Saturday, September 10, 2016

Missile defense and how idolatry of the military wastes enormous amounts of public money

In my pre-blogging days, I would often makes notes on dead-tree paper. Here is a note I made on October 2, 2001, about three weeks after 9/11.

October 2, 2001

Several old ideas that seemed obsolete or were at least half-forgotten now seem to take on new relevance. Remember the "military-industrial complex"? It was a major bogeyman of the anti-Vietnam War movement and the "New Left" of those days. Some liberal economists like John Kenneth Galbraith continued to warn of the long-term dangers it presented to democracy. Even the occasional isolationist, Libertarian-oriented conservatives would grumble about it. But the idea has been largely absent from public discussion since the fall of the USSR.

No politician - with the possible exception of my Congresswoman Barbara Lee - wants to criticize the military right now. But no one can overlook the fact that on September 11, our military not only failed to protect our cities and our people from the worst sneak attack in history. What's even more scary in terms of public confidence in their ability to defend "the homeland" as we're now learning to call it is that they couldn't even defend the Pentagon, the worldwide command headquarters for our military forces, from a low-tech but devastating terrorist attack.

When I think back to earlier this year [2002] when the military faked, outright faked, the results of the Star Wars "Missile Defense" tests, it5 seems to me a classic example of the "military-industrial complex" at work, in its most corruptive, corrosive sense. If the task of defending the homeland were the top priority throughout the command structure, the military would be the first to insist that such tests be conducted honestly. They wouldn't want anyone to be wasting military dollars on a defense system that couldn't work.

But in this case, the Pentagon was more concerned to fake the results to encourage more investment in a technology they know is not yet able to do what its marketers claim. Because of they really thought the thing could work, the wouldn't have had to fake the results, now would they?

The most generous explanation I can imagine is that it was normal bureaucratic inertia. Find excuses to build up your budget. Remind everyone how critical your function is.

The more likely explanation is the unhealthy relationship between many senior military officials and private defense contractors. Not least of these incentives is the prospect of post-military-retirement jobs as officers or consultants at defense industries, despite the restrictions currently in place.

But this was the "military-industrial complex" at work. Finding excuses to spend billions on highly questionable weapons systems. While Bin Ladin's al-Qaeda group and the nation of Afghanistan prepared a successful attack on the Pentagon.


On that last point, my understanding now is that the Taliban government in Kabul not only tolerated but welcomed Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan. But I don't recall hearing any direct evidence that the government itself was involved in the actual planning of the 9/11 attacks.

The Star Wars boondoggle continued, of course:

David Willman has been reporting on Star Wars/missile-defense for the Los Angeles Times. Two years ago he reported $40-Billion Missile Defense System Proves Unreliable.

Just this month, he reported in A flawed missile defense system generates $2 billion in bonuses for Boeing 09/02/2016:

The interceptors failed to destroy their targets in six of the 11 tests — a record that has prompted independent experts to conclude the system cannot be relied on to foil a nuclear strike by North Korea or Iran.

Yet over that same timespan, Boeing Co., the Pentagon’s prime contractor for GMD, collected nearly $2 billion in performance bonuses for a job well-done, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

The Pentagon paid Boeing more than $21 billion total for managing the system during that period.

A Times investigation also found that the criteria for the yearly bonuses were changed at some point to de-emphasize the importance of test results that demonstrate the system’s ability to intercept and destroy incoming warheads.
And when were such changes made?

Early on, Boeing’s contract specified that bonuses would be based primarily on “hit to kill success” in flight tests. In later years, the words “hit to kill” were removed in favor of more generally phrased benchmarks, contract documents show. ...

In 2002, President George W. Bush ordered “an initial set of missile defense capabilities” to be put in place within two years.

To accelerate deployment, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld exempted the missile agency from the Pentagon’s standard procurement rules and testing standards.

The Pentagon’s own Operational Test and Evaluation office has documented serious deficiencies in the system. So have other government agencies and independent experts. [my emphasis]

Nice work if you can get it! And defense contractors do get it.

We're now into the fourth decade of the major Star Wars/missile defense effort. It's main purpose was to provide a missile shield to intercept nuclear missiles. Which only works if it's extremely close to 100% reliable. The strategic idea behind it was always dubious, to put it mildly, even if it had that level of reliability. Which it's never come close to having.

But who cares about that if it's generating not only billions of dollars in profit to companies that fail decade after decade to make the thing work?

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