Capabilities of the US missile defense systems are likely to remain low for next 15 years

COLLEGE PARK, MD, February 9, 2022 — The capabilities of US systems intended to defend against the nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that North Korea may have or could obtain are currently low and will likely continue to be low for the next 15 years, according to a new technical report commissioned by the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs.

Titled “Ballistic Missile Defense: Threats and Challenges,” the report notes that despite decades of effort, no missile defense system thus far developed has been shown to be effective against realistic ICBM threats. ICBMs are ballistic missiles with a range of more than 3,500 nautical miles.

“With the Biden administration’s review of missile defense expected later this year, it is critical to have a careful technical assessment of its capabilities that our leaders can use to more clearly evaluate the economic and security costs of pursuing missile defense systems, as well as a careful assessment of their possible benefits,” said Frederick K. Lamb, chair of the study, physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a missile defense expert. “Having looked at the issue in detail, we have come to the conclusion that the current US missile defense system is unreliable and ineffective against even the small number of relatively unsophisticated nuclear-armed ICBMs that we considered, and that creating a reliable and effective defense remains a daunting challenge.”

The report, the work of a 13-member study group of physicists and engineers, examined whether current and proposed systems intended to defend the United States against nuclear-armed North Korean ICBMs are—or could be made—effective in preventing a successful ICBM attack by North Korea on the United States.

Part of the study group is our very own, Aric Tate, a graduate student in NPRE and a Physics 280 TA. Tate is a co-author of the Ballistic Missile Defense report and it can be found here.