Trump’s claim that a U.S. interceptor can knock out ICBMs ’97 percent of the time’

Trump’s claim that a U.S. interceptor can knock out ICBMs ’97 percent of the time’

Author: Syndicated/Friday, October 13, 2017/Categories: Miliatry, Domestic

“We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time, and if you send two of them, it’s going to get knocked down.”


— President Trump, interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Oct. 11, 2017

In discussing the threat posed by North Korea and its rush to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), President Trump offered a reassuring image: a missile defense so robust that a single interceptor had a 97-percent success rate — and two interceptors would assuredly knock the ICBM out of the sky.

 

Is this anything close to reality?

 

The Facts

The White House did not respond to a request for comment, but the president appears to be referring to the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) in Alaska and California, which is administered by the Missile Defense Agency. Some $40 billion has been spent on developing the project, which is supposed to prevent ballistic missiles from attacking the homeland.

 

MDA officials have been optimistic about the program’s effectiveness, tossing around statistics that sound a bit like Trump’s 97-percent figure.

 

For instance, in March 2011,  then-MDA Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told Congress: “Due to the number of interceptors . . . we have, the probability will be well in the high-90s today of the GMD system being able to intercept [a missile] today.”

 

This statement was based on seven simultaneously attacking missiles and suggested an effectiveness rate of firing four interceptors per target, arms control experts said.

 

In other words, it would take four interceptors to reach 97 percent, not one. So Trump is totally off base with that number.

 

There are 36 interceptors in place, so if more than nine ballistic missiles were launched at once, the number of available interceptors per missile would be less than four.

 

For instance, in March 2011,  then-MDA Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told Congress: “Due to the number of interceptors . . . we have, the probability will be well in the high-90s today of the GMD system being able to intercept [a missile] today.”

 

This statement was based on seven simultaneously attacking missiles and suggested an effectiveness rate of firing four interceptors per target, arms control experts said.

 

In other words, it would take four interceptors to reach 97 percent, not one. So Trump is totally off base with that number.

 

Other experts agreed with this analysis, since the same flaw might defeat all four interceptors — whether countermeasures or a faulty divert thruster, which steer interceptors in the path of enemy missiles.

Other experts agreed with this analysis, since the same flaw might defeat all four interceptors — whether countermeasures or a faulty divert thruster, which steer interceptors in the path of enemy missiles.

Asked to respond to the president’s remarks, Capt. Scott Miller, a spokesman at the U.S. Northern Command, said, “While we won’t comment on specific operational tactics, we are confident that we could defeat a North Korean ICBM threatening the homeland.”

However, internal government reports on GMD have cast doubt on the MDA’s claims for the program.

“GMD flight testing, to date, was insufficient to demonstrate that an operationally useful defense capability exists; and a quantitative assessment of GMD’s operational effectiveness is not possible,” the Government Accountability Office said in a 2016 report.

Similarly, the Operational Test and Evaluation Office of the secretary of defense has been deeply skeptical, warning in its 2016 annual report that “GMD demonstrates a limited capability to defend the U.S. Homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.” The report added that the “reliability and availability of the operational [interceptors] are low.”

“The confidence with which [Trump] made the statement indicates a lack of understanding of the complexities or perhaps a lack of interest in those complexities,” said Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

The Pinocchio Test

The president speaks with confidence but descends into hyperbole. No single interceptor for ICBMs has demonstrated a 97-percent success rate, and there is no guarantee using two interceptors has a 100-percent success rate. Moreover, the military’s suggestion that it could achieve a 97-percent success rate with four interceptors appears based on faulty assumptions and overenthusiastic math. The odds of success under the most ideal conditions are no better than 50-50, and likely worse, as documented in detailed government assessments.

Trump earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

 

Print

Number of views (536)/Comments ()

Name:
Email:
Subject:
Message:
x

Latest

  • All
  • Trump/Russia
  • Miliatry
  • White House
  • Policy
  • Foreign
  • Domestic
  • Economy
  • Law
  • Politics
  • Republican
  • Democrat
More

    No content

    A problem occurred while loading content.

    Previous Next