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Missile Defense "Operational"?

Reuters reports the following:

The United States has moved its ground-based interceptor missile defense system from test mode to operational amid concerns over an expected North Korean missile launch, a U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed a Washington Times report that the Pentagon has activated the system, which has been in the developmental stage for years.

"It's good to be ready," the official said. . . .

While military officials . . . note the United States has a limited missile defense system, they have so far declined to comment on any details about the capabilities or potential use of the system to intercept a North Korean missile.

This is not an issue I have followed much, but given the little I had read in recent years, this story comes as a surprise. Are there readers who can shed light on whether this means missile defense is a reality? And, if so, what does this mean for U.S. security? Or is this just much ado about nothing?

Joel B. (mail):
It would be so sweet (this I don't think is "operational"), if the moment the missle say flies into Japanese or American airspace if suddenly, 'bam' SDI knocked it out of the air.
6.20.2006 3:05pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
If "we can hit targets that don't accurately reproduce the ballistic track of an ICBM on the average of about one time in five when there are no counter-measures deployed" = "operational," then yes, we have an operational anti-missile shield.
6.20.2006 3:08pm
Humble Law Student:
I recommend this site for information. I dont know much, but that site keeps you up to date.
6.20.2006 3:23pm
Moonage Webdream (mail) (www):
I tracked back my thoughts, but they don't address your issue specifically. Specifically, we have a limited anti-missile defense system. What little I do know is it is operational in Alaska and parts of California. Primarily, I think, because that's where the most antagonistic countries would have capabilities of striking ( read Iran and North Korea ). They have been tested, but never proven under live conditions. There have been some successes, and a lot of misses. I would love nothing more than to see how well this system works under real-time condictions. Plus, you have to remember that the North Koreans have declared the ICBM treaties null and void in preparation of this test flight. Nothing would bring them back to the negotiating table faster than to knock their missile out of the sky in a well-publicized display of how well the missile shield works. On the cconspiracy theorist level, I have been told we also have missile defense satellites positioned strategically in regards to North Korea. If that's the case, we'll get several shots at the missile. And, if that's the case, we might be able to blow it up upon launch, I've seen satellite pictures of launch site, we know exactly where it is.

This could be fun to watch.
6.20.2006 3:24pm
Scott W. Somerville (mail) (www):
We've been working towards an operational missile defense system ever since the first personal computers were invented. Nobody expected us to be able to shoot down every incoming Soviet ICBM, so a lot of people called it a waste of time. Then, when Islamofascism became all the rage, our missile defense dreams did no good because we were worried about bombs being smuggled in by truck, not flown in by missile.

But now, with the Cold War over and the Long War trending our way for the moment, North Korea finally shows up with the perfect scenario for a missile defense system: a single, small,fairly primitive country with a marginal missile system a long way off. If there was ever a nuclear threat we could actually counter with the best anti-missile defense system this planet has ever seen, it's North Korea's.

And they know it.

If North Korea launches, they have a small but real chance of hitting an American city. That small but real chance of inflicting damage on us will be followed by swift and certain annihilation. Our missile defense allows us to call North Korea's bluff (if it is a bluff) instead of having to stick our superpowered tail between our legs and run. As long as we have a President with the guts to stand our ground, we won't go wobbly. (Real estate prices in Seattle may go down, however.)

So--it's operational, in a geopolitical sense, even if it isn't CERTAIN to work in a mechanical engineering sense.
6.20.2006 3:25pm
te (mail):
When someone jumps the turnstile to get on the Muni (the subway here in S.F.), often the gate agent will get on the loudspeaker and announce "SF PD report to outbound platform for fare evader"

Of course, the SFPD does not monitor those announcements and there is no chance that anything will happen - unless of course there just so happens to be a cop wandering through the station.

Seems like the same theory at work.
6.20.2006 3:27pm
CJColucci:
We've had for a long time a handle of anti-missile missiles that might, perhaps, be effective against one nut with six missiles. Maybe. The issue has been whether a larger program makes sense.
6.20.2006 3:31pm
Glenn B (mail):
Humble Law Student, given that the site you link to is sponsored by the claremont institute and has "An explanation of what ballistic missiles are, how to defend against them, and the fundamental issues which drive the debate over whether or not to defend America" as one of its links, I think we can assume it is not a reliable source on the issue.
6.20.2006 3:32pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Yeah, the monkeys flying out of my ass have about as much chance of shooting down a NK missile as our vaunted missile defense system does. Unless of course we have convinced the North Koreans to install a homing beacon in their missile. Because to date the only successful intercepts have been of missiles that have had homing beacons in them, and even then the intercepts have been few and far between.

Blowing it up during launch phase from a Aegis cruiser would just be cheating, not to mention an act of war (since it would still be over NK territory) so probably not a very good idea. Even if it was feasible it really wouldn't prove much of anything. All it would prove is that we have the capability to hit large slow moving objects with ship to shore missiles from international waters when we know exactly where they are and have plenty of warning when they are going to be launched. I think everybody knows we can already do that.
6.20.2006 3:33pm
Brian Cook (mail) (www):
Accurate or not, it would be awesome if the North Korean missile test coincided with a test of our missile shield--ending their missile test by shooting it out of the sky.
6.20.2006 3:34pm
Ferguson:
At least it's tax-payer money well-spent. I feel so safe right now I don't think I'll even lock my front door tonight.
6.20.2006 3:37pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
And of course the inconvenient fact is that the ABM system can be defeated by simple countermeasures. Things like mylar decoys. Think about, a multi-million dollar missile and associated computer hardware and software can be fooled by basically a ballon you can buy at the dollar store. That is why an ABM system will always be a losing proposition.
6.20.2006 3:43pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
Just to expand on my earlier comment. I'm going on memory of a few Scientific American and other sources articles from the past few years, so some of my information may be old, or just plain wrong, but you get the general idea well enough, I think.

There are three portions of an ICBMs path: launch, orbit, descent.

In launch, it has a fairly straightline path and it moving "relatively" slowly - just beyond escape velocity. However, the time it takes to break into orbit is under a minute I believe. So, if we can detect the launch, get permission to shoot at it, and have something in range with which to shoot the missle.

In orbit, it has a very long period of flight. However, it is outside the atmosphere, so reaching it is fairly difficult unless we have satellites already in place. Then there is the question of counter-measures: the rocket splits into multiple pieces, or ejects a large number of large radar and heat signature items to distract targetting computers and hopefully we can hit every single one of those targets to get the real one.

In descent, you have something like a quarter of a minute to hit it as it is accelerating downward at 9.8 m/s^2 plus any additional boost due to fuel. If you could possibly hit it, you then have the potential to release nuclear fuel into the atmosphere.

In trials, we've hit targets that are in a launch style pattern, though without escape velocity speeds. And we've only hit them on a less than 50% success rate.
6.20.2006 3:46pm
TC (mail):

And of course the inconvenient fact is that the ABM system can be defeated by simple countermeasures. Things like mylar decoys. Think about, a multi-million dollar missile and associated computer hardware and software can be fooled by basically a ballon you can buy at the dollar store. That is why an ABM system will always be a losing proposition.


Body armor isn't perfect either, but I gladly wore it when I was in Iraq.
6.20.2006 3:50pm
Bruce:
Glenn B, the Claremont site provides links to newspaper articles, so unless the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner is in on the plot, it appears that there are indeed 9 interceptors deployed at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and 2 at Vandenberg AFB in California. The News-Miner article does note concerns about the reliability of the system.
6.20.2006 3:55pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Body armor isn't perfect either, but I gladly wore it when I was in Iraq.

Well, if we had spent 10's of billions of dollars (actually probably 100s) on researching body armor and it was still completely worthless (wouldn't even stop a air rifle pellet) then I would be as sarcastic about that too and would be telling you about my ass monkeys tearing through your body armor to rip your heart out with their little ass monkey paws.
6.20.2006 4:01pm
thewagon:
Am I the only person here who finds it hilarious that a bunch of people on a blog claim to know more than top rocket scientists? Or that anyone would assume that the U.S. government would allow accurate information concerning its military hardware to get out? Seriously, though, all of our information on this subject comes to us through about fifteen intermediaries, and that includes the purported viability or nonviability of such a system. I just don't see how anyone can have such hard positions, or make absolute statements like "a missile defense system will never work." I have no idea whether such a thing is doable or not, but I think it's a good idea, and worth taxpayer money to research. Perhaps we should just pour the cash down the plughole of public education, rather than into the military, an institution that has proven its effectiveness?
6.20.2006 4:04pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
What this means is a lot more money for Lockheed Martin. That's about it, in practical terms.

I read that North Korea threatened a missle launch shortly before the last time the US entered into an agreement with it about its nukes, so I think this is just more of the same tactic---e.g., "if I act out enough, the West will give me more assistance and stop threatening sanctions."

I fear more that North Korea will sell this technology to someone else who is likely to launch a missle at us--e.g., Al Qaeda---than I do that North Korea will use this missle to attack the USA or Japan. If Al Qaeda were to take over another country, such as Somalia, it would have the capability to base such missles on land and use them against the US or its allies. That may be a reality for us within the next few years, if press reports about connections between the Islamist warlords' in Somalia and Al Qaeda are true.
6.20.2006 4:11pm
Angus:
Since when is the Pentagon infallible? They've had numerous multibillion dollar fiascos. As for the rocket scientists, most of those I heard like the idea in the abstract, but think the technology is decades away from being feasible.

To show you how unreliable the current system is, there was a scheduled test intercept about a year ago. They had to cancel it because it was too overcast and they were not sure the interceptor could work in cloudy weather. I just hope if North Korea ever launches a nuke at us, they pick a clear and sunny day.
6.20.2006 4:11pm
drewsil (mail):
TC,

The body armor analogy is actually quite poor in this case. If your body armor functioned as poorly as the missile defense system you would never wear it due to its inconvience and cost. The missile defense system we have is actually there as a deterent, to make North Korea think that there is a chance, however small, that a launch will be intercepted. As such it may actually function quite well without ever hitting a missile.

For the reasons noted by other posters the chances of an actual intercept are quite small. We have a much better chance of hitting the missile platforms before launch.
6.20.2006 4:12pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
There has never been an issue of scientific and engineering advancement which has had so many people desperately hoping it won't work.
Amazing.
They couch their points in uninformed and sometimes deceitful comments about how it won't, can't, or didn't work. They point to old tests as if nothing has changed.

So I guess the question is what they would say if it turned out to work. What would be their objection then? For there would be an objection. I'm just a bit puzzled about what it would look like.
6.20.2006 4:13pm
Hattio (mail):
The military has proven their effectiveness. The ABM, not so much. They can't intercept ballistic missiles ON A PATH THEY KNOW ABOUT, and can pre-program in (without any evasive action by the target), going slower than a missile would, at over 50% accuracy. Comparing "the military" to that is like talking about whether Harvard should keep getting funding because some inner-city school is failing. They're not monoliths.

And BTW, the Fairbanks Daily New-Miner is a supporter, having fired reporter Dan O'Neill shortly after an expose he did.
6.20.2006 4:15pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):

I have no idea whether such a thing is doable or not, but I think it's a good idea, and worth taxpayer money to research


I guess asking questions like "how much will it cost?" and "will it work?" don't apply to the military.
6.20.2006 4:17pm
Humble Law Student:
Maybe I can help out.

