Are anti-missile missile systems total BullS...t?

The question is basically, what percentage of incoming missiles are destroyed in the air or deflected to harmless ground? I think it’s hard to believe what comes out of government spokespeople on the subject, so what’s the straight dope?

StrangerOnATrain will undoubtedly be more accurate, but from what I have read the problem with ABMs is not the technical ability to destroy an individual RV, but rather the fact that missiles with nuclear payloads mean that for a system to be useful it needs to have a very high kill rate (which is different from kill probability, something defence contractors like Rafael and Raytheon are shy to point out.) . Kill rates which are much higher than any AD system ever has demonstrated.

If you shoot down 10% of enemy aircraft every engagement, the enemy AF is screwed. If you shoot down 10% of incoming missiles! you are screwed. IIRC you need 90% rates to actually be effective.
Moreover, fairly basic countermeasures can greatly negate a Defences effectiveness.

Nice attempted dig there, but the Iron Dome’s kill *rate *- in battle, not tests - is approximately 90%.

How can we know this is true and not just government propaganda?

Not against ICBMs. And not against anything close to a technological/military peer I expect.

And against nukes, 90% isn’t good enough anyway. All it takes is one to get through to kill a city after all.

I was talking about ABMs not the Iron Dome, although experts have cadet doubts about Iron Dome claims as well..

The last I heard, the only test results which were being made public all needed to have homing beacons installed in the target missiles, and then they stopped releasing test results altogether. Which says to me that the actual success rate is something more like 0%.

First of all, because the Israeli army doesn’t have a history of lying abut this kind of thing. Second of all, because it couldn’t keep that kind of thing secret if it wanted to. Third of all - and most importantly - it’s fairly easy to disprove. Just count how many missiles were launched, and how many hit civilian areas. This isn’t a war half way around the world where they can hide things from the public; it’s a war in the public’s backyard.

To my way of thinking an anti-missile missile system has two goals. The first is, obviously, to shoot down incoming missiles during an attack. The second is to serve as a psychological deterrence factor. Thus, it is not in any government’s interest to reveal the exact percentages of missiles downed by their own anti-missile missiles.

A government would thus have motivation to exaggerate the success of their program instead of downplaying.

(Of course once a genuine 100% deterrence system is indeed in place, a government might have reason to provoke an attack and thus downplay accuracy and success. Stranger things have happened. We live on a planet where aggression and perfidy is the norm )

That’s true, but in this case, the government doesn’t have full control of the information.

I believe that in this dialogue you and I are talking to the Iron Dome missile system in Israel. My question is thus: who is it that does control this information in Israel, if not the government?

Everyone with a smartphone, which is roughly 80% of the country. Soldiers included.

Two points off the top of my head, so maybe they are now wrong. First, the software can never be fully tested. Do you know any bug-free software? Second, the tests do not include confounding things like chaff to confuse the sensors, not to mention overloading with dummy missiles.

I used to work in the ‘delivery end’, not the interception end, of missile warfare. Suffice it to say that I’m not convinced anti-missile systems would be very effective in an ICBM/MIRV exchange. In my opinion, diplomacy is a far better defence.

On the battle field, I think the success rate of the Patriot missile system was around 70% in Iraq (less in Israel). I’d be surprised if accuracy hasn’t improved since then; but then, we haven’t had a similar ‘field test’ since the Gulf War. I think that intercepting short-range missiles from less-than-First World enemies is not ‘total BullS…t’. I think our systems are good enough to keep losses to an acceptable level. (Still, there’s always the possibility of a ‘lucky shot’.) But against an enemy with ICBMs and nuclear MIRVs, a ‘missile shield’ seems to be wishful thinking.

If you have 200 conventional rockets coming down onto one city, it’s certainly plausible that you could have an anti-missile system set up to defend that one city and it might shoot down an optimistic 80% of the rockets. That’s pretty useful. Instead of widespread damage and hundreds dead, now you only have localized damage and dozens dead.

Nuclear ICBMs are a whole other ball game.

When you’ve got 2,000 incoming ICBMs coming down onto 500 targets (some of which are cities, some are military installations, etc.) over a large country, then you need hundreds of anti-missile launch sites, which need to coordinate with each other (or else they’ll be less effective) and 80% success rate means 400 missiles get through. So instead of a totally obliterated radioactive wasteland with 200 million dead, now you have a mostly obliterated radioactive wasteland with 150 million dead. Not a big improvement.

