Thursday, September 15, 2016

'White Elephant' Missile Defense Undermines Strategic Defense

Ground-based interceptor missile at Fort Greeley, AK. Despite a $40 b price tag the system has yet to prove its efficacy.

As I noted in a post from four and a half years ago, missile defense systems are basically Rube Goldberg schemes that don't work and only deplete resources while undermining strategic defense capabilities. This may be perhaps why JFK back in August, 1963, signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which also scrapped ABM systems. (One reason most sober historians ceased thinking of him as a "cold warrior")

Thirty years ago we had  Reagan's useless and wasteful Strategic Defense Initiative, otherwise known as   "Star Wars" which was as stupid as Bush Junior's idiotic "national missile defense" program from fourteen years ago. (Of which this new system is really a makeover holdover- displaced to Europe). The fact is that none of these missile systems-shields really work, as particle physicist Wolfgang Panofsky first noted in his articulate chapter 'MAD vs. Nuts' in Particles and Policy (American Institute of Physics, 1994).

But the worst part isn't the  "missile defense" unworkability, but that others (e.g. Russians) may bite and think it is feasible and a very REAL threat. This is the point made by Wolfgang Panofsky in his monograph, Particles and Policy, Chapter 'Mad vs. Nuts') wherein he observes that any U.S. missile defense system - practical or otherwise- will spur numerous counter measures and fully offensive nuclear systems. THIS is the stark danger we face!

The ultimate effect being to massively destabilize the nuclear balance. Panofsky himself believed that missile shields and the like were basically 'white elephants' from the get go because the physical problem of intercepting a ballistic missile was like hitting a bullet with another bullet. He was strongly convinced a better plan was to work toward mutual reduction in missile forces with monitoring to ensure compliance.

The recent missile defense experiment appears to vindicate his worries, and shows the current Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system to be a huge boondoggle.  This system on paper is designed to protect all 50 states, say from a possible North Korean ICBM attack in 10-15 years. But the results thus far are not encouraging.   Since the end of the Clinton administration there have been a total of 17 tests pitting one of the missiles against a defined target whose launch and trajectory were already known.  The GMD system operators failed to destroy the targets in nine of the tests according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. And this was despite the fact they knew ahead of time when and where the target missile would be launched, its precise dimensions, expected trajectory and velocity.

Since the initial GMD system was installed at Fort Greeley, AK and Vandenburg AFB, CA, the Missile Defense Agency has performed nine tests with only three successful in destroying their targets. Despite those dismal results the MDA currently fields 26 interceptors in AK and 4 at Vandenburg, and plans to install 14 more despite a record of failure that's worsened over time.

More distressing, the GMD's track record, deplorable as it is, masks the fact that the tests don't remotely match what would happen in real world encounters.  As Panofsky even observed nearly 30 years ago, any nation capable of launching a long range missile would also be able to equip it with decoys and other countermeasures that  could foil the GMD system. Panofsky showed Reagan's old 'SDI' system was easily foiled by an ICBM capable of deploying thousands of  brilliant reflecting objects and dispersing them - as mock targets.   As Panofsky stated in his chapter 'Mad vs. Nuts'  (op. cit.):

"it is always and invariably more cost effective to defeat any given missile shield system than to defend against an array of offensive missiles."

 This was a major reason  that the  Reagan 'Star Wars' bunkum had to be scuttled (according to an American Physical Society study done ca. 1987) , i.e. the then Soviets were becoming adept at "being able to implant millions of metallic fragments in their missile nose cones for deployment in the boost phase"

There is no reason the North Koreans wouldn't be able to do the same, say ten or so years from now with an ICBM potential.

All of this was pointed out by analysts from the UCS and MIT more than 17 years ago, and as UCS senior scientist Laura Grego (echoing Wolfgang Panofsky) has said:

"The Missile Defense Agency is trying to do something akin to hitting a bullet with another bullet which has proven difficult enough to do under simplified, scripted conditions".

The whole mess was really seeded as a boondoogle when Bush & Co, way back in 2002, started this stupid program and decided to exempt it from standard Pentagon oversight procedures- insisting on fielding it within two years. The results were predictable, running up the program's price tag  - now over $40 billion - while delivering a white elephant that has never been shown to work under real world conditions.

Laura Grego again (Bulletin of UCS, Summer 2016, p. 16):

'More than ten years after it was first fielded, the GMD system still hasn't faced the kinds of conditions that would be faced in the real world."

Nevertheless (ibid.) the  "Obama administration steadfastly maintains the GMD system is ready for prime time, or at least the threat of future, hypothetical  Iranian or North Korean long range missiles."

Brian P. McKeon, principal undersecretary of defense for policy, even told the Senate Armed Services committee earlier this year that "the US homeland is currently protected against such attacks."

Of course, this is codswallop and PR if no testing evidence even exists to support the claim. But that elicits the question of how the Pentagon even ended up with such a dysfunctional program. Like other national missteps - including the NSA violating 4th amendment rights with its MUSCULAR, Xkeyscore programs - this one dates back to the aftermath of 9/11 when national security hysteria reigned.

In such an atmosphere Congress passed the Patriot Act and the Bushies used their single -minded focus on security and "bad guys" (the "Axis of Evil") to kick start the embryonic GMD program.  At the same time, the Bushies withdrew the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. That Treaty had prohibited both sides from implementing a missile defense system to protect its entire territory.  As the UCS Bulletin puts it p. 17):

"This then opened the door for then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to exempt the Missile Defense agency from standard procurement rules and testing standards in order to deploy a system within two years. That proved to be a Herculean and impractical task."

The move also removed any financial accountability for the program and the Pentagon. This after defense analyst noted as far back as 2002 that it still can't account for a missing $1.2 trillion in defense monies.   Compared to the Pentagon's testing of the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile (6 times a year, acing more than 150 tests) the testing of the GMD system is a joke.  As noted by the UCS (ibid.):

"Nearly 15 years after the GMD system was put on the fast track, the Pentagon's own testing officials have said the system has not demonstrated operationally useful capability to defend the U.S. public from a missile attack."

In other words, contradicting Brian P. McKeon's and the Obama administration's own claims.  But one go one better, noting that back in 2010 the Obama-ites insisted the GMD system would "dissuade Iran and North Korea from developing an intercontinental ballistic missile".  But 6 years later both are continuing to develop their missile technology and many physicists expect the North Koreans to have that capacity within 10-15 years.

And again, echoing the concerns of  physicist Wolfgang Panofsky (op. cit.) the UCS Bulletin observes:

"What's more, the belief that the system can block an attack introduces another layer of risk, since it might make the United States more likely to opt for a military solution in an international crisis before exhausting diplomatic ones."

 All of this in tandem has meant that the nuclear "doomsday clock" of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists remains firmly at 3 minutes to midnight - midnight being when all hell breaks loose. 

See e.g.


'The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.' That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act—immediately." See the full statement from the Science and Security Board on the 2016 time of the Doomsday Clock."

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