• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Mystery Missile Monday—One Day It Won’t Be Nothin'

    The Internet went apoplectic speculating on the “mystery missile” spotted Monday off the coast of California. The military concluded Wednesday that the long “contrail,” the wisp of white vapors in the sky taped by a CBS affiliate crew most likely came from a passing jet—not a missile firing. False alarm. The news that did not make the news is that under a different scenario the streak across the horizon could have been a missile. If it were, the online world would not be buzzing about it days later—because America’s days online would have ended.

    One of the most devastating and yet realistic means to deliver a knock out blow to the United States is to covertly fire a nuclear-tipped missile at America from a surface craft off the coast of the country. This is often called the “scud-in-a-bucket” scenario.

    Scuds are relatively inexpensive and widely proliferated short-range (a few hundred miles) missiles. Placing one on an improvised vertical launch tube outfitted on a commercial freighter is no great technical challenge. As long as the ship is not officially bound for US waters it could easily come within range of America without even attracting the scrutiny of the US Navy, the Coast Guard or Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection.

    The scud-in-bucket scenario offers America’s enemies a number of advantages. Unlike a smuggled nuke, a missile can deliver an air-burst—detonating the weapon in the air above the target. Nuclear weapons detonated away from the ground are many times more destructive. As an added benefit, the likelihood of detection in route would be near zero. Missiles are also better than putting a bomb on plane bound for the US. Ships can linger for days and weeks. An enemy could keep America under the cross hairs and Washington would never know it till the trigger got pulled.

    Most important, the strike could be completely covert. America would not know who hit us—and who to strike back against. It took two days for the Pentagon to assure us that the California contrail was nothing. Can you imagine the military trying to track down who dun-it in the wake of nuclear strike?

    If an enemy wanted to invest in a covert capability to hold America hostage or decapitate a superpower in a single stroke the scud-in-a-bucket offers some interesting options. Say they had two missiles with even modest size warheads. One could be shot at New York or Washington where the explosion and ensuing firestorm could kill hundreds-of-thousands. The second might be fired at higher altitude over the East Coast where the Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) from the blast would radiate out in a wide umbrella overloading electrical circuits and creating cascading systems failures that might put all of  the US and Canada in the dark—for a very long time. Not only would the EMP attack make emergency response operations impossible, as transportation networks, supply chains, the Internet, fuel deliveries, traffic control, and the electrical grids winked out tens, perhaps hundreds of millions would at be risk without food, medical assistance, heat or lights. Many would die. America would never be the same. The war against America might be won in a single day.

    It is ludicrous to be complacent about such threats—especially since the capabilities to deal with them have wide-ranging applications for protecting and defending the American people. Missile defenses are part of the solution. Ensuring the resiliency of critical systems and infrastructure are another. Going after America’s adversaries and enemies—from proliferators like Iran and North Korea to al Qaeda (which has openly declared it seeks to get and use nuclear weapons) is also a vital part of protecting America.

    Faux-missile Monday, if anything ought to be a reminder that now is not the time to talk about gutting defense. Trying to balance the budget by making us less safe makes no sense.

    This administration started out lopping off a significant chunk of the nation’s missile defense budget—an amount equal to about a day of stimulus spending or week of cash for clunkers. This really showed where the president’s real priorities are. Others have taken their cue from the White House and have tried to frame defense spending as just another public outlay, a plaything of politics. Now the great irony is the White House will find itself trying to fend off even more draconian defense cuts so it does not look completely pathetically lame on national security.

    The White House has only itself to blame. From the start those who want to gut defense had it wrong.

    Defense spending is not like other government spending. It is above all the first and most sacred Constitutional obligation of government to “provide for the common defense.”

    Furthermore, unlike everything else in defense the enemy gets a vote. There are no called time outs in national security. If Washington chooses to under fund the armed forces, America’s enemies won’t put their own efforts to undermine our security on hold. If anything, they will look on our deliberate self-weakening as green light to get more aggressive.

