On a tour of the Pacific Rim, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered a cautious assessment when asked if U.S. missile interceptor (recently installed in Alaska) could actually knock down a North Korean ICBM. Rumsfeld said more extensive testing is needed before he will be fully persuaded that the system works as advertised:

According to the SecDef, “A full end-to-end” demonstration is needed “where we actually put all the pieces” of the highly complex and far-flung missile defense system together and see whether it would succeed in destroying a warhead in flight.

“That just hasn’t happened,” he said, adding that some elements of the missile defense system are yet to come on line, including some of the radars and other sensors used to track the target missile.

The MSM is spinning Rumsfeld’s comments as a less-than-ringing endorsement of ballistic missile defense, which the press often depicts as a boondoggle that is doomed to failure, despite the investment of billions of tax dollars. However, Rumsfeld’s remarks were less a critique of the system that a mere statement of fact. Ballistic missile defense is an extremely complex system that relies on equally complex sub-systems. Some of those elements are now deployed–such as the interceptor missiles that Rumsfeld saw in Alaska. Others are still in development and a few are still on the drawing board. An overall assessment of the system’s performance really can’t be made until it is fully deployed, integrated and tested–events that are still somewhere down the road.

Readers will note that the AP story carefully omits the major strides made by missile defense over the past two decades. Deployment of those interceptor missiles, tracking radars, and space-based sensors represent a major technological feat. Ditto for recent tests of shipborne missile interceptors which validated the ability of the Aegis system to provide long-range, sea-based missile defense. Collectively, these systems have given the U.S. (and its allies) an initial capability against limited enemy missile attacks. The system is hardly fool-proof or perfect, but it has advanced far beyond the early experiments of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan’s dream was widely derided and scoffed. Reading the AP story, you’d almost believe that it was 1985, and those missiles at Fort Greely were part of a system that will never work. Thankfully, that it not the case.

If you’re genuinely interested in BMD, make a visit to the Missile Defense Agency homepage. True, MDA is a bit biased on the subject, but no more than the AP’s Robert Burns, who wrote the wire service report.