The missile defence system that gets by with a little help from its friends

There have been a couple of threads on the viability and consequences of “Son of Star Wars” missile defense system.

I’m highly skeptical about it’s feasibility and don’t like the strategic consequences, but as a damm hignorant furriner, my opinion doesn’t count for much.

So, do the findings published in Defense Week that each of the four target missiles were carrying a GPS beacon change the debate at all?

With the hit rate of 2 from four, does this indicate that:
a) if even having a homing device only gets a 50% success rate, the concept is incapable of being an effective shield to hostile missiles? Or
b) the testing was about other aspects of the “bullet stopping bullet” system, it’s guidance systems are still being developed and this announcement does not effect the Administrations’s commitment to the program?

Sure looks like they CHEATED.

First, a little knowledge about how any new development is tested should be a prerequisite to publicizing an opinion about how phony these tests were.

The amazing thing about the tests is not that they could detect the targets and track them, but that they could guide defensive missiles into direct physical contact with them at all. No responsible researcher in any field designs and builds any kind of system without any interim testing and then tests the completed system all at once. If you had a failure at that stage, how would you know which part failed? You build one part of the system (in this case, the interceptor missle) and you test it. Exhaustively. It is important to know exactly how well this part of the system works. Does it fly? How quickly does it respond to guidance signals? If it hits the target, can it actually destroy it? How often will direct hits fail to destroy the target?

This is not a completed system that is being tested. It is one group of components.

And one more thing: No weapon system ever developed in all of recorded history was ever 100% effective. None ever will be, either. The US Army’s M1A1 Abrams tank is considered to be an overwhelming success and everyone that operates it is perfectly thrilled about the fact that the average lethality of its main gun at its maximum effective range is 50%. One shot, one kill, 100% of the time is utter fantasy.

No, it doesn’t change the results in the least.

(Disclaimer: I’ve yet to come to a decision on NMD. I have no particular axe to grind, I have no agenda to push.)

There’s several reasons for this.[ul][]If you’re launching a missile into the air, you damn well better know where it is at all times. Yes, there’s multiple ways of tracking it without using GPS, but there’s no reason NOT to put a GPS transmitter on there for redundancy. If through some screwup, the military lost track of that missile and it fell on Grampa Moses’ shack, there’d be hell to pay.[]Some people believe that the GPS transmitter wasn’t used for telemetry purposes but rather for targetting. Even so, this is a huge success. “Hitting a bullet with a bullet” is a tremendously complex task, and to accomplish that, the first thing you do is simplify it by reducing the number of variables. Getting the interceptor missile (moving at a number of miles per second) to even get close to the target missile (also moving at miles per second) under computer control isn’t exactly a walk in the park. You get one step done, you move onto the next step.Furthermore, the military was open about the GPS at the initial press conference. The NMD system, in theory, will detect a launch, determine the trajectory via radar, and vector the interceptor. Said launch-detect radar system is not yet complete, so they improvised by using GPS. Note that the GPS system provided no other data than what would be given to it by the launch-detect radar had that been operational.[/ul]And upon preview, I see that sewalk has beat me to the punch, so I’ll wind this up now.

What bothers me about this is not so much the fact that the GPS beacon was used, but rather that the test was portrayed by the media as a final, full-on, passed-with-flying-colors test. The beacon wasn’t even MENTIONED by any media outlet for DAYS.

Expect something about this in Brill’s Content next month.

The above is exactly why I question the need for “Star Wars”. If Russia launches 1000 missiles and our defense shoots down 60% (very impressive) then that means 400 get thru. We’re toast. Terrorists are more likely to carry theirs in a suitcase. So what is the point?

Some folks seem unaware or uncaring of the forum descriptions.

Just the facts, please.

What, you think the tank crew fires one shot and then calls it a day, whether the target was destoryed or not? If two volleys are fired, each at 60% effectiveness, now we’re down to 240 missles.

