Star Wars, Continued
The boondoggle that won't stop, and the corporate
money that keeps it going
by William S. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca
Multinational Monitor magazine, October 2000
With a critical test failure on July 8 and a growing chorus
of criticisms, President Clinton found himself in a safe position
to delay deployment of the proposed National Missile Defense (NMD)-"Star
Wars"-system before leaving office. The technical failures
of the NMD system allowed Clinton to shield Vice President Al
Gore from charges of being "soft on defense" amid the
presidential campaign while delaying a full-scale commitment to
deploy a costly and questionable missile defense system until
the next administration. But authorization to proceed with NMD
has only been deferred, not denied.
The NMD has the potential to rank as the most expensive boondoggle
ever. Cost projections for the NMD system range from the Congressional
Budget Office estimate of $60 billion for the "limited"
two-site system currently being tested to as much as $240 billion
for a more "robust," multi-tiered approach that many
Republicans, including Republican presidential candidate George
W. Bush, are pushing for.
With much to gain if NMD is in fact deployed, the nations'
"Big 4" weapons contractors (Lockheed Martin, Boeing,
Raytheon, and TRW) are eager to please the powers that be. National
Missile Defense presents one of the few bright spots on the horizon
for a defense industry that has witnessed the end of the Cold
War and a shrinking demand in Pentagon procurement. These four
firms dominate missile defense contracts, which soak up $3 to
$4 billion a year of taxpayer funds. In fiscal year 1998-99, they
accounted for 60 percent of the missile defense contracts issued
by the Pentagon.
As the 2000 presidential campaign enters its final lap, the
top contractors have been busy courting both parties-and for good
reason. The candidates on both the Republican and Democratic tickets
have ardently supported increased defense spending in general
and a National Missile Defense system in particular. While NMD
is set to continue as a research and testing program, Clinton's
successor will decide whether or not to deploy the system and
to what extent.
During the past decade, the major weapons makers have made
generous campaign contributions to key members of Congress and
invested tens of millions of dollars in their Washington, D.C.
Iobbying operations. Since 1995, shortly after the Republicans
took control of the House, weapons industry political action committees
(PAC) contributions have favored Republicans over Democrats by
a two-to-one margin. From 1997 to the present, the defense industry
as a whole has given more than $10 million in PAC contributions,
with the Big 4 accounting for $4.2 million. The corporations have
also doled out close to $3 million in soft money contributions.
Lockheed Martin-the nation's (and the world's) largest defense
contractor with a hand in multiple missile defense projects-donated
$100,000 to both the GOP and the Democratic conventions, and all
told has given more than $2.6 million in contributions for this
election cycle. The company has worked hard to endear itself to
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, kicking in $60,000
for a "Lott Hop" fundraiser at the Republican National
Convention in Philadelphia and pledging $1 million to the "Trent
Lott Leadership Institute" at the University of Mississippi.
At the Democratic convention, Lockheed was one of two dozen companies
sponsoring Senator John Breaux's, D-Louisiana, "Mardi Gras
Goes Hollywood" party.
Boeing, currently in charge of a $2.2 billion contract for
the Lead Systems Integrator for the NMD program, donated $100,000
to the Democratic National Convention. In total, Boeing has supplied
more $2.2 million in PAC and soft money to candidates and the
The smaller of the Big 4 have also been cultivating good relations
with both parties. Together, Raytheon and TRW have dished out
almost $2 million in campaign contributions. Raytheon, presently
developing the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (the weapon part) of
the NMD system, co-hosted a fundraiser on Santa Monica pier for
the members of the conservative Democrat "Blue Dog"
caucus. Each sponsor reportedly donated $50,000 for the bash.
And TRW, currently facing charges of fraud for manipulating the
results of tests related to the NMD program, threw a luncheon
during the Republican Convention for Senate Armed Services Committee
Chair John Warner, R-VA, at the Philadelphia Union Club. Eighty-five
percent of TRW's campaign contributions have been targeted at
Though the resurgence of the missile defense issue can be
traced to the special interests of the contractors, it is not
an achievement of the industry alone. The brewing debate over
National Missile Defense has its roots planted in an alliance
of defense contractors, conservative "true believers"
in Congress, right-wing think tanks and weapons scientists.
The heart and soul of the missile defense lobby is former
Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, founder and director of
the Center for Security Policy (CSP). The Center is a small but
extremely effective boiler room operation that puts out nearly
200 press releases and "national security decision briefs"
per year on issues like the North Korean missile threat, Chinese
nuclear espionage and the alleged dangers to U.S. security of
supporting various arms control treaties. However, unlike most
think tanks that work on national security issues, CSP receives
roughly 20 percent of its annual revenue from corporate sponsors,
including three of the Big 4 missile defense contractors.
