Congress Is Asking for an East Coast Missile Defense Site (That the Pentagon Doesn't Want)
In any case, the Missile Defense Agency fears that building a third GMD site would divert money and resources from ensuring its interceptors hit the correct target in the first place. This is because GMD has been only tested under optimal conditions against easy-to-hit targets—and even then, it has only successfully hit targets under 60 percent of time.
Under realistic operational conditions, an incoming ballistic missile would likely deploy decoy countermeasures to confuse missile defenses as to which radar contact poses a genuine threat. However, GMD has only been tested a few times against primitive decoys, and its ability to differentiate between a missile and complex decoy remains in question. Furthermore, tests have been conducted with advanced warning and under ideal weather conditions, even though an actual attack could occur under less fortuitous circumstances.
Therefore, senior officials in the MDA argue that improving the missile interceptors is a greater priority than fielding more of them at present. Furthermore, a February 2017 Los Angeles Times article noted that the MDA had not even corrected flaws identified in early-model GMD interceptors that had led to interception failures in tests.
Another potential expansion to missile defense would be incorporating Canada into the GMD umbrella. This would allow Canadian radars to contribute targeting data to the system, as well as potentially including a GMD battery in Canada for additional polar coverage. While Ottawa rejected participating in the GMD program in 2005, in 2016 the Canadian defense minister put the possibility of joining the defense umbrella back on the table. The United States is not currently obligated to use the GMD system to defend Canada; however, Canadian opponents of GMD argue that Canada is currently under little threat of missile attack, and that joining might only increase the risk.
The Pentagon is supposed to announce the preferred location of a missile defense site it doesn’t want later this year—though there have been delays in the past—and it will be left to the White House whether to accede to congressional pressure. It’s worth bearing in mind that, regardless of what politicians on Capitol Hill may feel, the personnel in the military and MDA who operate America’s missile defenses seem to believe that improving the reliability of the trouble-prone GMD interceptors already in place would be a more efficient way of protecting the nation from missile attack.
Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.