Charles Krauthammer dubiously suggested that the United States had successfully completed "seven out of eight" tests of a missile defense system capable of intercepting the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) North Korea is reportedly preparing to test-fire. But the system Krauthammer specifically referred to is not designed to intercept ICBMs. Additionally, John Fund dubiously claimed that if North Korea test-fires its ICBM, the United States has "a better than 50-50 chance" of shooting it down; in fact, the system Fund was apparently alluding to has been tested only under highly artificial conditions.
On the June 25 broadcast of Inside Washington -- a weekly news program on ABC's Washington, D.C., affiliate, WJLA-TV -- syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer dubiously suggested that the United States had successfully completed "seven out of eight" tests of a missile defense system capable of intercepting the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) North Korea is reportedly preparing to test-fire. But the system to which Krauthammer was referring is not designed to intercept ICBMs. Additionally, on the June 23 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund dubiously claimed that if North Korea test-fires its ICBM, the United States has "a better than 50-50 chance" of shooting it down. But as Media Matters for America previously noted, the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system -- to which Fund was apparently referring -- has been tested only under highly artificial conditions that say little about the system's real-world performance. Moreover, GMD system's ability to function as an integrated system has not yet been tested.
Krauthammer misleads on Aegis system
Krauthammer made his remarks during an Inside Washington panel discussion that also featured Washington Post columnist Colbert King, Newsweek magazine assistant managing editor Evan Thomas, and National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. During the discussion, Thomas called North Korea's threat to test its Taepodong-2 ICBM "an advertisement for an anti-missile defense system." When Totenberg responded that "[t]hey haven't had one successful test" -- presumably referring to the GMD system -- Krauthammer stated that Totenberg's claim was "not true" and "ridiculous," adding that "seven out of eight" tests "on the Aegis cruiser" had been successful, and "they had one on Monday, this week." King also stated: "There was a successful test yesterday [June 22; the program was taped on Friday, June 23]."
In fact, the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (ABMD) system successfully tested on June 22 is not designed to intercept ICBMs, such as North Korea's Taepodong-2. Rather, it is the GMD system that is designed to intercept such missiles. As Media Matters previously noted, the GMD system has not been successfully flight-tested in at least three years.
As the Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) Ballistic Missile Defense System booklet notes, while ABMD-capable destroyers are able to "provide early warning" and "transmit track data to the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense command center" in the event of an ICBM launch, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense 3.0 weapon system and Standard Missile-3 Block I [SM-3] currently deployed aboard the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Cruisers are only "capable of intercepting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles."
As The Los Angeles Times reported June 22, the Aegis cruisers Shiloh, Lake Eerie, and Port Royal "are equipped with [SM-3] antimissile rockets, but they are not expected to be directly involved in any response to North Korea's possible launch."
On June 22, an SM-3 launched from the Shiloh successfully shot down a test missile, marking the system's seventh successful intercept test out of a total of eight.
Fund misleads on GMD system
Fund made his comments during an imbalanced panel discussion hosted by Dobbs and featuring New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. During the discussion, Fund stated that if North Korea does test fire an ICBM missile, "we have to try to shoot it down" and "we have a better than 50-50 chance of doing it." He later added that to date, "[h]alf our tests have worked," and "[v]ery few countries want to launch a missile with a less than 50 percent chance of success, so even our willingness to take it [the North Korean missile] down would send a message."
Although the GMD system has been successful in five out of 10 intercept tests conducted so far, Fund omitted the fact that the "successful" tests of the GMD system have been conducted under highly artificial conditions, and the system's ability to function as an integrated system has not yet been tested. As Media Matters noted, previous tests of the GMD system included "artificialities" in the test conditions, such as mounting a transponder on the target warhead (effectively telling the interceptor missile its current location) to simulate a radar system that has the accuracy needed for a successful intercept, according to a February 2004 GAO report. Additionally, a March 2006 GAO report stated that despite having "conducted five successful intercept attempts ... the [GMD] program has been unable to verify that the integrated system, using production-representative components, will work in an end-to-end operation." "Until further testing is done," the GAO report continued, the MDA "will not know for sure that the integrated system using operational interceptors and fire control radars will perform as expected, or that technical problems with the kill vehicle and its booster have been fixed." The first flight test that might verify this capability, according to the report, is scheduled for November 2006. The March 2006 GAO report also stated that the GMD system had "not successfully completed an end-to-end flight test." The Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) news website does not indicate that such a test has been attempted since the GAO report was released.
From the June 25 broadcast of WJLA's Inside Washington:
GORDON PETERSON (host): The assistant secretary of defense in the current administration, Peter Rodman, told the House Armed Services Committee that if such a launch of this missile in North Korea were to take place, we would seek to impose some cost on North Korea. What cost would the United States impose on North Korea if they launch this missile?
