Fulcrum Ruminations

Saturday, February 26, 2005

But That's Impossible . . .

Here's a nifty little news story. This is the first google hit I got on it, there's plenty more. Oh, there'll be a surprise down the line, too.

Experimental Naval Missile Scores Fifth Kill in Test

Of course, the anti-missile defense crowd has been telling us for years that missile defense will never work, haven't they?

Now, to be fair, this is a short-range system designed mainly to defend against short-range missiles . . . SCUD-types, essentially, which the Army has already managed to take out with PATRIOT missiles.

But it's working, kids. Time, money, research, brainpower. Just like any other technological problem, missile defense yields to that combination.

One also has to wonder why so many people seem to be so horrified at the idea of a defensive weapons system. You can't blow up a city with a Standard missile. You shoot down airplanes, cruise missiles, or now ballistic missiles with it. You prevent bad guys from killing good guys with this technology.

Horrors. How dare we.

Then again, the paradigm we're all accustomed to, thanks to the cold war, is the charming little thing called Mutually Assured Destruction, very appropriately known as MAD. The idea was that each side holds the other's populations at risk with loads and loads of missiles and bombs carrying nuclear warheads. Any defense against this would theoretically enable the side with the defense to launch a first strike while being able to mitigate the effects of a counterattack (it seems to have escaped the calculation that releasing all that radioactive fallout and debris into the environment would have led to global casualties anyway). So we had the Antiballistic Missile Treaty between the US and the USSR. This treaty, regarded as a cornerstone of arms control, limited each side to one small ABM system. The Soviets set up an elaborate ring of defenses around Moscow. We had an experimental system that lasted only a few years before being shut down. Or at least, that's what the history books say.

Along comes Ronald Reagan and his much-derided "Star Wars" idea. Good idea, poor timing. The technology of the 80s wasn't really up to it. So for two decades it's a research project. Well, guess what, kids? Research pays off eventually. Missile defense is looking not only possible, but probable now.

Interesting aside, here . . . one of the big criticisms of BMD was that the tests being conducted weren't realistic enough, weren't rigorous enough. So now we've got borderline-operational systems on both land and sea platforms conducting realistic tests and the new complaint is that the tests are too expensive and don't work.

The land-based system has had a couple failures, of a sort. Interceptor missiles haven't launched at targets. Which, oddly, is how the system is supposed to respond when it detects a fault. Be that as it may.

Meanwhile, the Navy is getting good results. Under increasingly realistic conditions, they're accumulating successes.

How about that?

The other big argument against missile defense is that it's unnecessary and wasteful when it's far more likely that the bad guys will smuggle in a nuke on a boat or something rather than pop off a missile. That's true, to a point, but there are countries out there that don't like us who have ballistic missiles. And ballistic missile technology is proliferating. Somehow this gets overlooked.

And it's always been true in military matters that when you leave a gap in your defenses, your enemy can be counted upon to discover and exploit that gap.

So here's the balance point. One side says it won't work/costs too much/is unnecessary. The other says go for it, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. The cost point is debatable, but as a percentage of the defense budget or of GDP the expense so far has been trivial. The technology is maturing and demonstrating success. This particular fulcrum is leaning to the side that says it can be done. Is being done.

Now for the surprise. Maybe, once we figure this out, get it working . . . we share it with everyone. Give the whole world the means to make ballistic missiles obsolete.

Radical. But do-able. If you can think long term.

More on that sometime later.


Blogger Brother Roy said...


4:20 PM  
Blogger Brother Roy said...


6:26 PM  

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