My father actually works for the DOD as an aeronautical engineer. He was part of the team at the DOD research labs that researched the Star Wars program during the 80s. He teaches various courses at the graduate level, lectures on the subject of missile guidance systems and simulations, and is an AIAA fellow.

I'll do you all a favor and ask him about it to see if he will write a little primer on it for us all.

Get back to you all.
6.20.2006 4:24pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Am I the only person here who finds it hilarious that a bunch of people on a blog claim to know more than top rocket scientists? Or that anyone would assume that the U.S. government would allow accurate information concerning its military hardware to get out?

Well it hardly seems reasonable that the military would conceal the fact that it had an ABM system that works, would it? You will notice that nowhere does the military actually claim the system works.

As for rocket scientists saying the system works? Where are they? They simply don't exist. There are many who say the challenges can be overcome, but find one who says we have an operational system.

The issues of countermeasures are well known and even the strongest advocates of the system who know what they are talking about will quickly change the subject if you bring it up. Look how no one wants to discuss it here.

So I will say it again--countermeasures. Offer me a solution, even if we do manage to get the interceptors to work. Give me a shoot down method, I will offer an infinitely cheaper countermeasure that will defeat it.
6.20.2006 4:28pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
Folks, it's all a game.

Their pseudo-missile versus our pseudo-missile-defense.

Antonio
6.20.2006 4:32pm
anonymousss (mail):
There has never been an issue of scientific and engineering advancement which has had so many people desperately hoping it won't work.

even if this is true it doesnt change the fact that the system doesnt work, nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future.
6.20.2006 4:38pm
Bruce:
And BTW, the Fairbanks Daily New-Miner is a supporter, having fired reporter Dan O'Neill shortly after an expose he did.

So Hattio, are you saying that's reason to doubt that there are 9 interceptor missiles deployed at Greely and 2 at Vandenberg? That's all the linked-to article says.
6.20.2006 4:41pm
cirby (mail):

So I will say it again--countermeasures.


...and almost all of those countermeasures proposed by missile defense opponents are easily defeated by this stuff called "atmosphere" (if they're light enough to go on board the missile without much weight penalty), or cause a dramatic reduction in payload (if they're real enough to be truly confusing for the outgoing rocket).

Good countermeasures are really only useful if you have a massive amount of payload space set aside for them (in which case, you effectively "shot down" a couple of warheads before the thing even launched), or if your reentry vehicle has a moderately large amount of "jinking" capability (basically, none of the currently deployed ICBMs have anything like that installed, and the North Korean system certainly won't).

You can say "countermeasures" all you want, but they're not the magic wand some folks seem to think they are. Even with a "good" set of decoys and jammers, a sufficiently powerful radar can burn right through, or discern the differences due to physics of the packages.

...and for the folks who keep harping on the various "cheats" the system has had during tests: most of those were to test if the interceptor could get to the target at all, and the weather delays that have happened were for telemetry reasons (you don't want to run a test if you can't see what really happened).
6.20.2006 4:43pm
jimbino (mail):
From a pork-barrel point of view, our ABM system is fully functional.

A missile that achieved escape velocity wouldn't be a very effective weapon against a terrestrial target. The fact that a missile is ballistic implies that it follows the arc of a bullet after initial propulsive impulse. That means that the entire course of a missile is determined after the fuel is spent early in the ascent phase, unless it breaks up into several pieces. No ballistic missile will still be expending fuel in the descent phase; if it did it wouldn't properly be termed "ballistic."
6.20.2006 4:48pm
Houston Lawyer:
You might remember that it was the thought that this actually would work that helped to bring about the end of the cold war. I predict that even if we do shoot down this missle the critics here will all claim it was some sort of Rovian plot from the beginning and will personally guarantee that it couldn't possibly work a second time.

How many millions of people does the system have to save to be worth the cost? Every dollar we spend on missle defense could be used to fight global warming. I'm good with the tradeoff.
6.20.2006 4:50pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Put me down for the "doubt it'll work but would love to see it blow the NK missile into dust" column.

There doesn't seem to be a "doubt the Star Wars boosters will actually allow their wares to be put on the spot" column in this thread, but I'll check it off, too.

Trying to get one lousy NK missile, with such egregiously ample warning, &failing to do so, would cause heads to roll ... in any institution with "shame" and "accountability." Of course, we're talking about Rumsfeld's Pentagon, so those don't apply.
6.20.2006 4:51pm
Tom952 (mail):
Click Here to read:
In September 2004, the Navy will deploy an Aegis destroyer in the Sea of Japan capable of detecting and tracking missile launches from North Korea and China

Seems like excellent anticipation by the Administration and the Navy. This has the potential to be a spectacular event.
6.20.2006 4:52pm
cirby (mail):
...except, of course, that many modern ICBMs have this thing called "cross range capability," and have independently-targetable reentry vehicles. That means they have little rocket motors on them which make them move to slightly different trajectories. Expand on this a tiny bit, and you can get some decent shifting in orbit. Not a lot, though, and if you try to make one with a lot of delta-V, you end up making a missile with a lot less payload (you have to also put tracking systems on, so the vehicle can "know" when to jink).

Either way: less payload, less warheads, and a much more complicated system.
6.20.2006 4:53pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
So Hattio, are you saying that's reason to doubt that there are 9 interceptor missiles deployed at Greely and 2 at Vandenberg? That's all the linked-to article says.

Well, in the bizarro world of this administration, they kept their promise of deploying an ABM system by installing the missiles eventhough the supporting radars are not in place, and the missiles actually haven't passed their test phases. So basically what is "deployed" are Potemkin missiles, nothing more.
6.20.2006 5:01pm
Tom952 (mail):
If NK launches toward Japan or California, does anyone see a reason that it should NOT be shot down (presuming that it is possible)?
6.20.2006 5:04pm
NY (mail):
You know, we have been spending quite a bit of money lately on HIV/AIDS and cancer research/cures, but still no silver bullet, maybe we should just stop funding such?
6.20.2006 5:05pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
You know, we have been spending quite a bit of money lately on HIV/AIDS and cancer research/cures, but still no silver bullet, maybe we should just stop funding such?

Right ... another random analogy that bears no relation to the facts regarding missile defense. Next, please!
6.20.2006 5:24pm
NMates (mail):

...except, of course, that many modern ICBMs have this thing called "cross range capability,"


"Modern" -- as in those developed by the US &Russia. However, this appears to be the first ICBM out of North Korea. They're far more like the "classic" ICBMs that didn't have all the bells and whistles. That's what makes it a best-case test for the US- going up against 1960s tech, not 1990s tech.
6.20.2006 5:28pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
anonymous. Read Arthur C. Clarke's "Profiles of The Future". There, assembled in one handy place, is a humiliating list of all the big shots who insisted that stuff we take for granted would never work.

To guarantee that something not yet perfected cannot ever be perfected is to be silly, at best.
6.20.2006 5:33pm
PersonFromPorlock:
OK. let's see: they launch, we shoot and something happens way the Hell out over the Pacific. This much can be determined, but after that the success or failure of the missile or antimissile comes down to who you believe. Look for mutually annihilative press releases, a Congressional investigation into what really happened and an elegant sufficiency of conspiracy theories, especially about the Congressional investigation.

My best guess is that our missile defense system is 20% hardware, 70% tactical bluff and 10% cold sweat on the part of the career military who thought they were in an engineering program.
6.20.2006 5:37pm
DJB (mail):
The objection that any given antimissile defense has virtually no chance of hitting its target has always struck me as a bit stupid. Any given M-16 bullet fired has virtually no chance of hitting an enemy, either -- are we to conclude that bullets are useless in war?

Missile defense is based around two basic concepts -- one, that we're far, far richer than anyone likely to launch a missile at us, and two, that the existance of ANY missile defense will prevent our enemies from knowing whether or not missiles launched at us will actually hit.

One could argue that missile defense isn't cost-effective -- that, for example, the money we'd spend defending Seattle is more than we'd lose if Seattle actually got nuked. But arguing against it on the grounds that it doesn't work or can't work is dippy. Of course it can work! There's no law of nature that says you can't hit a fast-moving object with another fast moving object.
6.20.2006 5:45pm
Medis:
DJB,

The slightly more sophisticated argument is that missile defense puts us on the wrong side of an asymmetric arms race. In other words, if for every dollar (or won) that they spend on offensive weapon systems, we have to spend too many dollars (or won) on defensive systems, we are bound to actually lose this arms race.

And that may sound like a silly concern when comparing the United States to North Korea, but it isn't if the cost factor is high enough. The US economy is something like 400 times the size of the North Korean economy, so if the cost factor is that high (which is in fact possible), we actually could be in parity when it comes to an arms race.
6.20.2006 6:02pm
percuriam:
What happened to those missiles that we used to shoot down scud missiles during Iraqi war I and II? was that technology all a lie?
6.20.2006 6:02pm
Medis:
DJB,

Sorry, I meant to address your M-16 example. That is actually a great example of my point: bullets are very cheap, and human beings are very expensive, so it is worth expending a lot of bullets to destroy one human beings.
6.20.2006 6:04pm
Bpbatista (mail):
Mr. Adler,

I had the pleasure of confronting one of your CWRU professorial colleagues -- Larry Krause -- at the Cleveland City Club a few years back about missile defense. He had published an op-ed in the NYTimes claiming that missile defense would never work, it was too expensive, it would cause and arms race etc. I asked him about the internal contradictions in his arguments, (e.g., if it was so obvious that missile defense would never work, why did he claim that nations like China would be so threatened that it would spark an arms race?) which he could not answer. The basic gist is that missile defenses have been tested with varying degrees of success and have been built and deployed despite the best efforts of people like professor Krause and the Clinton Administration which tried to kill missile defense. Whether or not it will work in practice is yet to be seen, but surely it is better to have a chance at defending against a missile attack than to be utterly defenseless as we were before President Reagan's visionary proposal.

Regards,

Bruce Batista
CWRU Law '94
6.20.2006 6:06pm
jvarisco (www):
The missile defense we are currently working on is a boost phase system; it intercepts the missile within a few minutes of launch before it enters the atmosphere and the warheads split off.

As far as I know, the x-band radar that is supposed to make it effective is not complete yet, and the laser that is supposed to shoot them down is too big to fit into any planes we have. So I doubt much has changed.

Note that even a fully operational system would only be 90-95% effective; barring an energy shield, we are never going to be 100% safe.
6.20.2006 6:07pm
jallgor (mail):
I understood from what I have read and heard that if we were going to shoot the NK missle down that we would likely do it with an Aegis Cruiser (as alluded to above). My understanding of the Aegis system is that it is a ship to air missle defense system designed to protect a carrier group from missle attack (either from aircraft or other ships). I am not sure but I don't think taking it down with Aegis is akin to using a ship to shore missle to blow it up during a slow moving launch phase. I also think Aegis range is enough that it could take the missle out even after it had crossed out of NK airspace. I think it is a pretty sophisticated system that can take out missles at very high altitudes but I'd love to hear more about it from someone with more knowledge.
6.20.2006 6:31pm
Leland:
So it seems the conclusion by some legal minds is that North Korea can launch ICBMs with MIRVs including decoys and various other counter-measures, but the US cannot intercept it (regardless of any success with the PAC-3 missile system or previous success with earlier Patriot versions in the Persian Gulf).

