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Under the radar
June 15, 2014 8:25 PM   Subscribe

After a decade and $40 billion, U.S. missile defense system can't be relied on, even in carefully scripted tests. But U.S. lawmakers and the Obama administration 'have protected flawed missile defense system's funding and want to spend billions more to expand it'. 'Despite years of tinkering and vows to fix technical shortcomings, the system's performance has gotten worse, not better, since testing began in 1999. Of the eight tests held since GMD became operational in 2004, five have been failures. The last successful intercept was on Dec. 5, 2008.'

'The GMD system was rushed into the field after President George W. Bush, in 2002, ordered a crash effort to deploy "an initial set of missile defense capabilities." The hurried deployment has compromised its effectiveness in myriad ways.' 'The Obama administration, after signaling that it would keep the number of interceptors at the current 30, now supports expanding the system. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called for deploying 14 new interceptors at Ft. Greely by late 2017.'

'"Fly, then buy" is a maxim in the defense and aerospace fields, meaning that customers should wait until a complicated new system has been rigorously tested before purchasing.

With GMD, the government's approach was the opposite: "Buy, then fly."

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld exempted the Missile Defense Agency from standard procurement rules and testing standards, freeing it to use research and development money to buy and deploy a system quickly.

The rocket interceptors were essentially prototypes rather than finished products when put in the field. The first model of kill vehicle was not flight-tested against a mock warhead until September 2006 — two years after the vehicles had been placed in the silos.

Because each of the kill vehicles is handmade, no two are identical. A fix that works with one interceptor might not solve problems with others. The piecemeal approach has left the system short of spare parts for critical components.

Pressure to produce and deploy the interceptors at a breakneck pace made it difficult to revise engineering drawings to correct shortcomings exposed in flight tests or keep up with technological advances.

One senior official involved in the system described his frustration at learning that some computers aboard the kill vehicles lacked the processing power of common cellphones.

About a third of the kill vehicles now in use — the exact number is classified — are the same model that failed in the 2010 tests, according to people familiar with the system who spoke on condition of anonymity. That model has yet to intercept a target.

Because interceptors used in test flights burn up when they reenter the atmosphere or are lost in the ocean, scientists have been hard-pressed to pinpoint the causes of the failures.'
posted by VikingSword (56 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why couldn't we have spend $40billion on a space power system? Same technology, same people, same companies, would probably work, and would have a better chance of making us more politically secure, less dependent on foreign energy and be a more moral choice?


Why do we keep electing these idiots?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:35 PM on June 15 [26 favorites]


Remind me of this Dialogue in the West Wing: http://youtu.be/AEehpw2KDqU?t=40s
posted by homodigitalis at 8:38 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


If they wanted this system to actually work, why don't they take the previous Safeguard/Sprint (or current Russian A-135) approach and arm the interceptors with nuclear warheads? Why insist on kinetic kill vehicles, which make the task impossibly difficult?
posted by Auden at 8:47 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Throwing together something questionable on the fly in 2002 is marginally excusable.

Expanding the program after 12 continuing years of failure is reprehensible.
posted by codswallop at 8:50 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


To the people who approve and direct the funding for these projects: it doesn't matter if the stated goal is not successfully accomplished. The goal is to get the funds to $CONGRESSIONAL_DISTRICT.

A $20B failure achieves the same goal as a $20B success. In fact it could be argued that the former is more attractive than the latter, because, that'll keep the gravy train rolling.

I like to think that the proponents of the so-called 'meritocracy' would notice and take action about this, but I suspect that most of them benefit from this state of affairs, so.... why bother.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:51 PM on June 15 [37 favorites]


And armoir beat me to it. The U.S. military and its primary and secondary and tertiary contractors is the biggest socialism scheme in the U.S. Politicians wear many hats, but perhaps their biggest goal, their biggest win, the thing that gets them elected and re-elected is creating jobs. The Pentagon is awash with cash--it aways is--so when something like this defense system has tentacles that spread and burrow all over the U.S., and each Congressperson will make sure their piece of the pie/puzzle isn't fucked with. So what if we don't need the end product? All those people got work.

