November 8, 2012: The Mystery of the Cost of the NAS Report’s Proposed GMD-E National Missile Defense System, Part II: What Do the NAS GMD-E System Costs Include?

As discussed in Part I (November 4, 2012) of this post, Figure 4-1 of the National Academy of Sciences Report summarizes its conclusions about the cost of the various ballistic missile defense alternatives the Report considers. In particular, Figure 4-1 purports to show that NAS Report’s proposed new GMD-E national missile defense (NMD) system could be developed, procured and operated for 20 years for billions of dollars less than simply completing and operating the current Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) NMD system. Part I of this post showed that the NAS overestimates the cost for the current GMD system by about $2.5 billion because it double counts operation and sustainment (O&S) costs. Even corrected for this error, however, the NAS Report’s Figure 4-1 would still show that its proposed GMD-E system is less expensive than simply completing the current GMD system.

This post (Part II) focuses on showing two things:

(1) That the costs shown in NAS Report’s Figure 4-1 are only for the east coast site of its proposed GMD-E system, not the complete system;


(2) When the costs of the full GMD-E system and the time required to build it are taken into account, deploying and operating the NAS Report’s proposed GMD-E system will actually cost much more than simply completing and operating the current GMD system.

(1) The costs shown in NAS Report’s Figure 4-1 are only for the east coast site of its proposed GMD-E system, not the complete system.

The NAS Report’s GMD-E proposal would initially deploy 30 GMD-E interceptors at a new site in the northeastern United States. Subsequently, 30 additional GMD-E interceptors would replace the 30 deployed GBI interceptors (in Alaska in California) of the current GMD system. Deploying, testing and sustaining these 60 GMD-E interceptors would require procuring a total of 100 interceptors. The NAS Report’s GMD-E plan also calls for the deployment of five new GBX X-band radars alongside existing early warning radars.

Figure 2.1 shows the costs obtained in Part I of this post from NAS Figure 4-1, with the $2.5 billion over count removed from the GMD “development + procurement’ costs. See Part I of this post for details of how these numbers were obtained. [Note: For the purposes of this part of the post, we will assume that the cost figures used in the NAS Report for its proposed GMD-E system and for the GMD system (as corrected in Part I) are valid. Subsequent parts of this post will assess that assumption.]

Figure 2.1.  NAS GMD (corrected for double count) and GMD-E Costs from NAS Figure 4-1.

Figure 2.2 below shows the future costs shown in Figure 2.1 graphically, with the GMD-E development and procurement figures consolidated into a single category (since the NAS Report only provides such a single, consolidated figure for the GMD system).

Figure 2.2.  GMD (corrected) and GMD-E Costs from NAS Figure 4-1.


First, we need first to understand what the GMD-E cost numbers from Figure 4-1 cover and where they came from (the numbers for the GMD system are discussed in Part I of this post). 

The most detailed breakdown of costs for the NAS’s proposed GMD-E system is contained in Table E-25 of Appendix E, which is reproduced below as Figure 2.3.  Table E-25 shows that the development, procurement (including MILCON) and O&S costs for two new sites, each with 30 new GMD-E interceptors (which requires buying 100 total interceptors), is between $19.1 and $25.3 billion (average $22.2 billion), much higher than the $12.8 billion of NAS Figure 4-1.[1] 

Figure 2.3: NAS Table E-25. Costs for the GMD-E System with Two Interceptor Sites.

If we take the average of the minimum and maximum costs shown in Table E-25 we get $4.0 billion for development, $7.7 billion for procurement, $2.4 billion for MILCON and $8.1 billion for O&S.  If we then estimate the cost for one site by taking the full development cost plus half the procurement, MILCON, and O&S costs, and compare to the GMD-E numbers from Figure 4-1, we get the results shown in Figure 2.4 below:


Figure 2.4: Comparison of GMD-E Cost from NAS Figure 4-1 to the Average Cost for a Single Site based on NAS Table E-25.

Note that in Figure 2.4 the procurement and MILCON budgets are included as a single figure, because notes (1 and 5) in the caption of NAS Report Figure 4-1 states that is what is done in Figure 4-1.