Anyway, the Aegis can intercept missiles in the terminal phase using the SM-3 interceptor, as can the PAC-3 system. We have 10 THAAD interceptors installed (8 at Ft. Greely, Alaska and 2 at Vanderberg, California) which are capable of hitting missiles in the midcourse phase.

Source: http://www.mda.mil US Missile Defense Agency

I think the legal scholars would do well to discuss the implications of the US announcement of an operational system as it relates to the ABM treaty, rather than arguing whether or not the US can hit a missile developed by NK. If any system is unproven, it is the Taepodong.
6.20.2006 6:32pm
alkali (mail) (www):
Moonage Webdream writes:

I would love nothing more than to see how well this system works under real-time conditions.

I think you would like to see it work under real-time conditions. I am not sure you would like to see how well it works under real-time conditions, unless you are not so fond of Seattle.
6.20.2006 6:36pm
Tom952 (mail):
Are there readers who can shed light on whether this means missile defense is a reality?

If the NKs launch, perhaps we will all find out.
6.20.2006 6:40pm
EricK:
And of course the inconvenient fact is that the ABM system can be defeated by simple countermeasures. Things like mylar decoys. Think about, a multi-million dollar missile and associated computer hardware and software can be fooled by basically a ballon you can buy at the dollar store. That is why an ABM system will always be a losing proposition.


Just think if every aircraft had a ballon from the dollar store they would never be shot down.
6.20.2006 6:45pm
nrein1 (mail):
I disagree with many on this board I don;t think we should attempt to shoot down this missile even if we begin to have the capability. I don't think anything good can come of it. Lets say we do shoot it down. You can't shoot it down in the boost faze because at that point it is over North Korean territory. SO if you shoot it down during reentry, well the North Koreans still have succesfully tested their missile. Also they undoubtably will claim it was an attempt to put an object into orbit as they do every other time. Some will believe them and hostility towards the US will increase.

If we suceed yes we will gain the knowledge that it is possible, but one success does not make a functioning system. The managers of this system know there is still a lot of work to be done. I am afraid with a success such as this more money will be put into missile defense something I do not believe is advisable even if we could get a system that is 95% effective. It will still cost a lot of money and that money is better spent on things that are more probable then a missile attack such as preventing terrorism or making the situation in Iraq better.

North Korea is not going to attack the US with a missile, they are just using it as a bargaining chip. Yes if we can deploy an effective missile defense this bargaining chip is gone, but there are many others that North korea could pursue as well including developing systems that may more useful to terrorist groups they could sell the tech to. Plus missiles are expensive, I am all for North Korea wasting as much money as they can on things as that is more likely to lead to its eventual collapse. (Though I do realize that this collapse has been predicted ever since Kim il-Sung died. Someday it will happen. In my belief engagement is the proper way to bring it about)

Back to the scenarios. So lets say the US attempts to shoot it down and fails. Well then the risk of increased hostility towards the US for attacking north Korea's "space vehicle" still will result. Plus the ambiguity of missile defenses capability is lost. In the unlikely result the situation deteriorates all the way to war, this could be a problem.

The point is moot anyway as any North Korean launch will be South over Japan into the middle of the Pacific as previous ones have would likely be out of the range of any interceptors based Alaska or California.
6.20.2006 6:53pm
Rush (mail):
The most effective way to destroy a North Korean missile is on the launching pad or in the silo. What use are all of our expensive minuteman, trident,gravity bombs if they'll never be used. A hydrogen bomb exploded at ground level delivered by one of our super accurate missiles is the solution. We get blamed anyway, so why not get the benefits?
6.20.2006 6:53pm
RocketScientist (mail):
The US successfully tested an anti satelite missle in the early '80's. The technology is similar. Sure, there are all sorts of technical difficulties, but there's no doubt that it can work. We're rocket scientist, we can make two dixie cups and a piece of string work!
6.20.2006 7:25pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):

Well it hardly seems reasonable that the military would conceal the fact that it had an ABM system that works, would it?


Sure, it's reasonable. Who deploys countermeasures against a system that they "know" doesn't work?
6.20.2006 7:31pm
KeithK (mail):
In the off chance that NK is actually stupid or insane enough to fire a missile at the US, I want to have every available missile defense asset deployed to intercept it, whether or not the system is experimental, complete or fully qualified. So I am glad that the system is being considered operational, even if the capability remains somewhat limited. But regardless, there is deterence value in this declaration. NK doesn't know for sure how effective our system would be and as a result would be less likely to actually try it at least marginally (well, unless KJI is actually insane, but that's a different question.)
6.20.2006 7:34pm
Chuck Jackson (mail):
Here's a good reference to ABM technology.

www.fas.org/rlg/030605nmdp1.pdf

Of course, the skeptics might point out that the author is not a rocket scientist. He is, however, a respected scientist who has spent much of his life in defense work. His bio is at fas.org/rlg/. Among his honors is the National Medal of Science.

He is quite skeptical of the effectiveness of a system, such as the one in Alaska and California, that is based on mid-course interception.

Chuck Jackson
6.20.2006 7:46pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Some years ago, during an earlier iteration of this argument, I happened to be talking to a physicist at U-Mich.

He was against it. Publicly and actively. Arms race, all that stuff. I asked him what he would do if the USSR came up with one. Same results, arms race, money, instability, right?

He wouldn't do anything, he said. He was tired of it.

So, not all references to deficient effectiveness, even if not obviously bogus, are motivated by the possibility of deficient effectiveness.
6.20.2006 7:59pm
eddie (mail):
To sum up the more manly (patriotic?) comments:

Even if it don't work, it's good to know the government is telling us it works. It means we're standing tall against the evil of the world.

Even if it does work, the only way to be sure is to nuke North Korea before any launch. Two benefits: one less evil empire and all the other will be shaking in their boots. And since we already paid for all these bombs, wouldn't it be a real waste not to use a few.

Even if it could never work, it better to positive. I mean a toy gun might even get me a few dollars from the local 7-11 if I brandish it with gusto.

On a more serious note, there is no proper response to the query of the professor: At no point has the "missile defense" shield been shown to be effective against anything like real world conditions. And would any knowledge of the effectiveness be super secret information. Are we being asked to commit treason here? Yes this is a rant, but the idea that rational beings will dispute the "effectiveness" of evolution as the best explanation of facts and then turn around and think that the same scientific method has achieved an engineering feat that is akin to the proverbial camel's head through a needle's eye astounds me.

So here's a positive thought:

I am positive that the change is status of our missile defense system is purely semantic.

Sort coining the phrase "war against terrorism".
6.20.2006 8:12pm
jvarisco (www):
"I understood from what I have read and heard that if we were going to shoot the NK missle down that we would likely do it with an Aegis Cruiser (as alluded to above)."

I'm not sure how that would work - ICBMs go above the atmosphere, so you either have to hit them over NK right after they launch or while they are in space. I doubt an AEGIS would be used for that, I think what you mean is that the radar we are currently using is located on the AEGIS cruisers; however, that will be replaced by new x-band radar when it is operational.

"I disagree with many on this board I don;t think we should attempt to shoot down this missile even if we begin to have the capability. I don't think anything good can come of it. Lets say we do shoot it down. You can't shoot it down in the boost faze because at that point it is over North Korean territory. "

Why not?
6.20.2006 8:39pm
nrein1 (mail):
jvarisco, I guess you could shoot it down over North Korea if you wanted to start a war and get Seoul and its 15 million inhabitents destroyed. North Korea almost certainly would consider that an act of war, and frankly many countries including some of our allies might agree.
6.20.2006 9:12pm
Anon Agan:
Well, I'll post on this topic once.

First, we have a working anti-ICBM system that works off of aircraft carriers for defense of same. It can be used to defend other targets.

Second, a near miss works just fine if your "near miss" is a nuclear armed phoenix missile that is doing the "missing." Not something you finalize during a test.

Anyway, that is how you make an anti-ICBM system operational. You deploy aircraft carriers with phoenix armed F-14s.

Any city could do something similar with F-16s (cheaper) or Tigersharks (cheaper still) and the same missiles (which they would have more trouble getting).

The Aegis system is just part of layered defense in depth for the system, not the whole of it.

Anyway, back to lurking.
6.20.2006 9:16pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
What happened to those missiles that we used to shoot down scud missiles during Iraqi war I and II? was that technology all a lie?

Actually, it was, later assessment showed the Patriot system to be almost completely ineffective.

Just think if every aircraft had a ballon from the dollar store they would never be shot down.

An aircraft moves a lot slower (say on the order of 10,000 mph slower) than a missile and is also a lot bigger.

Even with a "good" set of decoys and jammers, a sufficiently powerful radar can burn right through, or discern the differences due to physics of the packages.

Of course the radars can distinguish between decoys. Why our PAC III system--which had over ten years to fix all the flaws found in the Patriot--was able to distinguish between primitive Iraqi ballistic missiles, {which of course are much slower, travelling at barely supersonic speeds, than an ICBM does) and allied aircraft. What's that they couldn't? And they actually locked onto to three and destroyed two, killing two british airman and an American. And the third was only saved because the American pilot had the presence of mind to destroy the PAC III's tracking radar with missiles when it locked onto him. You've got to be kidding.

First, we have a working anti-ICBM system that works off of aircraft carriers for defense of same. It can be used to defend other targets.

We do not have a working anti-ICBM system. The Aegis system is an anti-tactical missile system, not even an anti-ballistic missile system. You really need to bone up on your definitions.
6.20.2006 9:47pm
Brian B:
Actually Aegis radar would detect any missle launch from NK if it is positioned (as 2 Destroyers are currently) off the NK caost. It is most certainly part of the anti-ICBM system as currently configured. Whether the main components of the system would work is a big question. The capabilities and usefulness of the Aegis system for this task is clear and well known. Freder, it is you who needs to "bone" up.
6.20.2006 10:00pm
nrein1 (mail):
Anon Again, I don't know how fast a Pheonix missile moves but it is a whole lot slower then a ballisitic missile in its terminal phase. It couldn't possible track an icbn (I don't know how a pilot would even be able to launch at an icbn as it I would guess it wouldn't within radar range for more then a couple of seconds) in such a manner that would allow it to intercept. Do you really think if it was that simple someone wouldn't have asked why people have been attempting missile defence for many decades.
6.20.2006 10:05pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Actually Aegis radar would detect any missle launch from NK if it is positioned (as 2 Destroyers are currently) off the NK caost.