The Center's 100-member board of advisors is made up of a
virtual "Star Wars Hall of Fame" including weapons scientist
Edward Teller, former Reagan science advisor George Keyworth,
conservative stalwarts Bill Bennett and former Reagan UN Ambassador
Jeanne Kirkpatrick, now of Empower America, and Heritage Foundation
president Edward Feulner. Defense executives on the board include
Lockheed Martin's Charles Kupperman and Bruce Jackson, and Boeing's
Andrew Ellis. Rounding out the board are almost two dozen current
and former members of Congress including Representatives Chris
Cox, R-California, and Curt Weldon, R-Pennsylvania, and Senators
Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Arizona.
This conservative/contractor alliance represented on CSP's
board of advisors was instrumental in encouraging former House
Speaker Newt Gingrich to insert a plank on missile defense in
the "Contract with America." More importantly, board
of advisors' member Representative Curt Weldon inserted the amendment
into the 1997 defense authorization bill that created the purportedly
objective, bipartisan Rumsfeld Commission to assess the ballistic
missile threat facing the United States.
The Rumsfeld Report, released in the summer of 1998, was a
critical weapon in the conservative drive to reshape the debate
over National Missile Defense and helped create a sense of urgency
for deployment of an NMD system. Despite the fact the report made
no policy recommendations, NMD boosters in Congress got what they
wanted-a quasi-official endorsement to push the program forward.
Upon its release, Newt Gingrich proclaimed the report's findings
to be "the greatest warning for U.S. security since the end
of the Cold War." But instead of looking at the realistic
economic, political and technical impediments facing so-called
"rogue states" like Iraq and North Korea in developing
long-range ballistic missiles, the Commission focused on speculative
questions such as the consequences of China giving advanced missile
technology (or even a completed missile) to North Korea. The report
painted a worst case scenario by alleging the missile threat facing
the U.S. is "evolving more rapidly" than had been reported
in the past.
CSP had a huge influence in the commission, chaired by former
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Board members William Graham
and William Schneider served on the panel, and CSP has publicly
bragged that a number of its former staffers and interns served
as staff members of the Rumsfeld commission. Donald Rumsfeld is
a financial supporter of the Center for Security Policy, as well
as a board member of Empower America, the group responsible for
a series of pro "Star Wars" radio ads during the 1998
The Rumsfeld Report, coupled with the August 1998 North Korean
missile test and charges of Chinese nuclear espionage-stoked by
hearings organized by CSP Board member Representative Christopher
Cox-helped clear the way for the passage of bills in the House
and Senate calling upon the president to deploy an NMD system
"as soon as technologically feasible." Democrats supported
the bill after two amendments were tacked on-one reaffirming U.S.
commitment to pursue nuclear reductions with Russia, and the second
requiring funds for NMD to be appropriated on an annual basis.
While NMD skeptics see these amendments as important tools for
holding up NMD deployment if conditions on arms control and affordability
are not met, the passage of the bill completely shifted the political
ground in favor of a decision to deploy The debate in Washington
has changed from whether to deploy NMD to when to do so.
The strong support for Star Wars is not matched by strong
evidence of NDM's viability. To date, only three of 19 scheduled
intercept tests have taken place. The record: one hit, two misses.
With this track record, it would seem that the "as soon
as technologically feasible" part of the NMD bill would put
off deployment indefinitely, but the "true believers"
have found a way to turn even test failures into "successes."
The Pentagon has yet to discern the exact cause for the most
recent NMD test failure, which occurred on July 8, 2000. What
is known is that the kill vehicle failed to separate from its
booster because the circuit board on the booster did not operate
properly and therefore an intercept was never attempted.
NMD advocates have played down the importance of this failure,
with one senior Pentagon official stating, "It was a '70s
technology, manufactured in 1990."
The second unsuccessful test took place in January. The infrared
sensors failed to guide the interceptor to its target.
But missile defense supporters were unshaken. Senator Thad
Cochran, R-Mississippi, proclaimed, "We will learn that this
was not an unsuccessful test, even though the interceptor did
not hit the target."
Even the one "success" in the NMD program was not
so successful. Pentagon officials have conceded that the kill
vehicle, which originally drifted off course, was assisted in
finding the target by a large, bright decoy balloon. "If
the balloon hadn't been there, then they wouldn't have hit the
target," says Tom Collina of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"They got lucky."
Respected missile defense experts have called the overall
program "high risk" and a "rush to failure."
The Pentagon's Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation's
annual report, issued in February 2000, points out that "the
aggressive schedule established for the NMD Program presents a
major challenge. The NMD program will have to compress the work
of 10 to 12 years into 8 or less years.... This pattern has historically
resulted in a negative effect on virtually every troubled DOD
A highly critical report released in November 1999 by a panel
headed by former Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Larry
Welch argued that the failures of NMD were not the result of "random"
malfunctions, but an indication of systematic flaws in design,
planning and management. Both reports agree that the NMD intercept
tests-tests which the system is unable to pass-have not been representative
of real world threats.
