CBO Paper Questions Missile Defense Cost, Schedule When President Clinton meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a June summit in Moscow, one of the topics for discussion will be a US national missile defense (NMD) system, and possible revisions to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. While the Russians have been reluctant to consider revising the treaty to permit US construction of such a defensive shield, there are also questions and concerns about the proposed system closer to home.
As reported in FYI #52, the Council of the American Physical Society released an April 29 statement addressing the decision Clinton is expected to make this summer or fall regarding deployment of a National Missile Defense (NMD). Also in April, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a document on the "Budgetary and Technical Implications" of the planned system. Neither the APS statement nor the CBO paper take a position regarding eventual deployment of such a system. The APS statement says that tests planned before the expected decision "fall far short" of what would be necessary to prove the "technical feasibility" of the system. The CBO report arrives at a higher cost estimate for the first phase of the system than the Administration projects, and admits to ambiguity regarding the sufficiency of the planned number of test flights before a deployment decision is made.
The 37-page CBO document, intended to provide "objective, impartial analysis," was requested by Democratic Senators Tom Daschle (SD), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), and Carl Levin (MI). It does not attempt to "examine the ultimate effectiveness of the NMD system." According to the document, recent intelligence reports have "instilled a sense of urgency in the Administration, causing it to propose a very ambitious development schedule for NMD." The Administration has restructured its plan "so that deployment could occur in 2005 if a decision was made this summer to do so."
According to CBO, the Administration's plan lays out three possible phases: Expanded Capability 1 would ultimately comprise 100 interceptors at one launch site in Alaska, intended to defend against missiles with simple countermeasures. Capability 2 would be able to handle more sophisticated countermeasures, and Capability 3 would add more interceptors and a second launch site, most likely in North Dakota. The Administration has only given a cost estimate for Expanded Capability 1, of $25.6 billion through the year 2015. CBO estimates that this first phase would cost $29.5 billion over the same period, and explains that its estimate includes more replacements and spares, more additional testing in the system's early years, and an assumption of 20 percent cost growth (comparable to similar programs), rather than the Administration's assumption of 5 percent growth. The paper also predicts greater operating costs than the Administration. CBO projects that moving from Expanded Capability 1 to Capability 2 would cost an additional $6.1 billion, for a total system cost of $35.6 billion, and proceeding to Capability 3 would cost $13.3 billion, bringing the total cost to $48.8 billion. CBO notes that the Administration gives no cost estimates for the follow-on phases, and that the current defense plan for future years does not at this time include enough funding for those later phases.
After reviewing historical testing trends for similar development programs, CBO concludes only that "unfortunately, the record of past programs is ambiguous" with respect to the appropriate number of test flights. It finds, however, that the average development time for similar programs is 13 years rather than the 10 planned for NMD, and warns of the "significant risks" associated with such an accelerated schedule. One consequence is the significant overlap between development and production. The document refers to the NMD program as "an extreme example of production overlapping development." The closest CBO comes to making a recommendation is to say that "extending the acquisition schedule for the threshold deployment of Capability 1 to the more traditional 13 years - with deployment by the end of 2008 - would have some advantages." In particular, this would allow more time to develop "the technology needed to discriminate between decoys and real warheads."
The CBO paper also addresses possible reactions by other nations to US implementation of a national missile defense. Entitled "Budgetary and Technical Implications of the Administration's Plan for National Missile Defense," the paper is available at http://www.cbo.gov under "Recently Released" documents.
Audrey T. Leath