Well, yes the Aegis radar is part of the detection system. That is a far cry from saying it is capable of destroying ICBMs in their ballistic phase. The "defensive" part of the Aegis system is the integrated ship and aircraft based system to destroy anti-ship missiles and aircraft that pose a threat to the fleet. There is some talk about using the Aegis system as part of an effort to develop boost phase ABM capability, but that is a long, long way off.
6.20.2006 10:09pm
Leland (mail):
Freder,

Do you have any sources to back up your claims? I'm doubtful of any credible source that touts "Patriot system to be almost completely ineffective." At best, the only claims I've seen show the percent kill in 1991 to be 50/50. I wouldn't call that "completely ineffective", but then maybe with your sources, you could provide definitions.

BTW, an aircraft does move slower, but it can also easily change course. Objects traveling over 10,000 mph don't change direction to easily. Aircraft also carry countermeasures.

Speaking of countermeasures; you keep bringing up countermeasures, as if you know for a fact that North Korea's Taepodong-2 can carry such payload and has that much sophistication in the system. The rocket hasn't made it off the launch pad. You can keep poo-pooing the US technology, but why do you give such credibility to the North Koreans, who have a system that has never been proven at all?

Once again, you say that the Aegis system is not anti-ballistic. You said before it can only shoot down missiles in the boost phase. The first statement is somewhat true. The SM-3 is not operational as an ABM, but the Aegis radar is. The SM-3 does have the capability to knock down missiles in the terminal stage, and that is specifically for the ABM role. The main thing one should consider is that if the Aegis tracks the missile during the boost phase, then the THAAD interceptors will have targeting telemetry. Indeed, this is how previous tests have been successfully carried out.
6.20.2006 10:12pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
At best, the only claims I've seen show the percent kill in 1991 to be 50/50. I wouldn't call that "completely ineffective", but then maybe with your sources, you could provide definitions.

Of course you cite your 50/50 figure without any link either. But since you asked here you go. Note that my link draws on official reports to the House Committee investigating the effectiveness of the system, not some whacked out left-wingers. But for those of you not bothering to link, this quote is my favorite. "The evidence from these preliminary studies indicates that Patriot's intercept rate could be much lower than ten percent, possibly even zero."
6.20.2006 10:31pm
bluecollarguy:
The probability of killing Kim Ill Jong's Taepodong-2 before boost is 1.
6.20.2006 10:34pm
nrein1 (mail):
Leland you are ignoring one simple fact, the missile is launched is North Korea, the inteceptors are in Alaska and California, yes an Aegis can track the boost phase, but how are inteceptors from across the Pacific going to get there in time to do anything. By the way if you want to start a war a good way to do something is to destroy something in North Korean air space.

BTW, an aircraft does move slower, but it can also easily change course. Objects traveling over 10,000 mph don't change direction to easily. Aircraft also carry countermeasures. Again this is true, but you still can't hit an ICBM with a phoenix. First it needs something to track an ICBM moving at 10,000 mph+ will not give someone much time to track. If you fire at something 250 miles in front of you it will be past you in about a minute and a half. Now I am by no means an expert on us missile systems but my understanding of the phoenix (I could be wrong) is that it tracks an object and heads straight for it adjusting its course as needed. A ICBM traveling at an excessive rate of speed will not allow this to be possible
6.20.2006 10:37pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Once again, you say that the Aegis system is not anti-ballistic. You said before it can only shoot down missiles in the boost phase. The first statement is somewhat true. The SM-3 is not operational as an ABM, but the Aegis radar is. The SM-3 does have the capability to knock down missiles in the terminal stage, and that is specifically for the ABM role.

ABM is Anti-ballistic missile. As such Aegis, which is not a missile system at all but an integrated radar and missile detection and guidance system is not a missile system at all but merely will be part of any theoretical ABM system's detection and guidance system. Some of the missiles in the system may have the ability to knock down missiles in the boost phase because they can knock down aircraft at quite a distance, but that doesn't make them ABMs. And just because we might be able to knock down a highly visible launch of a NK missile on a launch pad when we have weeks of notice doesn't prove a thing about our ability to destroy missiles fired from hardened, hidden bunkers during a sneak attack with no warning.
6.20.2006 10:44pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The major point of a missle defense system here is not to guarantee 50% success, but rather to just increase the FUD for NK sufficiently that they would think twice about launching an ICBM against us, because they couldn't guarantee that they would hit us before we hit them back 10X as hard.

Just like we don't know how effective our missle defense is here, neither does NK. And that is what is important. Is is 10%? 90%? 99%? They don't know, and until the NYT discloses classified documents, they aren't likely to know. And that makes the FUD high enough that they are significantly less likely to launch against us than if the missle defense weren't active.

The thing is that NK has some leverage absent our missle defense system because they appear willing to take a 10x retaliation to hit at us, and we are unlikely to risk that, given that a lot of civilians would die on both sides. So, they can bluff with their ICBM(s?). But if there is a likelyhood that if they launch a nuclear ICBM at us, that we would shoot it down, but still take it as a nuclear attack on us, and respond accordingly, with, say a hundred highly targetted nuclear warheads, they won't take the chance. It is a far different chance than if they have a clean shot at hitting CA (Alaska is really irrelevant, given its population density).
6.20.2006 10:44pm
nrein1 (mail):
Bruce, North Korea will nto launch against the United States unless a war is already in progress and then they woudln't care how hard we could hit them as we would already be hitting them. The reason is simple, North Korea does not have a particular beef against the United States, there goal has always been simply reunifying the Peninsula under there banner. That goal has been replaced with simple regime survival. ICBM, Nukes, etc are all things that they plan on using as bargaining chips not as weapons of war. The weapons being used by North Korea against the United States are not the threat, rather the threat is the DPRK selling the technology to others.

As to the United States now being under direct threat by North Korea, well big deal. North Korea has had the ability to destroy Seoul for decades. (Sea of fire etc) The destruction of Seoul would do tremendous economic damage to the United States.

Oh yeah, no one believe North Korea is anywhere close to being able to put a nuke on a missile.
6.20.2006 11:00pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The major point of a missle defense system here is not to guarantee 50% success, but rather to just increase the FUD for NK sufficiently that they would think twice about launching an ICBM against us, because they couldn't guarantee that they would hit us before we hit them back 10X as hard.

The point is there is absolutely no scenario where it would make any sense for any country to attack us with a nuclear missile. Absolutely none. The only scenario is that Kim Jong Il goes absolutely batshit crazy and decides to launch a nuke against us. It makes no rational sense for him to do it even if there is a one hundred percent certainty it would get through and hit exactly where he aimed it, because he would be assured of complete and total retalitory annihalation. So it doesn't matter if we have a missile defense system or not, nothing is going to prevent that kind of illogical strike.
6.20.2006 11:04pm
nrein1 (mail):
One more thing about missile defense before I go to bed for the evening. A lot of people make comments such as, "even if it barely works or someone thinks it could work it is better then nothing." This is true in a world in which the United States has unlimited funds, but that is not the world we live in. There are many other much more likely scenarios in which the United States comes under attack then by ballistic missiles. In fact as Freder mentioned, this scenario is almost unimaginable. Thus the money should go to other more practical defense uses.
6.20.2006 11:19pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Hattio sez: 'And BTW, the Fairbanks Daily New-Miner is a supporter, having fired reporter Dan O'Neill shortly after an expose he did.'

I'm sorry, but I've worked for newspapers for over 40 years, and that couldn't have happened.
6.20.2006 11:35pm
therut:
The arguments have always been ideological for some. The left would like nothing better than for the USA to totally disarm even down to getting rid of personal firearms.. They gripe about the cost because they hate any military spending. They want to money for "so called Peace programs". They also would use it to expand the welfare state.. The conservatives believe in a strong military. They believe it protects us. They would rather spend money to save the whole country than get wiped off the face of the earth for more social welfare. I hope we blow the NK missle to the size of sand.
6.20.2006 11:51pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Aegis is an integrated surveillance system. Ships known as "Aegis" cruisers or destroyers have the Aegis system, but they don't get deployed just to look. The system guides the engagement with enemies. That includes SAMs with ranges of up to several hundred thousand feet of altitude. So, while it is true that Aegis is merely a radar system, saying so manages to leave the impression no weapons are involved. A mistake. Accidental, I'm sure. As has been pointed out, there has been some success with Aegis-guided SAMs against ballistic missiles.

The Patriot of GW1 had a marginal capacity to engage missiles of the SCUD type, but the software was deliberately designed to not be able to do that, keeping the ABM treaty in mind. Improved Patriots have done much better in testing.

The Israeli Arrow system seems to work.

What we have here is a frantic insistence that, because it isn't perfect now, we should stop doing it altogether.

Deterrence only works if the other side thinks you'll strike back, and if the other side's boss plans to be in the area when it hits, instead of, say, Monaco. It only deters the rational actors. And consider the impression our Bush haters give, which is that any enemy of the US is preferable to Bush. That using nukes is so horrible, we probably wouldn't. I don't know if we would, but the issue is not me, but, in this case, Kim Il Sung. What does he think?
Would you be interested in slaughtering millions of North Koreans in revenge? How does that help us? What if he thinks we're nicer than we are? Hardly matters if he's wrong. Be too late for a number of folks.
6.20.2006 11:57pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Here are a couple of inconvenient but actual facts:

-- Aegis has been used operationally three times and failed three times (USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf and twice in Operation Eldorado Canyon).

-- Way back when Star Wars was first announced by Reagan, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other appeasers jumped on it. One objection was that the software of the target acquisition radar would require 500K lines of validated code, an unimaginable amount.

The next week, I got a press release from a company offering to sell me its accounting software -- which it bragged had FIVE MILLION LINES of code.

-- I believe the 'successful' antisatellite missile tested was launched from an F15 in near vertical flight, to match a timed pass of a satellite. So that technology is irrelevant to a missile launch at some unknown moment.

-- The big floating radar that was being towed into position near Alaska to track Korean missiles is up there now, though I don't know if it's hooked up.
6.21.2006 12:05am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
We need one of those "Doomsday Machines" like in Dr. Strangelove.
6.21.2006 12:26am
cirby (mail):
As a last side note: for those of you who have been suggesting that we have to fire a missile to "catch up to" an incoming ICBM warhead, you're thinking about it wrong.

The real problem is to put an interceptor right in front of an incoming warhead, going the opposite direction. instead of trying to hit a bullet with another bullet from a raondom place on a battlefield, you're really just trying to put a metal block in position to let the reentry vehicle hit it. With terminal guidance, it's insanely easier than most of the dream scenarios people keep coming up with to explain why they think it won't work.

The time scales are much different, too. You don't have a few seconds, you have several minutes to get your vehicle up and on the way, along with a relatively long time to figure out where the bad guy is coming from.

You also have more than one shot...

One last thing: The ABM Treaty. What ABM Treaty? The US took the agreed-upon "out" in the original treaty, and we are no longer bound by it. The Soviets were violating it left and right with their missile systems that were ABM-capable (besides the official system around Moscow, there were a lot of Soviet missile systems that were ABM-style launchers and systems).
6.21.2006 1:27am
therut:
Japan has been working with the US on developing Missle defense. I wonder what they have now. They keep better secrets than we do.
6.21.2006 2:00am
Kevin Murphy:
Arthur Clarke's First Law of Prediction:
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
I think that last part is squared for lawyers.

I have no idea if the damn things works. It would be nice if NK launched over the Pacific and we did intercept. Even if we were just lucky, it would be a good thing, as it would really give an adversary pause before they attempted nuclear blackmail.