    The tragedy of unpreparedness is that the costs always grossly outweigh the savings. America scrimped on defense during the Depression—the cost—more than 40 percent of US GDP went to fight World War II—tens of millions died. Half the world was wrecked. Washington took a “peace dividend” after the Cold War—the price 9/11 and the Long War that followed.

    The road to fiscal responsibility is not to make America less safe. US military spending today is already modest compared to what America has paid to defend itself in the past. Either as a measure of GDP or as a percentage of the federal budget, Pentagon spending is at near historic post-World War II lows. And, where there are areas where defense could be made more efficient, those savings have to be plowed back into the military’s budget to make-up for a nearly unprecedented decades-long delay in modernizing military hardware. Unless we start to reinvest in defense now, the military was very soon start to resemble the broken “hollow” force of the 1970s.  The US Navy is already smaller than it was before World War I.

    Nor is cutting defense essential to stop runaway government spending. Recently, Heritage identified over $300 billion in government savings—all of which could be achieved without gutting defense.

    By next Monday, Americans will have forgotten about the hysteria of last Monday. We can’t be so sure our enemies will have missed the point.

    Washington has already demonstrated it is fiscally irresponsible—let’s not add suicidal to the list.

    Let’s bring back fiscal responsibility without sacrificing our security. That is the lesson of mystery missile Monday.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Mystery Missile Monday—One Day It Won’t Be Nothin'

    1. George Colgrove, VA says:

      We all agree, enhancing our security is paramount. Increasing the budget to pay for this added security is paramount. However, it is this DoD with all its waste, with all its redundant agencies and departments that are tripping over each other; with all the useless and non-working hardware it purchased, with all the departments and functions that do not even serve the military cause, that caused us to miss this one – whatever it was. This missile should have never shot out of the ocean to begin with. It was a clear sign of weakness on our part and it was an embarrassment. With all that we have to defend ourselves with and with nearly two thirds of a trillion dollars we are already providing to the DoD this still happened. Adding more to the budget without addressing this stuff will not make us safer, it will only be adding to an already bloated budget. I am beginning to believe the HF supports a trillion dollar defense budget with a “throw-al- the-money-we-have-at-it” approach. This kind of thinking is panic ridden and never works! Without solid sane minds, we will never achieve true national security.

      Look, sometimes the favorite son makes bad choices and completely disappoints his parents. It is an unpleasant fact. Any psychologist will say that continuing to ignore those choices and continuing to reward him when he does not deserve it does more harm to him than dealing with the issues up front. We would otherwise just continue to be an enabler. Dealing with his problems head on and making him see what damage he is doing to himself and others will only make him a stronger and better man. We need the DoD to be a strong department – this year showed us that it is not. It no longer can keep it own federal employees in line. Wikileaks garnished over a half a million highly sensitive documents from its workers.

      We need a cost intervention with this government, which sadly also includes the DoD. The DoD needs to see where they are failing this country and the must be challenged to fix it. It may not be easy, but we need to get this department in line with responsive governing. They need to know whom they work for and whom they report to.

      Before the liberals cut necessary weapons development and missile defenses or worse yet, make troop reductions, I would like the HF apply their energy and thought to effective measures to reduce the size and budget of the DoD without compromising our strength. Then we can add back the necessary proven and working hardware modernizations to the military effort. Let’s stay ahead of the debate. With all the bloat in the DoD and the federal government as well, I do not feel we will ever be truly safe – at any price. I am thinking more for my kids and future grandkids more than for myself. Soldiers in the military who post here are also pointing out the need to cut inside. It is time!

    2. George Colgrove, VA says:

      Top five defense budgets and the countries that authored them (Wikipedia)

      1 United States – $663,255,000,000 (NOT INCLUDING the war efforts in Iraq and Afg.)

      2 China – $98,800,000,000

      3 United Kingdom – $69,271,000,000

      4 France – $67,316,000,000

      5 Russian Federation – $61,000,000,000

      Come on now – we are over ~6 x China and ~10 x the rest of the top five.

