A leading military contractor faked tests for a key component in the proposed $27 billion National Missile Defense (NMD) system, according to a former senior engineer for the company.
Dr. Nira Schwartz worked for TRW, a military contractor, helping design a computer program enabling missile interceptors to distinguish between incoming warheads and decoys. The program failed numerous tests. But when Dr. Schwartz requested her superiors communicate these problems to the federal government, she was fired.
TRW certified to the government that interceptors using its computer programs would succeed more than 95 percent of the time in picking out enemy warheads, even if they were hidden by dozens of decoys and other countermeasures. In contrast, the interceptors could do so only 5 to 15 percent of the time, Dr. Schwartz said in court documents.
Dr. Schwartz has filed a lawsuit against TRW seeking to recover $500 million for the government, a portion of which a judge could award her as compensation. While the Pentagon rejected the TRW missile software, it still could be used since the prototype built by Raytheon stumbled in recent tests.
These revelations reopen the debate over how quickly the government should proceed with the deployment of an NMD system.
In the past four decades, the U.S. spent more than $122 billion on missile defense, and currently spends $4 billion per year. The Clinton Administration will decide this summer whether to deploy NMD.
With more than $6.9 million doled out in campaign contributions during the 1997-98 election cycle from NMD contractors (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, TRW and Raytheon), some critics argue that campaign cash may drive the NMD debate.
Another intercept test is scheduled for April. If it succeeds in hitting the target, the U.S. military will meet its own minimum standard and conclude a missile-defense system is technologically feasible.
But a panel of missile defense experts last November released a study highly critical of the NMD program. They slammed the program for being beset by a “legacy of over-optimism” and warned that a “high risk of failure remains” because of a “compressed” testing schedule.
The decision to deploy NMD should be delayed until at least after the presidential elections and allegations against TRW and any other remaining technological questions about the NMD system are answered.
U.S. taxpayers demand a high degree of technical and financial accountability for NMD. With billions at stake, the Pentagon must make sure the technology works properly before billions are wasted.