However, I read some comments here by people who have never ever engineered a damn thing, spouting off like they know something. Mostly they sound like they're channelling a NY Times editorial.

Engineering tests of complex systems often fail. That's why you do them -- to see what's broken. Several of the ABM tests failed for reasons having nothing to do with aiming, tracking or hitting targets. A clamp didn't release, a piece of radar software crashed, that kind of thing.

There is nothing that says shooting down a small number of missiles is impossible. It is hard. Very hard. And the odds of missing some go up dramatically the more you shoot at. But it's just engineering, there's no new physics, really.

Anyone who says that it works for sure is speaking out of their ass. But so is someone who says it certainly will miss.
6.21.2006 5:30am
Matt22191 (mail):
I wasn't going to chime in on this thread, but then I saw the references to the Phoenix missile.

Just for the record, the Phoenix (AIM-54) was slated for retirement at least as far back as 1993, when I graduated from the Naval Academy. (That news occasioned a fair amount of discussion among my group of friends, which is why I remember it.) It was officially retired in late 2004. I wouldn't be surprised if all the AIM-54s have been destroyed; they were very old when they were retired (causing significant maintenance problems more than a decade ago), and missiles don't have indefinite shelf lives.

By the way, as far as I know the F-14 was the only plane capable of carrying and successfully launching a Phoenix. (It certainly was the only plane with a fire control radar [the AWG-9] designed for that purpose, although I don't claim to know that it would be impossible to jury-rig some other FC radar to do the job, if necessary.) The F-14 is nearly out the door now, too.

Finally, the AIM-54 never had a nuclear payload.

The idea that we'd resurrect this ancient, now-retired weapon system, which no one has fired in years, and attempt to use it to shoot down a NK missile (a purpose for which it was never intended), when the Aegis platforms are far more capable and are currently in service in large numbers, is ludicrous.
6.21.2006 9:18am
David C. (www):
Exactly what is the downside if we shoot it down over Korea? In all honesty, shooting down while it is coming out of the silo (or at least over NK) would be just about perfect. We have a rogue nation that oppresses its people led by a lunatic. If they launch we should step on them - hard. Do nothing and we will get what Chamberlin got.
6.21.2006 9:28am
Anon and gone:

Finally, the AIM-54 never had a nuclear payload.


Err, it actually did.
6.21.2006 9:46am
Matt22191 (mail):
A&G,

That was the one claim I wasn't 100% certain of, so I did some quick and dirty research before I posted it. (The U.S. got away from nuclear anti-air missiles a long time ago, but then the Phoenix is an old design. Anything's possible.) I didn't find any record of the Phoenix being nuclear-capable but, again, it was a quick and dirty search. What's your source? Do you know the designation for the warhead? Assuming I'm wrong on the issue of whether they ever existed, I'd like to know whether any of those warheads are still in the inventory. If not, then for present purposes the result is the same.
6.21.2006 10:06am
nrein1 (mail):
David C

Exactly what is the downside if we shoot it down over Korea?

The destruction of Seoul, 1 million plus casualities in the first 24 hours of a war. The condemnation of the world. Most people considering interfering with the sovreignity of a country a rather large deal especially if it involves blowing something up. Perhaps if it was a nuke site the world might understand, but not likely a simple missile test that is not a direct threat to the United States.

Remember people, North Korea is a decaying country to be sure, but unlike Iraq, or Iran, or really any other country who would might be consider our enemy, they do have the ability to inflict significant damage.
6.21.2006 10:10am
Stryker:
What's the difference (during the launch phase) between a missile attack and a missile test? The only way would be to get inspectors make sure there was no warhead in the missile. If that's not done, I say destroy the missile in the air.
Freder, part of the reason for the ABM system is in case there is a madman who launches one or 2 missiles. The scenario I alwas heard is the "accident". A missile accidentally gets launched from Russia. They call us before we even know it was launched to appologize.
What do we do? Freder, you seem to suggest annihilating the offender. Having at least a shot or two at shooting the missile down would be good.
6.21.2006 10:38am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The big problem all along with NK is the PRC. We still have nightmares about what happened when we ignored this dynamic in the early 1950s. The PRC appears to not be the least bit happy with NK, but has made it clear that that country is in its backyard, and is to be treated by the rest of the world as a client state. That means that if we attack NK directly, without being attacked by it first, the PRC is likely to take it personally, and respond accordingly. This is a matter of face and respect, so the PRC is unlikely to be as rationale as it has shown itself to be in other arenas of late.
6.21.2006 10:39am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
A brief review of where different ABM programs appear to be can be found in a recent TCS Daily article titled: Star Wars: The Sequel.
6.21.2006 10:41am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I believe the 'successful' antisatellite missile tested was launched from an F15 in near vertical flight, to match a timed pass of a satellite. So that technology is irrelevant to a missile launch at some unknown moment.

Again you are comparing apples and ass monkeys (I am just hung up on the little fellas). Anti-satellite missiles are very simple really (although being able to launch one from an F-15 is indeed quite a trick, because of course it does have to reach the orbit of the satellite). Satellites move in defined orbits, usually have no or very limited abilitiy to change that orbit, and so are easily tracked, and because they are very expensive to launch have no defenses at all. To kill one all you need to do is get close, match your speed and detonate your kill vehicle. Oh, and that "kill vehicle" can be a coffee can full of buckshot, rusty nails, or a bunch of old nuts and bolts (of course it would have to be sealed with atmospheric air so the blackpowder would have an oxygen source).

That is another reason Star Wars would have been completely insane. It would have been ridiculously expensive and almost impossible to defend space based platforms against cheap, ground based anti-satellite missiles.
6.21.2006 10:53am
Freder Frederson (mail):
What do we do? Freder, you seem to suggest annihilating the offender. Having at least a shot or two at shooting the missile down would be good.

We have only so much money to spend. Over the last fifty-five years or so we have wasted probably hundreds of billions of dollars trying to devise an ABM system with practically nothing to show for it. Like, fusion power, we are promised that one great breakthrough that will make it all worth it. But it always seems just over the horizon. But unlike fusion power, the target (literally) with an ABM is constantly moving, and no matter how good we get, the other side will think up ways to overcome our defenses.

While your scenario of an accidental launch or Kim Jong Il launching one or two missiles in a last great act of defiance is scary, the possibility of such a thing happening is vanishingly remote. When you have limited funds, you prioritize risks. And a much more feasible mode of attack, even for North Korea, is simply to put a nuclear bomb in a shipping container, rig it with a Garmin GPS system you can buy at any sporting goods store to detonante when it reaches the latitude and longitude of Long Beach, route it through Shanghai, and wait a couple weeks for the fireworks. Yet our port security, along with chemical and nuclear power plant security is still a joke. The tens of billions of dollars we have spent on this worthless ABM system would have been much better spent on much more likely threats that could cause mass casulties.
6.21.2006 11:11am
cirby (mail):

That is another reason Star Wars would have been completely insane. It would have been ridiculously expensive and almost impossible to defend space based platforms against cheap, ground based anti-satellite missiles.


...except for the huge issue that the space-based leg of Strategic Defense would have been fairly small, with most of the actual hardware being land or air based. Knocking out even a moderate portion of the space-based leg would have been impossible without some serious warnings (multiple launches of satelites or missiles on very specific, high-orbit trajectories).

The then-current view of nuclear weapons was called MAD (for a reason). It came close (more than once) to killing a good portion of the world's population, and you're calling a non-suicidal defensive option "insane?"
6.21.2006 11:19am
paulhager (mail) (www):
I'm not a "rocket scientist" though I have worked in the defense industry close to 20 years, starting with the Radar Systems Group at Hughes Aircraft, El Segundo. I currently work at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane in Indiana. With respect to missile defense, I would call myself a reasonably educated layman.

I've long been skeptical about the efficacy of BM defense though some of my technical objections have, in recent years, been addressed. I now am in favor of a system designed to block the limited ability of "rogue states" to hit targets with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. My current concern is that the system is still a few years away from having that capability. I discussed this issue as it relates to Iran in The counterargument: Don't preempt against Iran. The issues that I raised in that piece bear somewhat on the situation with North Korea, in particular this statement:

What is important to understand is that, in game theoretical terms, it doesn't matter if the multi-layered ABM system actually works. What matters is that your opponent thinks it may.

If the U.S. decides to shoot down the NK missile and fails, it severely compromises our ability to deter rogue states like North Korea and Iran. On the other hand, if we were successful in shooting the missile down, our opponents would be "drawing dead" and, even better, they'd know it. It would give us a huge negotiating advantage with both NK and Iran. So, there's a big upside, matched to a big downside - rather like playing Russian Roulette for a million bucks. Were I President, I'd pull the trigger. If you double- or triple-target the RV, there's a high probability you'd get a "kill", which is to say "win" - probably better than the 5-in-6 odds for winning Russian Roulette.

Would it be possible to conceal a failure to intercept, and thus maintain the adversary's strategic uncertainty? Unclear, but I doubt it. While the military can probably keep a secret, I doubt that an interceptor launch wouldn't be detectable by reporters and others in proximity to the ABM sites. So, I don't think there's any way to avoid the strategic implications of a failure. As I note in my article, more layers (mid-course and boost phase intercept) will be added to BM defense in the coming years. How soon they'll be available is another matter but, let's say we're talking about something like 5 years from now. If we were to have an embarrasing failure of the system now, it might compromise funding for the complete ABM/TBM system that would be able to protect the U.S. and its allies. So, add this to the downside noted above.

A caveat is that the trajectory of the RV is crucial to our ability to hit it, even with a 100% effective system. For example, if the track is not toward the U.S., then the RV will not come into range. In which case, the whole issue becomes moot.
6.21.2006 11:55am
Freder Frederson (mail):
The then-current view of nuclear weapons was called MAD (for a reason). It came close (more than once) to killing a good portion of the world's population, and you're calling a non-suicidal defensive option "insane?"

When the defensive option was really no option at all (it would have been incapable of defending against a Soviet first strike--even if it had been able to take out some missiles, most would have still gotten through), then it is insane.
6.21.2006 11:57am
Freder Frederson (mail):
The only purpose of SDI was to ensure we would have enough nuclear capability left to ensure a successful retalitory strike, so MAD was really never off the table. It was never meant to protect the U.S. from a devastating nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.
6.21.2006 11:59am
paulhager (mail) (www):
Addendum: Rand Simberg (who really is a "rocket scientist") agrees with me that we should try to shoot the NK missile down. Where we differ is in the likelihood that a failure can be detected - he thinks it's unlikely. As I stated earlier, people on the ground in the vicinity of the ABM sites will be able to see interceptor launches. Of course, it is possible that the Main Stream Media folks are so lazy and ineffectual that it never occurs to them to post camera people in proximity to the bases in the oft chance of a launch. Hmmm ... upon reflection, maybe Rand in right.
6.21.2006 12:27pm
Jeek:
If the U.S. decides to shoot down the NK missile and fails, it severely compromises our ability to deter rogue states like North Korea and Iran. On the other hand, if we were successful in shooting the missile down, our opponents would be "drawing dead" and, even better, they'd know it.