Figure 2.4 makes it clear that the NAS Report’s estimated cost for the GMD-E system in its Figure 4-1 must be for a single site with about 30 deployed interceptors (total procurement of 50 interceptors).[2]

Since the plan described in the NAS Report calls for first deploying 30 interceptors (which requires buying 50 interceptors) at a northeastern U.S. site, before deploying the second, west coast site, it is clear that the GMD-E column in NAS Figure 4-1 must be the cost for this northeastern U.S. site. 

(2) When the costs of the full GMD-E system and the time required to build it are taken into account, deploying and operating the NAS Report’s proposed GMD-E system will actually cost much more than simply completing and operating the current GMD system.

We have shown above that the NAS Report’s cost for the GMD-E System in its summary Figure 4-1 is only for the northeastern U.S. site of this system.  However, this site cannot protect the entire country (leaving aside Hawaii, which the NAS Report acknowledges must be separately defended) from North Korean and Iranian missiles.[3]  This is made clear, for example, in the NAS Report’s Figure 5-15 which shows that the northeastern site cannot cover the U.S. West Coast or any of Alaska from a North Korean ICBM on a depressed trajectory.

Thus if only the GMD-E northeastern site is built, it will be necessary to maintain the current GMD system to provide coverage for the West Coast and Alaska.  That is, the cost shown for the GMD-E in the NAS Report Figure 4-1 is for an add-on rather than an alternative to the current GMD system.  This perspective is reflected in Figure 2.5 below.  When correctly viewed as an add-on rather than an alternative, adding the new northeastern GMD-E site is of course actually much more expensive than simply completing and operating the GMD system.

Figure 2.5.  Cost of Current GMD System Compared with Cost of Adding Northeastern U.S. GMD Site.

Alternatively, the full two-site GMD-E system could be deployed.  This would incur the full cost of the two-site system shown in NAS Table E-25. Table E-25 show the costs for developing, procuring and operating two GMD-E sites would be between $19.1 and $25.3 billion dollars, for an average of $22.2 billion.[4]  If we very unrealistically assume that the west coast site simply reuses all the facilities of the existing GMD system (including the silos) so that its MILCON costs are zero (which would save $1.2 billion), the cost of developing, procuring and operating the two GMD-E sites needed to cover the entire country would still be $21 billion.

However, even if it is decided to deploy the full two-site GMD-E system, it cannot be operational for about 7-8 years, during which time the current GMD system must continue in operation unless coverage is allowed to lapse.[5]  If we very roughly and optimistically estimate this additional cost by cutting off all GMD development and procurement costs after FY 2013, but continuing GMD O&S costs through 2020, this adds $3.6 billion for development and procurement (see Figure 8 of Part I) and $3.2 billion for O&S.  Thus the total costs for this option are $16.5 billion for development and procurement and $11.3 billion for 20-year O&S, as shown in Figure 2.6 below.

Figure 2.6.  Cost of current GMD System  vs. GMD-E (two interceptor sites) System.

Finally, the NAS Report’s proposed GMD-E system also adds five new GBX X-band radars which it says are needed for discrimination.  Figure 4-2 of the NAS Report shows the 20-year life cycle costs for the five GBX radars would be about $9.3 billion. These costs are not included in the GMD-E cost shown on Figure 4-1. Adding in these costs gives the total costs shown in Figure 2.7 below.

Figure 2.7. The Cost of the Deploying and Operating the Complete GMD-E System Compared to the Cost of Completing and Operating Current GMD System.

Figure 2.7 shows that not only is deploying and operating the NAS Report’s proposed GMD-E system not, as NAS Report Figure 4-1 implies, less expensive than simply completing and operating the current GMD system, it would actually cost more than twice as much.

Is it unfair to include the cost of the new GBX radars in the cost of the GMD-E system but not in the cost of the GMD system?  Not at all. The whole point of the proposed NAS GMD-E system is that it is supposed to be much more effective than the current, not very effective, GMD system, and the GBX radars are essential to the NAS Report’s argument that its system will be much more effective (even if, as discussed in the post of September 20, the GBX radars are too small to be effective in the role the NAS Report proposes for them).

On the other hand, the current GMD system will continue to have little or no effectiveness whether or not the GBX radars are deployed.  This situation appears to be acceptable to U.S. political leaders, perhaps because they believe the repeated claims by Department of Defense and Missile Defense Agency officials that the GMD system is already highly effective or perhaps simply because there is no current long-range ballistic missile threat to the United States.

