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  • Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Failure?

    On December 15, the Missile Defense Agency conducted an unsuccessful test of Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD), a long-range ballistic missile defense system designed to protect the U.S. homeland against a missile threat from North Korea or Iran.

    The initial review suggests that the failure occurred because an undetermined problem with the newest kill vehicle configuration. A more detailed review of why the GMD system failed to intercept and destroy the target has been initiated.

    However, it is important to note that while the intercept itself was a failure, the first two stages of the interceptor performed extremely well. Indeed, the Sea-Based X-Band radar (SBX) and all sensors performed as planned. The SBX was a cause in the failure of a test conducted earlier this year.

    The failure of this recent test does not mean that the United States is unable to develop or field capability that would protect it against a North Korean or Iranian long-range ballistic missile attack. The GMD system is very complex, and a network of sensors, command, control, and communications spans half the globe. It is appropriate to note that many of the critics of missile defense oppose the program because they view missile defense as complicating the arms control and disarmament agenda they support. For them, this test failure has nothing to do with their opposition to the program. Indeed, they would likely see a successful test as a stronger reason for terminating the program than a failed one.

    There are important lessons to be learned. The scientists, engineers, and contractors working on an advanced technology program can learn more from failed tests than from successful ones. The proper response to a failed test is to maintain a robust program that applies the lessons from the failure to advance the program in the future. Up to date, the testing program for the GMD system has been too timid because of concern about negative political reaction to any such failure and inadequate testing budgets. Under this timid approach, the opportunities for dramatic advances in technology are very limited.

    The program must not be canceled, as the U.S. would eventually be left vulnerable to attacks with long-range ballistic missiles. It is intolerable that the American people would remain so vulnerable. The GMD program needs to continue, and the companion sea-based ballistic missile defense systems should be advanced to give them the capability to counter long-range missiles for the defense of U.S. territory. Currently, the sea-based systems have been given the capability to counter only short- and intermediate-range missiles.

    Finally, the U.S. should revive a program pursued during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush Administrations to develop and field space-based ballistic missile defense interceptors. All three steps are necessary if the federal government is going to meet its obligation to provide for the defense of the American people.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    2 Responses to Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Failure?

    1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Foundry: Conservative Policy News. -- Topsy.com

    2. David Mitchell, Los says:

      As an engineer working on missile defense I am appalled at the politicizing of science. As much as all of us wish that missile defense against the Russians is practical, it is not. The basic equation is that one offensive missile can carry ten warheads and it would take at least ten missiles to intercept all the warheads. And this is before the Russians get clever and add decoys and other tricks. To insure interception you would need to fire 2 or 3 missiles at each warhead. The bottom line is that an offensive missile costs about the same as a defensive missile. That means that unless you can hit the missile in its boost phase, it is too easy to overwhelm a missile defense.

      Sea based interceptors can hit can hit offensive missile in the boost phase, but this is only helpful if they are launched close to an ocean and not launched from central Asia. Ground based lasers will require a 100 times more energy than our current best efforts before they become practical. That leaves space based interceptors as the only practical solution and it is a very workable solution. It requires vast numbers of relatively cheap interceptors in low earth orbit that can hit any launched missile within the first few minutes after launch. One of the problems with this defensive system is that it can be used offensively. The same interceptors can be use to strike ground targets as high-energy kinetic weapons. It would be an ideal system for the United States. Unfortunately, both the Russian and Chinese would deploy similar systems in self defense. Will you really be more comfortable with clouds of Russian and Chinese interceptors (some of them nuclear) orbiting above us, only minutes away.

      A missile defense system against North Korea or Iran is practical. It is much easier to defend the US against a small number of missiles from these countries. And if that is the real goal, it can best be served by cooperation with the Russians.

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