If we didn't shoot it down, but nevertheless said we had, how would anyone be able to prove otherwise?
6.21.2006 12:29pm
Leland (mail):
Freder, my source was provider earlier (http://www.mda.mil). I've read your source before and find no where in it the conclusion that "later assessment showed the Patriot system to be almost completely ineffective." Ted Postel is the person who you quote. Maybe you missed this quote: "the methodology described by Professor Postol and Mr. Pedatzur in their articles was not scientifically valid and therefore did not prove that Patriot didn't work in The Gulf War." That's from the source you provided, Freder. The source you provide comes to only one conclusion... that the debate over BMD success is ongoing. For that conclusion, you might as well reference this thread.

Anon, the AIM-54 never carried a nuclear warhead. Perhaps you are thinking of the AIR-2 Genie or AIM-26 Falcon. The Falcon looks a lot like the Phoenix. Matt is accurate with his information. I'll only add to his comments that the F-111B was suppose to carry the AIM-54, but that capability was cancelled.

nrein, you need to reread my comments. First, I'm not forgetting anything, because I never suggested hitting the Taepodong during ascent phase. What you are forgetting is that North Korea's stated objective for testing the Taepodong is to prove it has the range to reach the US. The last test North Korea staged, they had no issues with proving they could reach Japan by firing the missile over Japan. Maybe you forgot that?

Second, I never suggested hitting the Taepodong with an AIM-54. I mentioned the SM-3 and the PAC-3 THAAD interceptor, but never the AIM-54.
6.21.2006 12:34pm
Roger Thistle (mail):
It's 1950. People are familiar with rockets and dreamers. A question is posed: Which will happen first, a glorified rocket to rocket skeet-shooting gizmo that can defend us from attack OR we take a rocket, put some humans inside and aim for the moon, do a couple of laps, make a landing, have a human take a walk around, get back into a rocket and come back safely. I bet the following would occur: people such as Freder would say neither would happen and we shouldn't even try with all of the starving people and such (and if we got to the moon, wouldn't that upset people 'now they think they own the place') while other people, even from the same political point of view -JFK OR Reagan, whichever side FF is on-would answer the question: We're American, we will do both; the one we choose to do first just depends upon which one we want more.

I know nothing about rockets or less about the law, but I know Americans and I know dreamers... To think we can walk around on the moon with a golf club but can't come up with a way to knock a rocket out of the air seems silly.
6.21.2006 12:42pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I would love to see us try and knock down this Korean missile. It would just confirm how utterly detached from reality and facts this administration is. They are now lying so convincingly they don't even know when they are bullshitting themselves.

My ass monkeys are primed for the challenge. I know they will get their stinky little paws around that Korean taepodong (which I learned last night on The Daily Show is Korean for "kind of penis") before our missile does.

What kind of missile system is it anyway? It can't be operational. It doesn't even have a manly, vaguely phallic official name.
6.21.2006 1:01pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
If we didn't shoot it down, but nevertheless said we had, how would anyone be able to prove otherwise?

And if I said my flying ass monkeys tore it apart in mid-flight, how would anyone be able to prove otherwise.
6.21.2006 1:04pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I know nothing about rockets or less about the law, but I know Americans and I know dreamers... To think we can walk around on the moon with a golf club but can't come up with a way to knock a rocket out of the air seems silly.

You know that's it, believe in the can-do American spirit and we'll get it done. If we wish hard enough it will come true. Unfortunately, that is what this faith-based administration is all about.

And the Iraq war will pay for itself with oil revenues.
6.21.2006 1:16pm
Roger Thistle (mail):
FF

And the kerry, gore, ff and dems overall who say, "it can't be done so let's not try" is the way to go? You are a defeatist and defeatists get the results they expect. But so do dreamers. You can think like Teddy, I will think like JFK. But fortunately, Bush is not only thinking like JFK, he's backing it with $. So your "If we wish hard enough it will come true" snark is a false argument. Nobody is 'just wishing'.
6.21.2006 3:36pm
Jeek:
If we wish hard enough it will come true. Unfortunately, that is what this faith-based administration is all about.

"If we wish hard enough it will come true" is how our former faith-based missile defense - Mutual Assured Destruction - operated.

These last several Freder comments are so deranged that I seriously wonder whether his account has been hijacked. Normally his remarks are of a much higher quality.
6.21.2006 3:45pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
Freder, you are getting deep into the stupidity here.

I saw PI missile batteries operating, up close and personal, around a half dozen times in GW I, to the extent that one battery took out an inbound SCUD close enough that debris bounced up against the building I was in. I don't know exactly how Congress came around to the 50% success rate. If memory serves, two PI missiles would be fired at each SCUD, from what I saw, one missile usually hit or explode very close to the incoming, and if I'm recalling correctly, the other would explode nearby. If the first one hits, does the second missile count as a miss, even though there isn't much target to take out? My perspective on the ground prevented me from seeing exactly where the two explosions occurred in relation to each other, it was impossible to gauge. Typically, the SCUD would get blown out of the air. Typically, the warheads weren't hit, but the SCUDs were hit in the middle, and the warheads were usually damaged badly enough that they didn't detonate on impact. I'm aware of at least three exceptions to this which had tragic results, and I understand the P II system - with the advances of 15 years of electronic tech - targets the warhead of the incoming. Your fantasies of massive government conspiracies and the impossibility of missile defense seem to have colored your view of the feasibility of any missile defense, or at least your ability to sift through the facts, and they certainly conflict with my experiences. I'm fairly confident I wouldn't be here typing away, were it not for the effectiveness of the PI system and expect that an ABM system is feasible, although it may not be easiy do-able and we may not have a fully functional system right now. The almost religious degree of certitude that no such systems are possible, baffles me.

I guess your preferred alternative is that we wait out the Norks and see what they do. Which cities are you willing to gamble away based on your assumptions that the Norks pose no threat? San Francisco? LA? Seattle? Hey, it's just millions of lives you would be gambling with... so ante up!

Personally, I'd prefer we at least make an attempt to keep the left coast safe from a country run by a madman, that claims to have nukes, and ICBM's, and the ability and desire to hit us. While attacking the U.S. with nuke missiles might be suicidal, I think you make a bad mistake to assume that people who run police states, who act crazy, are just acting.
6.21.2006 3:47pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
So your "If we wish hard enough it will come true" snark is a false argument. Nobody is 'just wishing'.

Bush put a partially tested (and the testing to date had shown that the system was far from operational) system in the ground and magically called it an operational system. If that is not wishful thinking, I don't know what is. Now they are making noises like they are actually going to use this untested system to try and shoot down a North Korean missile. That's like saying that after John Glenn had his successful orbit, JFK had said, "Okay boys, next flight is to the moon, we're ready". It is sheer idiocy.
6.21.2006 3:51pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I understand the P II system - with the advances of 15 years of electronic tech - targets the warhead of the incoming.

The PII system shot down two allied aircraft in the Iraq war, one British Tornado, one U.S. F16, killing all three crew. It also locked onto a second F16 but the pilot destroyed the tracking radar with one of his missiles before it could kill him. Sounds like there are still some serious bugs in that system.

Of course, given unlimited funds and computer power you could develop an ABM system. We have neither. An ABM system distracts and takes money away from defending against much more likely and credible threats (like a shipping container delivered nuclear bomb). That is my objection to spending tens of billions of dollars on a system that at best will be an uncertain defense against probably the least likely nuclear threat we face.
6.21.2006 4:01pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
My comments have gotten deranged because yours have.

Let's say we blew it up even if we didn't.

Americans can do anything, so lets just build it.

Shoot at it and if we miss, don't tell anyone.

Are you guys serious?
6.21.2006 4:06pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Also, the reference to landing on the moon is silliness. Clearly, as the movie Apollo 13 showed we didn't land on the moon, but instead had a problem that forced everyone to return.

Any pictures of people on the moon were administration productions meant to justify further expenditures in space travel. Witness the tragedy of our shuttles for more evidence of how every space mission has ended in disaster.

I'm going back to my cave now.
6.21.2006 4:09pm
Humble Law Student (mail):
Here are two .pdf slides showing what missile defenses we have so far. Just click on the files and it should open the .pdf files on up.

My father sent several other reports that I will go through later on. I can post them as well if anyone is interested.
6.21.2006 4:46pm
Humble Law Student (mail):
haha, I must concur with Paddy O.

I saw the brilliant expose by the show Family Guy on the moon landing. It clearly showed that Armstrong was not on the moon, but that the whole thing was manufactored on a Hollywood set. Armstrong even killed a guy who saw him leave the set!!!

(You'll only get this if you've seen the show - so this is for the other law students out there)
6.21.2006 5:07pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Here are two .pdf slides showing what missile defenses we have so far.

You will notice the second slide is labelled "Notional", so it doesn't represent the actual system as it is now, just the way we would like it to be.
6.21.2006 5:17pm
RocketScientist (mail):
The ASAT missile was launched from an F-15, which effectively made the launch point 'mobile'. The targets were in low earth orbit, similar to ICBM trajectories. Targets at that altitude cannot be precisely predicted long in advance, recent tracking updates are required. In the case of NK ICBMs, we know where the launch point is, a large advantage in establishing a track file. The ASAT killed it's target by direct impact, for which there is no defense. The ASAT didn't 'catch' the target, it engaged head on. The ASAT didn't use RADAR for it's terminal guidance, it was LWIR, which would work quite well against a relatively hot ICBM.
6.21.2006 5:22pm
Paul Druce:

The PII system shot down two allied aircraft in the Iraq war, one British Tornado, one U.S. F16, killing all three crew. It also locked onto a second F16 but the pilot destroyed the tracking radar with one of his missiles before it could kill him. Sounds like there are still some serious bugs in that system.


No, it sounds like a typical error that will happen in wartime. The Patriot system isn't just for nailing missiles, it's also for shooting down aircraft (that would be why it was designed in the Cold War, to replace the Hawk missile in shooting down Soviet planes). The British plane was mistakenly identified as an anti-radiation missile and had a malfunctioning IFF, the F-18 was mistakenly classified as a TBM and the ground crew failed to double check the read out before launching. The F-16 was never locked onto, but the radar warning receiver mistook the Patriot for an SA-2 and he fired a HARM into the Patriot radar. The replacement radar for that battery had never been tested after receiving its upgrade and was responsible for the F-18 kill.
6.21.2006 5:27pm
Jeek:
Bush put a partially tested (and the testing to date had shown that the system was far from operational) system in the ground and magically called it an operational system. If that is not wishful thinking, I don't know what is. Now they are making noises like they are actually going to use this untested system to try and shoot down a North Korean missile.

They have specifically described the system as an operational test bed with limited capabilities. They are, quite properly, taking an evolutionary approach that provides some interim defense against limited threats rather than fielding nothing until they have a 100% solution. That is not "wishful thinking", it is a perfectly sensible approach.
6.21.2006 5:36pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
They have specifically described the system as an operational test bed with limited capabilities. They are, quite properly, taking an evolutionary approach that provides some interim defense against limited threats rather than fielding nothing until they have a 100% solution.