Which, for what it's worth, is a net positive in that it keeps employment up. But surely that money can be much better spent in other areas, namely green energy.
posted by zardoz at 9:08 PM on June 15 [7 favorites]


Given that this project is designed to protect against threats that don't exist, I'm not sure it can really ever be a failure.
posted by pompomtom at 9:19 PM on June 15 [7 favorites]


If they don't listen to Richard Garwin, they won't listen to anyone. His first (of many) critique of the idea was published in 1968.
posted by Poldo at 9:22 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Which, for what it's worth, is a net positive in that it keeps employment up. But surely that money can be much better spent in other areas, namely green energy.

We're talking about the government here, so it's not a zero sum game. The Department of Energy's "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" office is funded to the tune of about $1.5~2B per year and has been for the last decade. Their 2015 request is $2.3B.
posted by Long Way To Go at 9:32 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Have we spent enough to be safe yet?
posted by birdhaus at 9:36 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I think developing the technology to hit one flying thing with another flying thing at high velocity could be worthwhile. You never know when you might need to deflect an asteroid, or knock space debris into a less destructive orbit. But hows about we let the civilian scientific community work on it (and patent all the tech that comes spinning out of the project, so that eventually others can find new and unexpected applications for it), rather than enabling yet another dumb, bloated, useless DOD clusterfuck.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:42 PM on June 15


The Internet: yet another dumb, bloated, useless DOD clusterfuck
posted by el io at 9:45 PM on June 15 [7 favorites]


Don't be upset that it doesn't work. If it did work, even if it was misunderstood to work, the US would lose one big reason for not initiating "pre-emptive" missile attacks against nations capeable of launching their own missiles in response.

Not to mention that other superpowers would be forced to make their own. Those wouldn't have to actually work any better than the American one; they just have to seem to work well enough to convince their leaders that they are invulnerable to missile strikes.

So in a way, it's current role as vehicle for appropriations and votes is the best way the project can serve the interests of the people. Other than spending the money on healthcare or education, that is.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:46 PM on June 15


We're talking about the government here, so it's not a zero sum game. The Department of Energy's "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" office is funded to the tune of about $1.5~2B per year and has been for the last decade.

But if the Republicans gain effective control of both houses of Congress, guess which program gets eliminated in the name of Austerity/Private Enterprise/Science Denial/Etc Etc.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:47 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Chomsky 20 years ago: The Pentagon System
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:51 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Why couldn't we have spend $40billion on a space power system?

I have enemies. I learned that I can expend energy to attack them or anticipate their attacks against me....or I can expend that same energy in actually helping them with their problems so that they see me as an ally.

$40 billion dollars can make a lot of friends. Especially since all of the US's enemies are rather poor. I mean it's not like we have to help out freaking France or some shit. We just gotta get people water and food and (a place to) shit.


Have we spent enough to be safe yet?

Yes we have. Just not in the right way.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:03 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]


This recent article gives some info on a similar project.
posted by clockzero at 10:07 PM on June 15


Why couldn't we have spend $40billion on a space power system?

Because the natural gas, coal, petroleum, and nuclear companies, among others, wouldn't allow it. The coal industry screams itself hoarse about the piddling amount that gets spent on wind energy as it is. The defense contractors would be just as happy to build solar power satellites, I'm sure, but getting it through Congress would be be right up there with selling cattle ranchers on government-funded synthetic meat research.

Missile defense is politically safe. It's the perfect, never-ending vehicle for pork and it doesn't piss off anyone who matters in Washington.

You can't do anything that might rock the boat.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 PM on June 15 [7 favorites]


For some insight on how a defense program worms its way into congress, Lockheed Martin's Herculean Efforts to Profit From Defense Spending - The Epic Story of the C-130
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:46 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Can we get a non-partisan study done on what is better for the people of the country: Missile defense vs. increased mental health care, physical health care, and assistance to decrease unemployment?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:05 PM on June 15 [5 favorites]


Why do we keep electing these idiots?