KING: Well, that's a good question to ask -- I don't know, because if you strike North Korea -- because you're not going to take it out of the air -- if you strike North Korea, then you are going to get the conflagration that Charles is talking about. Not only will -- you'll see a lot of South Koreans lose their lives, but also a lot of American troops as well. I don't know if -- what we don't know is the same problem we had in Iraq. I don't know how good our intelligence is on their capability. We know what they are saying and what they're claiming, but we don't know whether they have the capacity to do this at this point because our intelligence is not that good on North Korea. I think what we have to do what we have been doing, and that is to keep that diplomatic pressure on and not let North Korea do what I think they're really trying to do, which is to just horn in on the Iran act. Iran is getting a lot of attention now from us because of what they -- their saber-rattling. And they want a little of that action as well.
TOTENBERG: Right. The dear leader wants to be back in the headlines. But, you know, we do have economic sanctions. I mean, we've given them aid in order to try to get them to be more cooperative.
THOMAS: One thing, this is an advertisement for an anti-missile defense system. I mean, we've sort of forgot about -- that was a huge issue in the 2000 campaign. We've spent billions buiding it --
KING: Well, they had a successful strike --
THOMAS: Well --
TOTENBERG: They haven't had one successful test.
THOMAS: That's not true. That's not true. Half the tests --
KING: There was a successful test yesterday.
KRAUTHAMMER: They've had seven out of eight, and they had one on Monday of this week.
KRAUTHAMMER: That's ridiculous.
THOMAS: I think about half of them were --
TOTENBERG: And all you have to do is have a decoy --
KRAUTHAMMER: No. Seven out of eight on the Aegis cruiser.
TOTENBERG: All you have to do is have one decoy launched with it, and then you can --
KRAUTHAMMER: Oh, that's ridiculous.
TOTENBERG: I mean, it's a great idea. I just -- I think we will always be behind the curve on this. We've already spent billions putting stuff in place that is now outdated. With our new -- with our new research, the stuff that's in the ground that we've spent billions on will not work with what we're developing now.
KRAUTHAMMER: If we hadn't wasted 10 years in the '90s on doing nothing because of the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] treaty, we would now be in a position where we could shoot down what will be a very primitive launch of a very primitive rocket, and it would be very easy to do.
KING: Let's not go back to yesteryear.
KRAUTHAMMER: It's not yesteryear.
KING: We need to --
KRAUTHAMMER: We let a long time -- It's not as if it can't be done.
TOTENBERG: We've been doing this since the '80s.
KING: I think Japan has as much interest as we have in not having North Korea have a nuclear capability.
KRAUTHAMMER: And they had a ship that was part of our armada earlier this week, in which we shot down a test missile. Japan is in on the program with us.
From the June 23 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
DOBBS: Let me go to the next issue. Because you were talking about attack and attack. Another opportunity presents itself. That, of course, is Iran. Talking with John Bolton, the U.N. ambassador here, he said point-blank they have an opportunity, but he also made it crystal clear that there is a very serious consequence awaiting.
GOODWIN: Well, I think this is the most dangerous game of all. I think North Korea is even something of a side light next to this. I think Iran is really the game, and we've got to figure that out, and we're going to need Russia and China because I don't think this is one we can do alone.
ROLLINS: And they don't care. I think they have ignored us for a long, long time, and they'll continue to ignore us. And I think the reality is -- I think it's the combination of the two that is very, very dangerous, and I think they feel, as we sit and debate whether we should be in Iraq, I think it empanel -- empowers them to basically think they can do it without us.
FUND: Lou, the single most important thing we can do in Iran is if the North Koreans launch that nuke -- that missile in 10 days, which is about the time I think they will, I think we have to try to shoot it down. I think we have a better than 50-50 chance of doing it. If we shoot it down, that's a message to Iran: You may get your nuclear program, but I don't think it will help much.
DOBBS: I don't like the inverse message that would be all too clear if we fail to shoot it down. Because if that's a message to Iran and we fail, I don't want to think about that message too hard.
FUND: Very few countries want to launch a missile with a less than 50 percent chance of success, so even our willingness to take it down would send a message.
ROLLINS: Certainly the ultimate test of Star Wars, which we have all been advocates of before.
GOODWIN: And I think the Iranian mentality is different; I don't think they fear death. That's the issue here. And we may have all the weapons in the world, but I don't think it makes a difference.
DOBBS: Maybe I should plead guilty to not being overwhelmingly confident since I can remember talking with [atomic scientist] Edward Teller about the SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative], better than 20 years ago now.
FUND: Half our tests have worked out. Half our tests have worked.
DOBBS: I'm trying to be enthused and reassured by that. It just isn't working for me.