The military has never, ever, fielded a system in such an early stage of development with absolutely zero (that is right, zero) operational capability. "Operational test bed with limited capabilities" is a meaningless phrase and an outright joke. It rates up there with "Healthy Forests" and "Clear Skies" as classic examples of Orwellian doublespeak that has come out of the Bush Administration. But apparently the president believes it and now he is going to demand that the "operational" part be proven. This is more and more like Dr. Strangelove every day.
6.21.2006 5:43pm
Jeek:
The military has never, ever, fielded a system in such an early stage of development with absolutely zero (that is right, zero) operational capability.

Why then, General Obering is a liar and should resign, since he testified otherwise in March. No doubt you are better informed than he is on this score, of course.
6.21.2006 6:50pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Why then, General Obering is a liar and should resign, since he testified otherwise in March. No doubt you are better informed than he is on this score, of course.

He said it was operational? Or did he use all kind of vague language and describe the ongoing "operational testing". When there is a successful intercept of an ICBM launched from a location, at a time, and on a trajectory unknown to the interceptor team, (and there is no homing device on the warhead), then we will have an operational system. Until then, we have a bunch of very expensive prototypes in the ground.

I bet you can't find anyone who is on the record willing to put a date, or even year, on when that kind of test will occur.
6.21.2006 7:06pm
Anon for now:

Anon, the AIM-54 never carried a nuclear warhead. Perhaps you are thinking of the AIR-2 Genie or AIM-26 Falcon. The Falcon looks a lot like the Phoenix. Matt is accurate with his information. I'll only add to his comments that the F-111B was suppose to carry the AIM-54, but that capability was cancelled.

nrein, you need to reread my comments. First, I'm not forgetting anything, because I never suggested hitting the Taepodong during ascent phase. What you are forgetting is that North Korea's stated objective for testing the Taepodong is to prove it has the range to reach the US. The last test North Korea staged, they had no issues with proving they could reach Japan by firing the missile over Japan. Maybe you forgot that?

Second, I never suggested hitting the Taepodong with an AIM-54. I mentioned the SM-3 and the PAC-3 THAAD interceptor, but never the AIM-54.


Nicely said. Many people think they see things, but actually saw something similar.
6.21.2006 7:27pm
jvarisco (www):
"jvarisco, I guess you could shoot it down over North Korea if you wanted to start a war and get Seoul and its 15 million inhabitents destroyed. North Korea almost certainly would consider that an act of war, and frankly many countries including some of our allies might agree."

Launching an ICBM is not an act of war?

Jeek) Let's pretend Washington was not just nuked? Getting hit by an ICBM is not something you can hide.

To clarify, ICBMs carry nuclear warheads. These are not just conventional bombs here.

Furthermore, our new system is not based on the AEGIS; we are developing x-band radar, the AEGIS is just there until it is finished. The system is targeted at North Korea (and possibly also China) with the goal of shooting down an ICBMs during the launch phase. The main problem is equipping interceptors with a strong enough laser to actually knock down the missile. Yes, the nuke will fall right back on them. That's a good thing.
6.21.2006 7:33pm
Leland (mail):
There you go again, Freder: "absolutely zero (that is right, zero) operational capability." Do you care to back up that claim? You made that claim previously based on something Ted Postel said, but in your same reference, another expert stated that Professor Postel had no science to back up his claim. Your reference put the odds between 70% to something approaching zero, with empirical analysis somewhere around 27% per missile, which in a ripple launch, the odds of hitting are not mutually exclusive and thus additive.

You also make the claim the current ABM has never been tested, and that is false (again, see http://www.mda.mil).

You then say: "The PII system shot down two allied aircraft in the Iraq war, one British Tornado, one U.S.
F16, killing all three crew. It also locked onto a second F16 but the pilot destroyed the tracking radar with one of his missiles before it could kill him. Sounds like there are still some serious bugs in that system."
I'll admit that Al said PI meaning PAC-2, and now your using PII to mean PAC-2 The THAAD interceptor is PAC-3 technology. The Aegis system that will track the ICBM is also vastly improved (not to mention operational since 1998).

The real issue with calling the system operational is that it is missing the SBIRS portion for detecting unexpected launches. That's a key element for the TBMD program. Without it, North Korea could launch a missile unannounced, and the US would have less time to react. For this current scenario, that's not an issue.
6.21.2006 7:35pm
nrein1 (mail):
jvarisco, no testing an icbm is not an act of war. Especially since it is likely they will claim it was an attempt to launch a sattelite. the fact you can not distiniguish between an attack and a test is telling.

Repeat one more time, North Korea will never premptively attack the united states with an icbm, nuke tipped or not. (by the way for the conceivable future it is not)
6.21.2006 7:45pm
nrein1 (mail):
Also one more time as people seem to be continaully missing this point, a north korean test will not likely put the missile within range of the current ground based interceptors, so the only test of this system that could be carried out is the tracking fo the launch.
6.21.2006 7:46pm
cirby (mail):

When the defensive option was really no option at all (it would have been incapable of defending against a Soviet first strike--even if it had been able to take out some missiles, most would have still gotten through), then it is insane.


That's only if you have 100% faith that every possible "incoming" scenario is a full-out, intentional launch by the other side.

On the other hand, if one rogue general had chosen to launch his battery of missiles (a strong possibility for the Soviets, who had a less-robust command and control system), or a system had triggered an accidental launch (nearly happened a couple of times) the US would have had the choice of taking hits from one to several missiles, and the only responses under MAD would have been either a full retaliatory launch escalating to WWIII, or sit back and watch a bunch of American or Soviet cities die because we knew it wasn't intentional.

The actual response plan was the first one, by the way. There's no functional way to back off of MAD, short of one side going broke and collapsing under their own weight.

There were several cases of near accidental single or limited launches of several missiles by both sides over the course of the Cold War.
6.21.2006 8:03pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
You also make the claim the current ABM has never been tested, and that is false (again, see http://www.mda.mil).

I never said the current ABM system has never been tested. I said that it has never been tested in anything that approaches an operational test. All the tests to date (most of which have been unsuccessful) have not been operational tests but tests of components of the system. An operational test would be like the one I described above. We are years from that.
6.21.2006 8:11pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
The US Navy is fitting out a number of its ships with anti-missle systems.

This may be a system that is not good enough for civilian protection (>95% effective), but good enough for military advantage (>50% effective).

And then we have the Patriots which were on the order of 10 to 20% effective in 1991. In the intervening years computers have gotten about 100X faster.

There are also some new radars being deployed (X band I think) that can sort decoys from warheads with the ability to track softball size items.

At this point missle defence technology is advancing faster than missle offence technology.
6.21.2006 8:17pm
Dick Eagleson:
I'm surprised the lawyers here are missing what I think is the main point at issue. That would be the NK's refusal to abide by established protocols for pre-notification of affected parties about missile test firings - announcing dates and times, issuing notices to airmen and mariners, etc. In short, despite making obvious preparations for a launch, NK won't even admit that much and refuse to say when they intend to light the thing off and where they intend it to go.

I don't know to what extent these protocols have the status of "international law" because I don't know how well-based they are on formal treaty-type documents. But my understanding is that they are of several decades provenance and are adhered to by every other missile-building/testing nation including Iran and the Pakis.

I also have no idea of the extent to which non-compliance with such protocols impinges on the even older body of treaty-based international law defining acts of war. As the whole point of the pre-notification protocols is to avoid the accidental initiation of hostilities, I think a good prima facie case can be made that flagrant refusal to abide by them does constitute a casus belli. Further, it's not even obvious that the U.S. is first in the line of aggrieved parties. I would think Japan and Australia have claims at least as compelling as our own. We, of course, have a thick wad of mutual defense treaties in place with both.

The technical feasibility - or lack of same - of missile defense systems is fun to argue about, perhaps, but it is really beside the point here. If continued NK silence does constitute a valid cause for war under formal and informal international law and practice, then waiting for the launch is idiotic. The correct remedy is a flat stand-down ultimatum to be followed up by having, at a minimum, the part of the 509th Bombardment Group now stationed on Guam drive their B-2's over the NK and do to the NK launch facility what the 8th Air Force did to Peenemunde in 1943.
6.21.2006 8:29pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
What does the military mean by operational?

It means that the system will be continuously manned not just manned for test.

It is something like the radar in Hawaii that was only being manned for testing in Dec of '41. Big mistake since the info developed was not integrated into the defence plan.

Sometimes Americans do learn from experience.

BTW that radar was not very effective (lots of false positives). But on Dec 7th '41 it was working well enough to detect the Japanese incoming. The report was not accorded the respect it required due to the false positive problem, the radar was not integrated well into the defence plan, and there was a flight of B17s expected.

So saying the system is operational means it is being incorporated into the defence plans. It says nothing about its effectiveness at this time.
6.21.2006 8:38pm
nrein1 (mail):
Dick Eagleson and everyone who is calling for the destruction of a North Korean missile on the ground, I can not even begin to emphisize enough how dangerous that is. North Korea can inflict real damage on the world. Seoul, a city of 15 million or so is within artillery range of around 14,000 artillery tubes preaimed. An attack on North Korean soil would very likely lead to those artillery being fired. Does the United States have the right to risk the lives of literally millions of ROK citizens? I think not.

A missile test would be far less provacative of an act then the seizing of the US Pueblo, yet we basically did nothing because we could not risk the lost of live that a war on the peninsula would entail
6.21.2006 8:41pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
It is amazing the number of posts here based on a misunderstanding of what "operatioinal" means to the military.

We can only hope the Norks are similarly ignorant.
6.21.2006 8:53pm
Orion (mail):
Back during the '60s RAND was asked to study decoys vs. ABM defenses and came up with an interesting result: Any simple decoy system like the Mylar balloon can be defeated fairly easily and cheaply, it turns out. The more sophisticated the decoy the harder it is to defeat but in the end the most cost-effective decoy is another warhead. IE., instead of firing 1 warhead and 20 decoys it's cheaper just to build and launch 1 more warhead than your opponent has interceptors. That's why the Soviets built 35,000 warheads instead of the 100 or so it would take to destroy the US: they never believed we would be stupid enough not to build an ABM network.

Oh, the '04 test that got scrubbed because of cloud cover? They had cameras set up to observe the launch and boost phase and the clouds would have obscured these. Had it been a warshot the clouds wouldn't have stopped them.
6.21.2006 9:14pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
nrein1,

Quite correct. OTOH once significant shooting starts it is all over for the Norks. So that is a deterrant for them. So they might suck-up a hit on their missle. It might become an "industrial accident".

The other question is how many tubes will get off shots before counter battery fire takes them out.

Getting Seoul quickly into shelters would be effective from a loss of life perspective.

Exagerated fear of loss is common to humans. We know what we have to lose and underestimate what the opposition has to lose.

You fight a war based on two things: what losses will most quickly cripple an enemy. What does the enemy fear to lose most? The two are often not the same. Take WW2 Japan. They were crippled by loss of oil and transport for raw materials. What they feared to lose most was the Emperor.
6.21.2006 9:28pm
Jeek:
He said it was operational? Or did he use all kind of vague language and describe the ongoing "operational testing".