Critics and even some military experts say all flight tests
of the $60 billion weapon have been virtually rigged to hide a
fundamental flaw: the system cannot distinguish between enemy
warheads and decoys.
"The only way to make it work is to dumb it down,"
says anti-missile expert and former Lockheed scientist Michael
W. Munn. "There's no other way to do it. Discrimination has
always been the number one problem, and it will always remain
THE DUBIOUS RECORD OF THE BIG FOUR
The NMD testing program assigns maximum monitoring authority
to the same companies that stand to make billions of dollars if
NMD is deployed. This conflict of interest is made even more problematic
given the history of fraud, corruption and mismanagement by the
A whistleblower has charged TRW with fraud for manipulating
tests and evaluations in the development of the kill vehicle component
of the NMD system. Former TRW senior engineer Dr. Nira Schwartz
served on TRW's anti-missile team in 1995 and 1996. She contends
that computer simulations indicated that interceptors for the
NMD system could not discriminate decoys from warheads, but management
at TRW refused to report these failures to the Pentagon. Colleagues
and supervisors ignored Schwartz's repeated appeals that they
alert industrial partners and the military of the problems. Eventually,
she was fired.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon has tried to wave off charges
of fraud involving the TRW kill vehicle by arguing that a different
vehicle, one being developed by Raytheon, has been chosen for
inclusion in the final NMD system. What Beacon does not say is
that Boeing, which has unprecedented authority over the entire
NMD program as Lead Systems Integrator, designed the TRW interceptor
vehicle that has been the subject of the allegations. The Boeing/TRW
interceptor remains a backup in case the Raytheon version fails
to perform adequately.
Furthermore, as weapons scientist Theodore Postol of MIT pointed
out at a May 25 press briefing, the "Ballistic Missile Defense
Organization (BMDO) continues to make transparently false statements
about the capabilities of the Raytheon Kill Vehicle relative to
the Boeing Kill Vehicle. The Raytheon Kill Vehicle was not selected
over the Boeing vehicle for technical reasons, as claimed by BMDO.
It was selected because a Boeing employee illegally obtained sensitive
Raytheon technical documentation on their Kill Vehicle."
In other words, there is no evidence the Raytheon product will
Raytheon has been plagued by its own problems lately. The
company had to recall hundreds of Patriot missiles it sold to
U.S. allies after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, reportedly because
of worn electronic parts in the missiles' radar-guidance systems.
And defense experts have blasted Raytheon's Exoatmospheric Kill
Vehicle (EKV), under development for the NMD program, as technically
unsatisfactory. The Welch panel noted the "hardware-poor"
nature of the EKV program, and pointed out that the EKV may not
be able to withstand the shock loads once mounted on the actual
Ground Based Interceptor booster to be used in the NMD system.
The operational version of the actual booster will not be tested
Beleaguered Lockheed Martin, which is the contractor for the
NMD payload launch vehicle, agreed in June of this year to pay
$13 million to settle government accusations that it violated
arms export laws by sharing sensitive satellite technology with
China. It has also experienced a series of embarrassing and expensive
launch failures of its rockets and satellites, resulting in more
than $2 billion worth of military and private satellites being
either destroyed or deployed into useless orbits.
Lockheed also has apparently been involved in outright deception
in generating support for missile defense. In 1984, the company
conducted an apparently successful test of a Star Wars intercept
system, gaining political momentum for the initiative. Nine years
later, Tim Weiner of the New York Times uncovered the truth. "We
rigged the test," a scientist involved with the test told
Weiner. "We put a beacon with a certain frequency on the
target vehicle. On the interceptor, we had a receiver." Weiner
reports that "in effect, the scientist said, the target was
talking to the missile, saying, 'Here I am, come get me."'
Weiner quotes the scientist: "The hit looked beautiful, so
Congress didn't ask questions."
Asked why the test was rigged, the scientist said, "We
would lose hundreds of millions of dollars if we didn't perform
WHAT'S NEXT ?
Thanks to the political lobbying and intrigue of the Star
Wars pushers, political support for a NMD system is growing, and
Republican members of Congress are using Clinton's decision to
defer a decision to press for an expansive missile defense system.
While 53 members of the House of Representatives, led by Representative
Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and John Conyers, D-Michigan, have called
for an FBI investigation of potential fraud in the NMD program,-which
the FBI now says it is conducting-the Senate defeated an amendment
introduced by Senator Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, that would have
required the Pentagon to test the NMD system in realistic conditions
before any decisions about deployment are made.
For now, it appears that a mix of election year politics and
cash hungry contractors has obscured the facts surrounding the
NMD system. By the time the smoke clears, the NMD juggernaut may
be too powerful to stop. Even in a best-case scenario, billions
of dollars of taxpayer money will have been wasted, lavished on
the weapons contractors in return for a relatively small investment
they have made in the political process
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms Trade Resource
Center at the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social
Research. Michelle Ciarrocca is a research associate at the World
Policy and Pentagon