National Missile Defense

In the wake of the Gulf War and the use of Patriot missiles against Iraqi SCUD missiles, the United States increased its development of a variety of missile defense systems.

National Missile Defense (NMD) is a program designed to defeat a limited ballistic missile strike against the United States. This system uses a Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) to hit the incoming warhead before it reenters the atmosphere. The goal of the NMD is to create a system that is capable of striking in space a fast-moving intercontinental ballistic missile headed toward the U.S. The NMD system would need to track attacking missiles and then launch and guide intercepting vehicles into the warheads, avoiding debris and decoys. The U.S. has had only limited success with the system during testing.

An artist's rendering of detection satellites for a missile defense system
An artist's rendering of detection satellites for a missile defense system

In May 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the U.S. was going to move forward in the development of the NMD. However, any further development of an anti-ballistic missile defense system would have violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The ABM treaty prohibits the development, testing and deployment of strategic missile defense systems and components that are based in the air, at sea or in space.

On December 13, 2001, President Bush formally notified Russia and three former Soviet republics that it had invoked Article 15 of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to withdraw from the pact in six months. It marked the first time in the nuclear era that the United States has renounced a major arms control treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by saying, "This step was not a surprise for us. However, we consider it a mistake."

Current estimates of the cost to develop, build and operate an NMD are about $80 billion. Efforts are also underway to develop a Theater Missile Defense, which is designed to protect regions that are not covered by the NMD but are under threat from a ballistic missile attack.