05 December 2008

How Do We Define Success?

Today a rocket launched from Kodiak was intercepted by a rocket launched from Vandenburg AFB in California. As the champagne celebratory haze clears, keep a few things in mind:

1. It wasn't a resounding "success": According to Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, "...the target did not release planned countermeasures designed to try to confuse the interceptor missile. O'Reilly did not say what those countermeasures were, but they often include decoys or chaff to throw off shoot-down attempts." Apparently the technology to shoot down a real enemy missile which would have countermeasures is not yet working.

2.It wasn't a truly realistic test: The "test" was very tightly controlled - everybody knew when the interceptor would be launched and its probable path (they've launched targets from KLC before). One wonders what would happen if they actually had to scramble an interceptor with no prior warning. Now that would be a true test.

3. If the U.S. can't launch an ICBM that works the way it should, why do we think other countries can? Neither North Korea or Iran has ever successfully fired a missile that had any chance of landing anywhere near the U.S. Right now, if North Korea got really lucky, they might be able to hit the tip of the Aleutians. We are sure the folks out there appreciate the expenditure of ten billion dollars a year to help them sleep more soundly.

4. It's ALL about the money: Roughly $10 billion is spent per year on the program, which is run by defense contractor Boeing Co. but includes work by most of the nation's largest weapons makers. It is spread across three branches of the military and is composed of missiles, radar and satellites designed to intercept missiles during different stages of flight.

5. Fortunately, President-elect Barack Obama expressed skepticism about the capabilities of the system during his campaign, leading to speculation he may reduce the program's scope. Russia has strongly objected to plans to install missile interceptors in Eastern Europe.

6. At least the true character of the KLC has finally been admitted. According to the AP: "WASHINGTON - The Defense Department said today it shot down a missile launched from a military base in Alaska..."

7. Finally, Kodiak desperately needs a new high school and a new police station and jail. Our roads are a mess and infrastructure in Kodiak, Alaska and all across the United States is crumbling. Take a drive down Mission Road past the Salvation Army and ask yourself: Is Missile Defense worth it? Friday's test cost between $120 million to $150 million.


Ryan said...

Of course they know where things are going to go!

This is a BALLISTIC missile defense system!

Once you get a couple of firm radar tracks and get at least three "hits" on the incoming enemy missile, giving you it's location in 3 dimensional space and speed; you can then perform calculations to tell you where that missile will be in 30 seconds, and 2 minutes etc down the road. And your calculations will only get more precise and accurate as more radar hits are obtained.

At that point, it's just a matter of putting something into the path that the missile will be passing through at that point in time to achieve an intercept.

Secondly, Why is it that opponents of missile defense claim that countries like Iran and North Korea, etc will be capable of deploying sophisticated countermeasures that can RELIABLY release from the target missile, when we, the USA can't get that to work right all the time?

The Yellow Porcupine said...

Ryan makes an excellent point:
if the US can't get the ICBMs to work reliably, why do we think North Korea and Iran can?
Ten billion dollars a year to defend against the kind of missiles that WE still can't get to work correctly.