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Project on Government Oversight

The U.S. Missile Defense System-It Can't Stand the Rain: POGO Sources Report that Rainfall Has Wiped Out 25% of U.S. Missile Defense Launch Capability

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March 26, 2007

A significant portion of the U.S. missile defense launch capability was wiped out during the summer of 2006 because torrential rains caused ground-based interceptor silos to be damaged by flood waters, the Project On Government Oversight has learned.

This expensive mishap occurred just as North Korea was ratcheting up its nuclear weapons program. However Boeing, the contractor that is at least partly responsible for failing to protect the silos, will most likely still receive an estimated $38 million to repair the silos and a $100 million no-bid contract to build more silos. Boeing would also receive a $7 million award fee added to the contract.

The flooding occurred during a three-week period between the end of June and early July 2006 when Ft. Greely , Alaska , received several inches of rain.  Ft. Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California house the nation's only Missile Defense Agency interceptor missiles. The flooding damaged 25% of the U.S. interceptor missiles' launch capability. These silos house the interceptor missiles that would be used to attempt to intercept a missile aimed at the United States . No interceptors were in the flooded silos.

 
Bar graph showing MF3 Assessment Results

 Click here for a pdf view of the MF3 Assessment Results

Insiders report that Boeing, the lead contractor responsible for building the fields disputes its role in the disaster.  Boeing argues that NORTHCOM, the U.S. military command responsible for defending North America , is primarily responsible because it ordered Boeing to stop working on the interceptor fields in case the missiles were needed to respond to a North Korean missile launch. 

Boeing's internal assessment shows that one of the missile fields has seven flooded interceptor silos-with up to 63 ft. of water in one silo and 50 ft. in another. Ft. Greely has 26 silos. As of Feb. 7, 2007 13 interceptors had been installed. 

(See more here).

POGO sources say Boeing argues the interruption prevented them from protecting the silos from the rain.  However, these same sources say it is questions whether the silos could have handled the rainfall anyway because they are poorly designed.  In addition, an environmental impact study of the facilities at Ft. Greely notes there is "little rainfall in the region."  (See p.8 here)

The controversial missile defense program costs at least $9 billion annually and critics point out that the technology is still questionable at best.

An additional fact sheet appears below.


Fact Sheet
Ft. Greely Missile Defense Disaster
Project On Government Oversight
March 26, 2007

  • A March 2007 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) may not be on track to meet its schedule and quantity goals for interceptor installation, although MDA can revise its baseline.
  • Boxcar like structures called Silo Interface Vaults (SIVs) are adjacent to the interceptor silos.  Seven of the SIVs were flooded, two of them by as much as 15 ft. of water. These SIVs "[provide] the necessary equipment to produce an operational missile silo," according to The Kwajalein Hourglass.  The Hourglass is "an authorized publication for military personnel, federal employees, contractor workers and their families" assigned to Kwajalein , a U.S. territory.  The Hourglass' website can be accessed through the U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command's website
  • Here is a photo of Brig. Gen. James W. Nuttall, deputy director of the Army National Guard, descending into an SIV on the Missile Defense Complex at Ft. Greely. 
  • Boeing's internal assessment reports that three SIVs must have all electronic and mechanical systems replaced.  Four other SIVs have partial damage. One SIV was so damaged that it shifted vertically in the ground like a house shifting off its foundation.
  • MDA is reported to have decided to build an entirely new missile field of 20 missiles, along with associated support facilities, to avoid the problem of working near missiles in undamaged silos.  Also it is not cost effective to refurbish the damaged silos and SIVs.
  • MDA's latest budget justification, Block 2008 (Project 0908) includes cost for an additional missile field at Ft. Greely.  However, there is also funding for "Complete acquisition of five (5) additional silos and associated launch support equipment at Fort Greely supporting the installation of additional Ground Based Interceptors."  Click here

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.