Wedge issues.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:14 PM on June 15 [8 favorites]


Eisenhower?
posted by Windopaene at 11:22 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Russia Tests Multi-Warhead ICBM
Flight test comes amid heightened tensions over Ukraine
The SS-27 Mod 2 is Russia’s newest ICBM and has been touted by Russian officials as designed specifically to defeat U.S. missile defenses.
US Prompt Global Strike Missiles Prompt Russian Rail-Mounted ICBMs

Russia, China, and America's Hypersonic Missile Race
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:28 PM on June 15


You people are pretty cynical and I am beginning to question your patriotism. Look, I don't want to get nuked by North Korea's Big Dong as much as the next guy. But the contractor forgot to install the "twist-tie" device when assembling the kill vehicle. Kill Vehicle sounds pretty bad-ass. What more do you want for $40b?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:52 PM on June 15


Missile defense vs. increased mental health care, physical health care, and assistance to decrease unemployment?

We'll, we don't really need to, since this system doesn't actually provide any missile defense either. This really more akin to $40bn worth Keynes' proverbial paying people to dig holes and then fill them back in again. You could call them "Missile Defense Holes" if you wanted, in that they would be exactly as effective for intercepting a missile attack as the GMD system is.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:04 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows that the best way to reduce danger is to eliminate enemies, not by killing them and creating more enemies, not by pointing guns at their kids, but by befriending them and creating more friends, feeding them, housing them, educating their children, helping them out of trouble, making them think happy thoughts when they think of you. Everyone knows this. And we have the befriending technology. It's all old and proven.

But by far the biggest department in the United States government is always the killing department, not the befriending department, because you don't get elected by promising to send billions of dollars to foreigners; you get elected by promising to spend billions of dollars building weapons systems in Orlando and Tampa and Tucson and Huntsville and Colorado Springs. Until someone comes up with a way to keep that money at home while caring for people abroad, the killers are always going to win elections.

I think I would try education. For example, find an acceptable way to invite children (especially girls) to come and learn in the United States and then go back home. All the money goes to US airlines (or military aircraft) transporting the children, US families housing and feeding the children, US teachers and US schools educating the foreign children alongside US children, and other US businesses getting any other incidental expenditures (medical, dental, etc.). Send the kids home again (on US aircraft again) with a good US high school education, plus skills that will fill particular needs back home, plus, you hope, and appreciation of and affection for the United States and its people.

Let foreign families know that their kids will be eligible for the program only if they first get their kids up to a certain standard of education, which would push them to improve general schooling. Also make sure they understand there has to be an equal number of boys and girls in the program, and equal numbers of qualified applicants in the total pool, so they have to educate girls and boys equally. How many foreign high school students could you house and educate in the US for 4 billion a year? Is anyone already doing something like this?
posted by pracowity at 12:46 AM on June 16 [19 favorites]


I feel like we should hold off on the water and the education until we get the killing sorted out.
posted by phaedon at 12:54 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


If they wanted this system to actually work, why don't they take the previous Safeguard/Sprint (or current Russian A-135) approach and arm the interceptors with nuclear warheads? Why insist on kinetic kill vehicles, which make the task impossibly difficult?

Maybe they are nuclear-armed, or are intended to be upgradable.

The midcourse defense missiles are large enough to carry a nuclear warhead. The deployed exoatmospheric kill vehicle weighs 140 lb. The retired W66 neutron bomb (the Sprint ABM's warhead) weighed an estimated 150 pounds. It's possible to build a nuke as small as 50 pounds (the MK-54).

If they are nuclear armed, they probably work. The kill radius of a nuclear weapon in space is surprisingly small, but a near-miss would be good enough.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:33 AM on June 16


I think I would try education.