[1] As note (a) to the NAS Table E-25 states, these costs include those for “Northeast and North Central missile fields.” The text in  the NAS report preceding Table E-25 states that their proposed system “ would also require adding a third missile field in the U.S. Northeastern and a fourth site in in the U.S. North Central states together with other X-band radars to protect the eastern United States and Canada against Iranian threats” (p. E-45). The only other mention of a missile site in the North Central states (that I am aware of) is on page 5-21 of the Report, where it states: “An additional trial location at Grand Forks, North Dakota, was evaluated but found redundant and unnecessary.”
[2] This clarifies the information in the NAS Report’s parallel Tables 4-1 (for boost-phase systems) and 4-2 (for non-boost-phase systems), which provide additional (albeit contradictory) information.   The “System LCC” row of Table 4-2 shows costs for the GMD-E system of $17-$23 billion.  However, as footnote (c) makes clear this LCC cost also includes the new GBX X-band radars. Costs for these radars are in the NAS Report on Figure 4-2 on page 4-7. Subtracting out these radar costs, gives $9.5 – $15.5 billion, for an average of $12.6 billion, which is consistent with the figure of $12.8 billion in Table 1. [Figure 4-2 of the NAS report shows the 20 year LCC costs for 5 GBX radars to be about $9.3 billion.  I reduce this to $7.5 billion to account for the 4 rather than 5 radars cited in footnote (c) of NAS Table 4-2.] The “Force quantity buys” of NAS table 4-2 rather confusingly describes the GMD-E system as “1 NE CONUS site with a total of 50 operational interceptors + test assets (with 30 at NE site + 20 at FGA.” [Note: NE = northeastern United States, FGA= Fort Greely, Alaska; the ending half of parenthesis is missing in the original]. This force of 50 operational interceptors would require a total buy of 80-90 interceptors.  Nowhere else in the NAS Report is a total deployment of 50 GMD-E interceptors unevenly divided between the East and West Coasts mentioned.  On the other hand, the description of the GMD-E system in footnote (c) of Table 4-2 is as: “silo-based evolved GMD includes development, procurement (including MILCON) and 20-yr O&S for NE missile field site.”
[3] The current GMD system can, at least in principle, cover all of the United States including Hawaii.
[4] These two sites are described in footnote (a) to Table E-25 as the “Northeast and North Central missile fields.”  The text in the NAS Report just above Table E-25 states that the GMD-E system “would also require adding a third missile field site in the U.S. Northeastern and a fourth site in the U.S. North Central States…”.  The only other mention of this fourth missile site in the Report (at least that I have found) is on page 5-21, where it says an additional interceptor location “at Grand Forks, North Dakota, was also evaluated but found redundant and unnecessary.”
[5] The GMD-E system proposed by the NAS could not be put in place immediately.  This would take at least six to seven and a half years. In response to a question about how long the system would take to deploy at the September 11, 2012 telephone press conference announcing the NAS Report’s release, NAS Panel Co-Chair David Montague said:[5] “Yes, first the timeline. If you look at what it would take – first off, the technology does exist. There is no new technology required that would have to be developed. That said, you’re still looking at something like a six-year time to deployment from authorization to proceed, OK.

Authorization to proceed would probably be proceeded by, and ought to be proceeded by a competition, which would probably take 18 months. So, you know, you’re talking about that kind of – of timespan.”

Thus even if a decision to deploy the NAS’s proposed system was made by the middle of next year, the system would not be operational until at least the end of 2020. Thus unless a decision was made to let coverage of the United States lapse, it would be necessary to keep the current GMD system operating until then. As discussed under point (E) below, 2020 is also the year on which the minimum cost estimate for development and production of the current GMD system is based on. Thus deploying the NAS’s proposed GMD-E system would thus also require expending most of the costs shown in column 1 of Table 2 for the current GMD system.

[CQ Transcriptions, “THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL HOLDS A TELECONFERENCE ON MISSILE DEFENSE REPORT,” September 11, 2012.  While a crash program could possibly deploy a system more quickly, it would likely end up costing significantly more.]


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