He said this:

"With the initial fielding in 2004 of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense components, the Aegis long range surveillance and track ships, and the first integrated command, control, battle management and communications (C2BMC) suites, we made history by establishing a limited defensive capability for the United States against a possible long-range ballistic missile attack from North Korea and the Middle East."

Hard to square this with your claim that we have zero capability, since he specifically identified North Korea as a country against which we have "limited defensive capability".
6.21.2006 9:36pm
nrein1 (mail):
M simon, how would you propose getting the city of Seoul in shelters in less then 5 minutes. By the way according to someone who use to work in the CIA at the North KOrean desk in the early 1990s, the best guess is 75,000 artillery rounds would be fired before they woudl be destroyed. Also 1 million casualties in the first 24 hours.
6.21.2006 10:49pm
nrein1 (mail):
M simon, how would you propose getting the city of Seoul in shelters in less then 5 minutes. By the way according to someone who use to work in the CIA at the North KOrean desk in the early 1990s, the best guess is 75,000 artillery rounds would be fired before they woudl be destroyed. Also 1 million casualties in the first 24 hours.
6.21.2006 10:49pm
ray:
freder, etal: NK previously firing a missile over Japan did not violate it's airspace, but if we do it to NK it is? Is this legal reasoning?
6.21.2006 10:53pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
nrien1,

75,000 rounds creates 1 million casualties in 24 hours? Interesting.

Question, how many of those 75,000 rounds can be delivered before people get into shelters? How many rounds would it take to kill 1 person. Unsheltered vs sheltered?

And with an estimated 15,000 tubes they only get off 5 rounds per tube in 24 hours? Either they are very bad or we are very good. Or a combination.
6.21.2006 11:14pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
For those interested in reading about the Patriot and other anti-ballistic missle systems, I recommend the Wikipedia entries.

Here is the one on the Patriot systems:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIM-104_Patriot

The exact rate of effectiveness of the Patriot system used during the Gulf War remains classified, according to the entry. Part of the problem with measuring "success" and "accuracy" were simply defining what these terms mean; another part was the lack of sophisticated photography capable of showing exactly what happened.
6.22.2006 2:00am
nrein1 (mail):
M simon, I should have been more precise, 1 million casualties is the figure for the first 24 hours of a war, not just from the artillery. Yes 5 shots each is pretty reasonable before we destroy the sites. Some will rpobably only get one off, some may get many more. It takes about 5 minutes for the shots to reach Seoul once fired. The military could respond and fire at the tubes before the first one hits. But 5 minutes is not really enough time to warn the civilian population. Also Seoul is a crowded city, one shell into a crowd of people easily could kill 50 people. Also Seoul is a city of large apartment blocks, you could probably take some of the poorer constructed ones down with a couple of hits.

Even if you do shelter people, what happens when fire startes spreading through the city. BAsically my point is attacking North Korea is your very last option and not one a simple missile should cause the US to consider.
6.22.2006 9:28am
Freder Frederson (mail):
"With the initial fielding in 2004 of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense components, the Aegis long range surveillance and track ships, and the first integrated command, control, battle management and communications (C2BMC) suites, we made history by establishing a limited defensive capability for the United States against a possible long-range ballistic missile attack from North Korea and the Middle East."

There's enough obfuscation and weaseling in there not to make it technically a lie, but it sure sounds like bullshit.
6.22.2006 9:59am
Leland (mail):
nrein,

I understand your point, but what should are response be? To simplify the game: we have a hostage held at gun point. We are at a great distance with a unsighted rifle and little training. The bad guy now is pulling a second gun with the intent to fire it in our general vicinity.

What do we do?

Your suggestion is that his gun fire will not be accurate enough to hit us, or even come near us. Our return fire likely wouldn't hit the bad guy and certainly wouldn't stop his bullets. As soon as we return fire, the hostage will be killed.

It is a bleak scenario.

The problem with your scenario is that the hostage is armed and has a fighting chance to survive. And if either the hostage or us continues to do nothing, the bad guy will perfect his aim with both weapons until he can shot and kill both targets at the same time. Indeed, it is our historical trend of doing nothing that has put us in this bleak situation.

Again, what should our response be?
6.22.2006 10:22am
Tracy Johnson (www):
I was watching some PBS or History Channel show sometime last year about the latest U.S Air Force high tech weaponry. The commentator droned on saying something like ... "If you've seen it in a Science Fiction Movie, the Air Force has probably built it." My oldest son also watching, (in his late 20's) exclaimed, "Oh-hoh yeah! They built a Death Star!"
6.22.2006 11:18am
qnonymous:
a lot of you fellows seem to be missing the large technological leaps that have taken place over the last decade or so. This isn't the Patriot system.

Here's an article that talks about the use of programmable GPUs (Graphics Processors) to control swarms of UAVs. http://www.iitsec.org/documents/S_2078_001.pdf

some pretty graphs: http://www.public.iastate.edu/~camaro/bryanDissertation.htm

It's not too far of a stretch for a programmer to put swarm recognition and control behavior into an AI routine and have it differentiate between decoys and RV and program vertice calculations to put an object on intercept for an incoming nuclear device.

This is one of those developments that has occurred in the last 2 years. Programmable GPUs aren't ridiculously expense either, we're talking $100, and topping out at $1000. I don't know what kind of background you guys have, but I'm into technological stuff and I know that technology gets cheaper, smaller, and faster VERY quickly. Expecting similar performance to a system years or decades old is just silly. Like any technology, Missle Defense will evolve and become better, but you have to start somewhere.
6.22.2006 2:03pm
jvarisco (www):
nrein1) Actually, you can. If NK launches a missile with an actual warhead, it's not a test. You act as if NK would retaliate, which is simply wrong. If we shoot down a missile, NK will be mad. But they won't touch SK, because they know if they did we would make all of NK into one big crater. That's what our troops in the dmz are for - to make the American public mad enough to not mind nuking NK if they attack.
6.22.2006 2:37pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
qnonymous, maybe, but Aegis failed badly in 1982 and failed again, in exactly the same way, almost 10 years later. No evidence of fast improvement there.

The bugbear of antiaircraft and antimissile artillery is target acquisition. Was and still is. And it isn't the sort of problem that can be solved merely with more computing power.
6.22.2006 3:46pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
And then we have the Patriots which were on the order of 10 to 20% effective in 1991.

MSimon, where did you get that number? I mean, did you injure your butt pulling that number out of it? The Congressional report on the topic, defined success as hitting and destroying the warhead. This left a lot of SCUDs which were taken down by Patriot missiles, with other than warhead hits, in the "non-success" column. Having seen the Patriot batteries in operation up close and personal, any time the warhead doesn't hit the target, and falls somewhere short of it without casualties, I define that as a success.

10-20%? Maybe you should share the source of your information with us.
6.22.2006 5:51pm
Matt22191 (mail):
For the record, North Korea does not have thousands of artillery pieces within range of Seoul. Speaking as a former Marine artillery officer, that claim doesn't even pass the sniff test. But the artillery it probably does have in range is certainly cause for worry.

Seoul is approximately thirty miles from the DMZ. Very few modern howitzers can achieve that kind of range, and even those guns need base bleed or rocket-assisted projectiles to do it. The North Koreans do not have thousands of guns capable of doing that. No one does. The NKs have lots of artillery, yes, but most of it is older stuff that doesn't have anywhere near the range to hit Seoul; we're talking maximum ranges of ten to twelve miles, perhaps eighteen to twenty with RAP for some of the newer guns. Only a small proportion of the total force -- particularly the 170mm howizters, and perhaps the 240mm multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) -- can strike Seoul from the DMZ. This Global Security summary seems to say that North Korea has about 500 artillery tubes and maybe as many as 200 multiple rocket launchers within range of Seoul. That seems plausible.

That's still a tremendous threat. Based on Global Security's numbers, and assuming the MRLs all carry 22 rockets and can reload and fire in fifteen minutes, I calculate that those 700 platforms could deliver an average of up to 4,400 rounds per minute into Seoul. I personally think Global Security is being far too generous in estimating a rate of fire of up to eight rounds per minut for the big NK guns. I'm being too generous in assuming that all the MRLs have the capacity to fire 22 rounds per volley (some only carry 12 rounds), and I'm perhaps being too generous in assuming that the MRLs can launch and reload in fifteen minutes. (That'd be fairly speedy for a big launcher.) Taking all that into account, a more realistic estimate might be that the NKs can deliver an average of 2,500 to 3,000 artillery rounds and rockets into Seoul, per minute, from behind the DMZ.

Destroying 700 tubes and launchers, all located in a fairly small geographic area, would be a lot easier than destroying 15,000. We might be able to do that before they could launch more than 75,000 rounds into Seoul. But that's not very comforting to me. (I offer no opinion here on whether North Korea would attack Seoul in response to an attack on, or shootdown of, its ICBM. I'm just considering what might happen if it did.) As a practical matter, I just can't believe that we and the South Koreans could deliver any meaningful counterbattery fire in less than five minutes from the time the first NK rounds left the tubes. The command and control would take nearly that long, even if all the counterbattery units were fully prepped and ready. And time of flight is not meaningless.

Five minutes of unimpeded fire means 12,500 rounds falling on a crowded city. I can easily envision that causing many tens of thousands of casualties. Of course the average casulaties per round always fall after the first volley. Defensive measures and countermeasures work, to varying degrees. (That's why first-round fire for effect is always the goal in the artillery game. Adjusting rounds telegraph what's coming, giving the enemy time to react.) But remember how long it took the World Trade Centers to fall after they were struck, and how many people still remained inside when they did fall. A city can only react so quickly, even if it has good civil defense measures in place.
6.22.2006 7:28pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Very interesting, but you left out the NK option of gas shells.

That could be a force multiplier of considerable effect.
6.23.2006 1:44am
Matt22191 (mail):
Perhaps. I'm no expert on chemical weapons, but my impression is that they're much harder to employ effectively than is generally assumed. Weather conditions have to be right, and it's hard to deliver effective concentrations of chemical weapons with artillery. The NKs probable would have to concentrate their fires on significantly smaller areas of the city in order to do so. I'm not at all sure that the resulting increase in chemical casualties wouldn't be nearly, entirely, or even more than offset by the concurrent reduction in blast and fragmentation casualties.

If I were in the NKs' place, I think I'd be inclined to stick with HE plus a smattering of incendiaries and, if available, artillery-delivered mines. I might toss in a few chemical rounds to sow confusion and terror and perhaps slow down the civil defense response (chemical weapons are inherently scary, and it's damned hard to communicate in a gas mask), but I doubt I'd rely on them to produce large numbers of casualties.

By the way, what are the two failures of Aegis to which you referred? If you were thinking of the shootdown of Iran Air flight 655 (1988), I'm really not sure what that has to do with the present discussiion.
6.23.2006 10:56am
Damon (mail):
EVERYONE, PLEASE GO TO THIS WEBSITE

http://www.mda.mil/mdalink/html/newsrel.html

IT EXPLAINS BMD AND THE LATEST NEW CLIPS ARE THERE...

A SUCCESSFUL INTERCEPT JUST OCCURRED... PLEASE READ
6.25.2006 3:59am