Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Godfather of Missile Defense Snake Oil: Jay Keyworth

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Missile interceptor being loaded near Ft. Greeley, Alaska.

It is absolutely incredible that even nearly 30 years after one of the most devastating exposures of a "white elephant": the  SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) of Reagan and Jay Keyworth- we can still see articles, editorials and even obituaries praising the latter.   The devastating exposure of the missile defense con I refer to appeared in the May, 1987 issue of Physics Today and was entitled "APS Directed Energy Weapons Study (Executive Summary)".   It subsequently appeared in other journals, including the Reviews Of Modern Physics, e.g.


The study basically took apart the SDI  piece by piece  with no fewer than 26 major  deficiencies identified on everything from the weaknesses of the proposed lasers to shoot down the incoming missiles (too weak by several orders of magnitude) to the problem of identifying the targets "at sub-micro-radian resolution"  in the boost phase  to "lack of precision tracking via active sensor systems" and the ease with which any missile  interceptor design can easily be thwarted, say by use of dispersal of million of reflecting, metallic decoys. 

Even two years earlier, in an article  appearing in the June, 1985 issue of Physics Today (p. 34, 'The Strategic Defense Initiative Perception Vs, Reality'), the SDI was dismissed as a "political PR promotion scheme".  In other words, it was created purely to pump up defense budgets and enrich all those contractors who'd be manufacturing the components of this farce. As the author (Wolfgang Panofsky) pointed out:

"What is frightening at this time is the blatant salesmanship, which does not focus on SDI';s military merits but which appeals to economic self interest."


"There exists at this time no technical basis that justifies expanding research and technology programs in ballistic missile defense beyond a program of limited experimentation ...and studies of an objective rather than promotional manner."

Never mind, as recently as Sept.6, 2017, the WSJ featured an editorial (p. A14) headed:

"The Godfather of Missile Defense"

Wherein we read:

"Reagan believed the Cold War needed to end, and part of his strategy for ending it was developing a technology to shoot down missiles in flight. It is hard to overstate the derision that greeted Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. The day after Reagan announced the SDI, Sen. Ted Kennedy mocked the President's "reckless Star Wars scheme".

Used relentlessly by the press to describe SDI, the Star Wars name stuck, and Jay Keyworth's job was to convince skeptics that Reagan's idea of shooting down missiles in flight wasn't Hollywood science fiction..... To his credit and the country's good fortune, Jay Keyworth was tireless in publicly supporting the effort as scientifically achievable.

It eventually gave us systems like THAAD which can effectively intercept short and medium range ballistic missiles and is now deployed on the Korean peninsula."

Now, let's back up a bit and try to unpack this blizzard of codswallop. First, the derision and mock name of "Star Wars" attributed to the SDI  by Ted Kennedy was justly deserved. The APS Directed Energy Weapons study proved it was deserved.  Besides, think about this for a second: IF that system was genuine and featured high falutin' systems equipped with high powered lasers to zap incoming ICBMs, why don't we see any aspect of it used now?  Well, because no workable system ever existed in the first place! It was a big sell job!

Second, the system that has emerged- THAAD -  has only been "successful" because of GPS finder beacons attached to the warheads of the dummy targets. This is the hard fact none of the pointy headed cheerleaders will tell you.  We've actually known about this tomfoolery or fakery the past 17 years or so.  Reuters was the only news agency that got wind of the initial 'Defense Week' story back then  and revealed the fix. The wire service quoted a Pentagon official who "conceded that real warheads in an attack would not carry such helpful beacons". Gee thanks much, Roscoe! I'm sure I'll sleep better at night now, supposing maybe you guys secretly planted beacons on the North Korean warheads.

Additionally, another aspect the mainstream press seldom mentions is that in the case of an actual attack by  a sophisticated enemy multiple decoys would be deployed to fool sensors.    This was first noted by Wolfgang Panofsky in his monograph, Particles and Policy, Chapter 'Mad vs. Nuts') wherein he observed that any U.S. missile defense system - semi-practical or otherwise- will spur numerous counter measures and fully offensive nuclear systems. THIS is the stark danger we face.

Hence, Vladimir Putin's recent bragging (WSJ, Mar. 2, p. A8) of the Russians possessing a "super" nuclear rocket "capable of evading or penetrating limited U.S. antimissile defenses."  Maybe Putin's brain trust hasn't told him yet that he didn't need to spend an extra ruble to do that -  since the existing system is easily penetrated given it needs GPS beacons to hit the targets. (Putin claimed Russia had developed nuclear -powered cruse missiles that could actually reach Mach 10 speeds.)

But therein lies the danger: The massive destabilizing of the current marginal 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 is literally like hitting a bullet with another bullet - and essentially just as likely.. He was strongly convinced a better plan was to work toward mutual reduction in missile forces with monitoring to ensure compliance.

Getting back to Jay Keyworth, if he merits any kudos it was for doing a sell job worthy of the late P.T. Barnum - featured in the recent movie, 'The Greatest Showman'.  Given the yarns and BS Keyworth had to spin to get Reagan to plow wasted billions into the SDI white elephant, well you get the idea. 

Now with Trump we learn even bigger wastes of money are planned (Denver Post, Dc. 17, p. 13A, 'Trump Moves To Boost Missile Defense System'). We learn, specifically:

"Immediate plans call for building two $ 1 billion radar installations and adding 20 rocket interceptors to the 44 deployed in underground silos in Fort Greeley in Alaska and Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. ....The expected cost is about $10.2 billion over five years on top of more than $40 billion already spent for the system."

But we also learn in the piece:

"But government reports and interviews with technical experts suggest the planned upgrades, including a redesigned kill vehicle, are unlikely to protect the United States from a limited-scale ballistic missile attack - the system's stated mission."

Which is totally in line with Wolfgang Panofsky's skeptical take in his book, Particles and Policy.   It appears as though there is a fundamental flaw in the wiring of human brains which causes them to continually believe the same erroneous crap despite all evidence to the contrary that they work. Thus,  whether it's tax cuts or missile defense systems - these "zombie" ideas live on and are repeatedly resurrected, say as revealed in the Matt Miller  book, 'The Tyranny of Dead Ideas'.

In the latest iteration, we have an unworkable system (well, unless "beacons" are put into target vehicles to give interceptors a 'heads up') that is in fact an "upgrade" of an already bad idea.

Jay Keyworth the 'Godfather of Missile Defense"? Well, more like the Godfather of  wasteful spending in the billions on a series of missile defense white elephants - starting with SDI and now with THAAD.

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