Officials with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) are hoping that a war game conducted on Capitol Hill will help increase awareness in Congress and the news media of how the agency’s various missile defense systems work together to protect the United States and its allies.

The war game, which ran for approximately 90 minutes and was repeated throughout the week of Jan. 23, focused on the command and control of the various sensors used to detect and track medium- and long-range ballistic missiles, and interceptors designed to shoot them down .

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) hosted the exercise at a Senate office building. Colorado is home to the Joint National Integration Center, a facility operated by Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles that serves as the MDA’s primary war-gaming center.

“Members of Congress and their staff need to be aware of just how difficult it is to defend our nation from ballistic missile attacks and better understand the growing capability of our ballistic missile defense system,” Allard said in a brief speech to reporters who were invited to take part in one of the exercises Jan. 24. “There is no doubt in my mind that these simulations will give participants a strong sense of how far we have come in missile defense and what challenges still lay ahead.”

The war-game scenario featured a fictional enemy state called Midland located on an island in the Sea of Japan . Tensions in the region were high as Midland threatened South Korea and Japan, as well as the United States, with an arsenal of medium- and long-range ballistic missiles assumed to be tipped with weapons of mass destruction, said David Frost, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral who works as a consultant in the Joint National Integration Center.

Missile defense experts said Midland’s geographic location and missile arsenal clearly indicate that the fictional country represents North Korea.

In the unfolding scenario, intelligence reports indicated that Midland was hoping the threat of a long-range missile attack would deter the United States from getting involved in the conflict. The scenario assumed Midland could not be deterred from launching its missiles by the prospect of U.S. retaliation, Frost said.

The U.S. missile defense capabilities and assets assumed in the war game either exist today or are expected to be available later this year.

The sensors that played a role in the exercise included the Defense Support Program infrared missile warning satellites, land-based X-band radar systems, and sensors aboard Aegis ships.

Japan and South Korea were defended by eight Standard Missile-3 interceptors aboard Aegis ships and 80 Patriot missiles based in South Korea and Japan and operated by U.S. and Japanese forces. The U.S. homeland was defended by 10 Ground Based Midcourse Defense System interceptors based at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Missile defense systems yet to be deployed, such as the Airborne Laser, Kinetic Energy Interceptor and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, were not a part of the exercise.

Midland was assumed to have 40 to 50 medium-range ballistic missiles, and five to seven long-range ballistic missiles. During the war game, Midland launched a total of 48 missiles, only one of which was not destroyed in flight .

The rocket that broke through the interceptor shield was a long-range missile that landed in the Aleutian Islands. The exercise did not involve crisis response.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Dehnert, MDA deputy for force structure integration and deployment, said in a brief speech following the exercise that he hoped it would help people understand the critical nature of effective command and control systems for missile defense.

Without effective coordination, incoming missiles could be missed, or too many interceptors could be fired, possibly depleting the defensive inventory to the point where additional incoming warheads could not be engaged, Dehnert said.

Dehnert also stressed the importance of reliability in the command and control systems. Issues that might be a mere inconvenience in offices, like a computer system freezing and needing to be restarted, could be catastrophic while operating missile defense systems during an attack, he said.

Another lesson from the exercise is the value of having a missile defense shield when considering options prior to the initiation of hostilities , Frost said. The ability to defend against missile attacks means the United States does not need to launch a first strike that could paint it as an aggressor in the international community, he said.

Missile defense critics said the high level of success portrayed in the exercise was misleading given the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System’s recent test record. In the last two intercept attempts, in late 2004 and early 2005, the interceptor rocket failed to take off, they noted.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever that it works reliably,” said John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World, an arms control advocacy group here. Noting that the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System is more than a year behind its activation schedule, Isaacs said, “It’s fiction, not real life.”