,” last updated October 4, 2013 http://www.mda.mil/news/fact_sheets.html

This is based upon reports that 3 of 42 launches experienced target failures or anomalies between 2002-2005, and 6 of 38 launches experienced such failures from 2006-2007. See U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Sound Business Case Needed to Implement Missile Defense Agency’s Targets,” September 2008 http://www.gao.gov/assets/290/281962.pdf

George N. Lewis and Theodore A. Postol, “Video Evidence on the Effectiveness of Patriot During the 1991 Gulf War,” Science & Global Security 4 (1993).

Ibid; see also George N. Lewis and Theodore A. Postol, “Technical Debate over Patriot Performance in the Gulf War,” Science & Global Security 3 (2000). In fact, though Iraqis launched fewer Scuds after the Army deployed Patriot, evidence suggested that damage in Israel increased—suggesting that Patriot itself caused some damage.  See George N. Lewis and Theodore A. Postol, “An Evaluation of the Army Report “Analysis of Video Tapes to Assess Patriot Effectiveness” Dated 31 March 1992,”  (Cambridge MA: Defense and Arms Control Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1992). Available online at /spp/starwars/docops/pl920908.htm

On the Patriot’s performance on the testing range before deployment, see “Performance of the Patriot Missile in the Gulf War,” Hearings before the Committee on Government Operations, 102nd Congress, 2nd sess., April 7, 1992.

Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III (ret.) and Rebeccah Heinrichs, “In Defense of U.S. Missile Defense,” Letter to the International Herald Tribune, September 27, 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/opinion/28iht-edlet28.html?_r=2&

The Patriot was only designed to operate for 24 hours at a time before rebooting, and hence the timing problem did not matter in previous operating conditions. Technically this would be described as a “requirements failure.” GAO, “Patriot Missile Defense: Software Problem Led to System Failure at Dhahan, Saudi Arabia,”  (Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office, 1992).

GAO, “Patriot Missile Defense: Software Problem Led to System Failure at Dhahan, Saudi Arabia.”

These stresses were one contributing factor to the downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the Vincennes in 1988; for a closer analysis, see Gene Rochlin, Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization (Princeton: Princeton U, 1998).

Clifford Johnson, “Patriots,” posted in the RISKS forum, 29 January 1991 http://www.catless.com/Risks/10.83.html#subj4

Jonathan Weisman, “Patriot Missiles Seemingly Falter for Second Time; Glitch in Software Suspected,” Washington Post, March 26 2003.

Bradley Graham, “Radar Probed in Patriot Incidents,” Washington Post, May 8, 2003.

Michael Williams and William  Delaney, “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Patriot System Performance,”  (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, 2005).

Quality assurance has been a significant problem, for example, in the GMD. See David Willman, “$40 Billion Missile Defense System Proves Unreliable,” LA Times, June 15, 2014. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-missile-defense-20140615-story.html#page=1 The “tacit knowledge” required to fabricate missile guidance technology has historically been a source of significant concern; see Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Ballistic Missile Guidance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990).

U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Missile Defense: Mixed Progress in Achieving Acquisition Goals and Improving Accountability,” April 2014, p 16-17.

The GAO has warned that the U.S. approach to European defenses, by developing these eclectic systems concurrently, is increasing the risks that the system “will not meet the warfighter’s needs, with significant potential cost and schedule growth consequences.” GAO, “Missile Defense: European Phased Adaptive Approach Acquisitions Face Synchronization, Transparency, and Accountability Challenges,”  (Washington, D.C.: GAO, 2010), 3. For more on the NATO Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD), and efforts to coordinate its command and control systems with those of individual member nations, see http://www.nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/pdf_2011_07/20110727_110727-MediaFactSheet-ALTBMD.pdf

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Trust, Not Tech, Big Problem Building Missile Defenses Vs. Iran, North Korea,”Ian E. Rinehart, Steven A. Hildreth, Susan V. Lawrence, Congressional Research Service Report, “Ballistic Missile Defense in the Asia-Pacific Region: Cooperation and Opposition,” June 24 2013. /sgp/crs/nuke/R43116.pdf

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Trust, Not Tech, Big Problem Building Missile Defenses Vs. Iran, North Korea,” BreakingDefense.com, May 29, 2014,  http://breakingdefense.com/2014/05/trust-not-tech-big-problem-building-missile-defenses-vs-iran-north-korea/


James E Goodby and Sidney D Drell, “Rethinking Nuclear Deterrence” (paper presented at the conference Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, Stanford, CA, 2007).

For a discussion of both issues, and references for further reading, see Rebecca Slayton, Arguments That Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012Inside Technology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).

Historically, the complexity of missile defense software has also made it prone to schedule delays and cost overruns.

Kadish testimony, Subcommittee on Defense, Committee on Appropriations, Department of Defense Appropriations, May 1 2003.

Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Rumsfeld Orders War Plans Redone for Faster Action,” New York Times, 2002.

Rebecca Slayton is an Assistant Professor in Science & Technology Studies at the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell University.  Her research examines how experts assess different kinds of risks in new technology, and how their arguments gain influence in distinctive organizational and political contexts. She is author of Arguments that Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012 (MIT Press: 2013), which compares how two different ways of framing complex technology—physics and computer science—lead to very different understandings of the risks associated with weapons systems. It also shows how computer scientists established a disciplinary repertoire—quantitative rules, codified knowledge, and other tools for assessment—that enabled them to construct authoritative arguments about complex software, and to make those analyses “stick” in the political process.

Slayton earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Harvard University in 2002, and completed postdoctoral training in the Science, Technology, and Society Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has also held research fellowships from the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. She is currently studying efforts to manage the diverse risks—economic, environmental, and security—associated with a “smarter” electrical grid.

Upsetting the Reset – The Technical Basis of Russian Concern Over NATO Missile Defense

The Obama administration is working with NATO to develop a missile defense shield to protect U.S. and European interests from ballistic missile attacks by Iran. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has expressed strong concerns over this shield and has warned of a return to Cold War tensions, as well as possible withdrawal from international disarmament agreements like the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

On June 9, the NATO-Russia Council plans to meet with defense ministers to establish cooperation guidelines for the new European antiballistic missile system. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is releasing a new report that addresses concerns made by officials of the Russia Federation and provides recommendations for moving forward with a missile defense system..

Dr. Yousaf Butt, Scientific Consultant to FAS, and Dr. Theodore Postol, Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have published a technical assessment (PDF) of the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) missile defense system proposed by NATO and the United States and analyzed whether the Russian Federation has a legitimate concern over the proposed NATO-U.S. missile defense shield.

In practice the PAA will provide little, if any, protection leaving nuclear deterrence fundamentally intact. While the PAA would not significantly affect deterrence, it may be seen by cautious Russian planners to impose some attrition on Russian warheads. While midcourse missile defense would not alter the fundamental deterrence equation with respect to Iran or Russia, it may, in the Russian view, constitute an infringement upon the parity set down in New START.

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