Winnefeld Addresses Missile Defense Misconceptions

Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined three common misconceptions regarding ballistic missile defense during a recent speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The first, “and most obvious,” he said, is that the United States’ defense system can’t “hit-to-kill.” He cited the successful June 2014 test interception of an intermediate-range ballistic missile launched from the Army’s Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands as an example. “Overall, the ground-based missile defense system is four for seven, and there’s nothing like having your most recent shot a success,” Winnefeld said during the May 19 speech. He also cited the US’s “excellent track record with our regional systems,” noting that “THAAD is 11 for 11; AEGIS BMD is 21 for 25; and the Patriot PAC-3 is 21 for 25.” He added, “That’s not bad, but we’re determined to make it even better.” Second, Winnefeld said it’s not “as easy as it might look on paper” for an adversary to employ ballistic missile defense countermeasures. And, finally, he said, “It would be hubris” to think that “missile defense needs to be 100-percent effective in order to be successful.” Though he said that will always be the goal, Winnefeld acknowledged that, “No system can achieve perfection even though we always strive for it.” (Winnefeld transcript.) (See also A Pain and No Gain Approach to Missile Defense.)