      I am sorry; I do not see the need for panic. All we need to do is reallocate and reorganize the spending. $663 trillion is a heck of a lot of money! HF, why is it not enough? You have yet to make the case. With the internal DoD waste and overlap and non-mission spending, we could easily pay for China’s defense program. In fact with the interest we pay to china on our national debt (in 100’s of billions of dollars), we ARE paying for the Chinese defense budget! I hate to disagree with the HF so much on this matter. You are awesome budget hawks when it comes to the rest of government but are letting this federal department off the hook. In 8 short years since 9/11 the DoD doubled its budget (Adm. Mullens).

      Looking at the numbers above, there is a massive disconnect with your near panic urgency for massive DoD budget increases and for absolutely no consideration of DoD cuts with what I understand your mission to be.

    3. Gary Powers says:

      Nice piece of fear mongering Conn. For starters the US Navy's tonnage is the largest in the world exceeding the next give or take 15 nations combined. We have a HUGE navy. The US military budget exceeds 600 billion dollars for this year making it around 4.5% of our GDP. Comparitively China spends the second most money on their military coming in at around 80 billion dollars or under 2% of their GDP. The US budget number gets larger too through emergency appropriations and undisclosed programs. The war in Iraq will come in at around 3 trillion dollars and Afghanistan has cost us about 300 billion dollars. This is a staggering amount of money particularly at a time when many here are out of work and struggling to pay for their homes, children and welfare not to mention a ballooned deficit of almost 14 trillion. And you plead for more weapons, bigger military; more spending?

      Sure the Constitution has a mandate to "provide for the common defense" but it also puts the power to go to war with Congress. The last time time Congress voted to go war was WWII. No, unlike WWII were our late involvement brought massive benefits, the US has gained nothing from being in Iraq & Afghanistan. Over 2.5 million Iraqis have been displaced for doing nothing more than having the audacity to live there and call it home with over 4,200 of our own servicemen killed. Perhaps controlling the worlds supply of heroin benefits someone? The price of oil has tripled since our involvement in Iraq; our saber rattling only serves to put other nations on the defensive and has dramatically increased the cost of living for all Americans.

      Your scenarios of EMP's and sneak attacks are plausible but so is getting hit by a meteorite or getting run over by a bus. There are always things to worry about; maybe that helps explain that as a people Americans are the most medicated on the planet now exceeding over 110 million prescriptions. As for "hysteria" Monday, people see what they want to see. The fact that no one in LA called in to report a "missile" that was purportedly right above them should have been enough for rational individuals to suspend judgement in addition to if NORAD says there's no danger, then there is nothing physical in the sky.

      Your "what if" scenarios only breed more fear into a society super saturated since the September attacks. In re to EMP's a large enough solar flare could put earth back into the dark ages. Should we throw money at fighting the power of the sun? Our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan even Vietnam, all circumvented the Constitution – a President's war if you will – and have brought little benefits to our nation in complete contrast to the massive gains from being the unwounded winner of WWI (less the human loss). We've crippled our nation with war debt that will take many future generations to pay off. For what? So citizens can be drug further into a chicken little mentality? All that money could have gone to domestic improvements and infrastructure upgrades and even global charital giving. If 300 trillion doesn't achieve the objective, then more money is not the solution.

    4. Dennis, Arkansas says:

      I'm not sure of your statement that the Internet could be destroyed by a nuclear attack. The Internet was actually founded by the military in order to prevent a single attack from taking out all communications. Its distributed nature prevents it from being destroyed completely, I think.

      Thanks for your article.

    5. Alex says:

      NASA will hold a news conference at 12:30 p.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 15, to discuss the Chandra X-ray Observatory's discovery of an EXCEPTIONAL OBJECT in our cosmic neighborhood… NASA: Sun's Nemesis Pelted Earth with Comets, Study Suggests… National Geographic (November 19, 2008): "MYSTERIOUS ASTROPHYSICAL OBJECTthat's bombarding Earth with cosmic rays:
      http://cristiannegureanu.blogspot.com/2010/11/nas

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×