But even if your anti-missile system was 100% effective, all the enemy would have to do is put nukes into Cessnas piloted by suicide bombers, or put them into shipping containers on cargo ships, or smuggle them in underneath piles of marijuana past border guards who’ve been bribed to look the other way.

As a general rule, the shorter range the attacking missile is, the more effective the anti-ballistic missile system tends to be. Iron Dome, the Israeli system to defeat short-range missiles, appears to be very effective, intercepting many hundreds of missiles in the last few years.

Other missile defense systems, like the Aegis BMD and the Patriot PAC-3, have been extensively tested and have done quite well, but really haven’t been used in real world conditions. (Though the Aegis BMD system did successfully shoot down a satellite in 2008.)

What the OP is probably thinking about is the U.S. Ground-based Missile Defense System, which just had its first test success after many years of failures. This is the system that is supposed to intercept a single or small number of North Korean ICBMs if they were launched at the U.S. This system has virtually no capability against a Russian WW3-type attack, and there remain good questions about how effective it would be against a North Korean Taepodong 2… good thing the TD-2 has just about as many failed tests as the GMD system does.

Obviously in a nuclear scenario an anti-missile system would be somewhat worthless. The only possible defense would be some sort of space based laser system with 100% accuracy.

I think my original question was more oriented towards the most recent uses of anti-missile missiles, in the Middle East, where rockets have been flying back and forth at least since the first Gulf War. The two most popular being Patriot System and Iron Dome system.

These systems have been so talked-up that it began to sound false to me. That’s why I asked the question.

A Cessna 172, the most-produced airplane ever, has a payload of around 700 pounds with full fuel. Put in a 180-pound pilot, and you’re down to a bit over 500 pounds. You can carry less fuel and/or get a lighter pilot, but you’re still limited. A megaton nuke is probably going to weigh about four times what a typical GA airplane can carry. ‘Suitcase nukes’ are much lighter, but they also have a much lower yield – like maybe 0.2 to 2.0 kilotons. The Oklahoma City bomb yielded about 0.002 kilotons.

In favour of using GA aircraft as a delivery system is that no one is going to notice them. Against, they can’t carry much. The bomb would likely have to be constructed domestically, and you would need people who could actually pull off making a good-yield one within the weight limits. It just doesn’t seem to be technically feasible. Incidentally, GA aircraft are very poor penetrators. They’d be useless against a hardened target – like most buildings.

Shipping containers (especially) and moving vans would be much better options. Both are even more ‘invisible’ than a small airplane, and they don’t have the weight limitation – and they also have more space.

Cessnas (and Pipers, and Beechcraft, and Maules, and Mooneys, and so on) are not the threat the uninformed and the hysterical would have you believe.

Has the Patriot system ever actually shot down a missile, either? Yeah, yeah, we all heard about them shooting down Scuds during the first Gulf War, but from what I understand, most or all of those “successes” were just spontaneous failures of the Scuds, a notoriously unreliable missile.

And I don’t know how widely implemented they are yet, but there are actually systems to scan shipping containers entering the country for nuclear material and/or shielding for nuclear material. We’re not totally defenseless on that front.

Space based laser systems sound great at first until you look closer. First, if you could make the laser magically hover 500 km above Memphis TN it would be in perfect position to shoot down incoming ICBMs over the continental US, but in reality satellites zip around the globe in orbits so you’d need more than one to ensure that at least one of them is always within range. Second, ICBMs are very unpredictable and you have to be ready for them to pop up almost anywhere… but satellites themselves are extremely predictable and everyone can see them… so all the enemy needs to do is send up TWO missiles, one with a nuclear warhead and the other loaded with shrapnel, launched 10 minutes earlier, to take out the satellite. Third, a conventional rocket is relatively easy to destroy; all you have to do is smack it hard enough to make it explode before it reaches its target, but smacking a nuke might shut it down (or might not) but almost definitely won’t make it explode prematurely, so you need to focus your laser on it for a long long time to fry the electronics, either that or you have to blow it up during the boost phase when it still has fuel, which is a very small window of opportunity. Fourth, lasers bounce off mirrors so all the enemy has to do is polish the outside of the missiles to make them mirror-bright and the laser beam bounces right off it. Now ask yourself if it’s worth spending 3 trillion dollars to build a laser which is easily defeated by $800 worth of chrome plating.