The lethality of NMD will need to be far greater than 60% to be effective. When I mentioned the example of the Abrams, I said it was 50% lethal at maximum effective range, which is about 4000 meters. At 2000 meters, lethality approaches 100%. Say that NMD becomes 90% effective. If they are able to achieve the capability to make two shots, if necessary, at each target, only 10 of your 1000 missles get through. That is a pretty survivable scenario, compared to 1000 missles with no defense.


The proposed missle defense is not intended to stop 1000 Russian missiles. Part of the planned design is that it will fail under a massive attack. The US does not want Russia to feel threatened and think they need to launch a preemptive strike. The US continues to rely on the MAD concept where Russia is concerned. Plus the US does not have the money to build a system to stop 1000 missles.

The missile defense is only intended to stop a few incoming missiles. Even a 50% success in testing is not bad. It just means the system will be set to launch three times. You can shoot a lot when you only have a few to shoot at.

Part of the Bush plan is to make the system available to others, who can pay for it.

The US, Russia, and China will be able to overload and penetrate the system.

What do you call a missile defence system that gets by with a little help from its friends?

Ringo Starr Wars.

Thank you, I’m here all week.

This is shear speculation. There have been virtually no details released by the administration which describe what the planned design actually is ! One day it’s a ground system, the next we’re hearing about resurrecting brilliant pebbles etc. etc. For the last month or so we’ve been hearing haow vital it is that the country go ahead with deployment before the system, whatever it turns out to be, is even tested.

That said, a batting average of ~50% on the first four tries is pretty good. It’d be nice to see the radar system up to guiding all phases of the encounter, but at least they’ve shown that the kill vehicle CAN handle the final phase of the interception.

I heard that Alexander Graham Bell is still working on his stupid telephone. I mean, apparently he managed to get his assistant to hear his voice on some scratchy speaker in another room.

Who cares? If I want to talk to someone in the next room, I’ll shout. This thing is a big waste of time. And besides, I heard that it didn’t work at all for a long time.

The whole concept is ridiculous, and will never amount to anything.

Ooh! Oooh! Oooooooh! I almost started a thread about this in GD today.

There is good evidence that the tests of 1997 and 1999 were a failure, that the data were manipulated to make it look successful, the NMD system is totally unsuccessful at distinguishing decoy from warhead, and subsequent tests were rigged to downplay this ability.

Furthermore, an MIT scientist (Theodore Postol) who was at least partially in charge of analyzing data from the tests tried to notify the Clinton White House. He based these findings on unclassified data, and posted the reports on the internet. The data were reclassified, and last week he was interviewed by the FBI. They are threatening to take away his security clearance, which he claims is basically the government trying to gag order him.

It looks pretty credible. It was in Nature’s News section this week, and in the New York Times:

Knight, Jonathan. “Physicist claims gagging over missile defence system.” Nature 412, 468. (2 August 2001)

Nature article (subscription needed)
NY Times article (login needed)

Also, here is a free page with much information, including the declassified/reclassified reports and stories on the whole beacon guidance thing:
Boston Globe article with link to letter to John Podesta and White House

It is not that such a system is not worth pursuing. It is that the cost/benefit analysis for this system is waaaaaaaaaay in the red, IMHO. We are paying untold billions for a technology that will offer little or no security from a full scale launch and little or no protection from “rogue nations” who can stick their nuke on a ship instead of on a missile.

If Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone only worked 10% of the time, cost $50 billion to develop, and only worked over a slightly longer range than the human voice, I guarantee he still would be working on it.

This whole NMD thing stunk to high heaven before the current administration. Now, it is starting to border on criminal fleecing.

The national news media’s pronouncements on “Star Wars” and “a bullet hitting a bullet” reminds me of an editorial run by the New York Times in 1921:

The nation’s newspaper of record thus drew on its own scientific “expertise” to heap ridicule on Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the father of modern rocketry. Almost fifty years later, on the day after Apollo 11 took off, the Times offered a retraction:

I suspect that it won’t take nearly as long for NMD to be proven, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for today’s New York Times to apologize.