It's a beautiful, practical and I believe quite effective idea that would be shot down as "taxpayer funded illegal immigration program". I can see it clearly, and I'm 5000 miles away.
posted by hat_eater at 1:43 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


No worries, soon we'll have a thick defensive layer of drones to protect us!
posted by Woodroar at 3:59 AM on June 16


In the future, the missile defence system fails to block thousands of missiles launched at thousands of simulations of you because you dared to doubt its funding.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:57 AM on June 16 [11 favorites]


pracowity: That's what the Romans used to do. Kidnap the children of the elites, and bring them up alongside their own kids in Rome. The next generation gets brainwashed, and you get a convenient human shield to boot.
posted by Leon at 5:12 AM on June 16


It's a beautiful, practical and I believe quite effective idea that would be shot down as "taxpayer funded illegal immigration program".

Not to mention eliminating America's valuable competitive advantage in education! Why, you'll upset the entire balance of trade with this boondoggle! How reckless would one have to be to recommend that instead of another round of deadly military hardware?

Amurica
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:30 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I think I would try education. For example, find an acceptable way to invite children (especially girls) to come and learn in the United States and then go back home. All the money goes to US airlines (or military aircraft) transporting the children, US families housing and feeding the children, US teachers and US schools educating the foreign children alongside US children, and other US businesses getting any other incidental expenditures (medical, dental, etc.). Send the kids home again (on US aircraft again) with a good US high school education, plus skills that will fill particular needs back home, plus, you hope, and appreciation of and affection for the United States and its people.
This is rather close to what the British Empire did in an attempt to reproduce its standards among native peoples; what they got, instead, were highly educated, intimately knowledgeable critics of their own system of illegitimate and unfair dominance. Gandhi and Nehru, for instance, both studied in England; Nehru was a Cambridge graduate. Similarly, the reason that a chauvinistic butcher like Cecil Rhodes funded a scholarship program was in order to Anglicize the best and brightest of other countries; that didn't work either. And Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot studied in Paris.

If you're doing this to genuinely help people out, great. If you're doing it to cultivate allies and maintain influence -- or, as critics of outsize influence call it, hegemony -- you're more likely to give people exactly the tools they need to point out why you aren't really their friend after all.
posted by kewb at 6:20 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]


The last successful launch just happened to be the last full month of W's presidency. HUH.
posted by Atreides at 6:31 AM on June 16


Mechas could, like, knock missiles out of the sky and into "an uninhabited area", couldn't they? I say we vote for mechas.
posted by allthinky at 6:34 AM on June 16


Given that this project is designed to protect against threats that don't exist, I'm not sure it can really ever be a failure.
Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That's spacious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you? [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:59 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Why couldn't we have spend $40billion on a space power system? Same technology, same people, same companies, would probably work, and would have a better chance of making us more politically secure, less dependent on foreign energy and be a more moral choice?

In the late 80s, there was considerable research into the matter when they were looking at the space-based laser/railgun system that would attempt to bring down ICBMs in the post-boost and mid-course stages of the missiles' flight. However, many of those research projects were either sidelined, back-burnered, or abandoned when they could no longer ignore the problem with that part of SDI - that having giant space-based lasers or railguns with great power systems became just big floating targets that would be taken out by an enemy force just minutes before a first strike scenario.
posted by chambers at 7:01 AM on June 16


Relevant video - SDI project summary video (~30min, YT) from about 1990 that explains the whole system and many of its inherent problems. Though the technology has improved, many of the logistical, technical, and strategic problems remain.
posted by chambers at 7:04 AM on June 16


A $20B failure achieves the same goal as a $20B success. In fact it could be argued that the former is more attractive than the latter, because, that'll keep the gravy train rolling.
A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.”

The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves.

“What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!”

Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store.

“Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?”

The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:07 AM on June 16 [19 favorites]


Can we get a non-partisan study done on what is better for the people of the country: Missile defense vs. increased mental health care, physical health care, and assistance to decrease unemployment?

You forget; humans are not people. Corporations are people. What is good for humans is not what is good for people.
posted by winna at 7:11 AM on June 16


It is a blessing that it doesn't work. Taking the "M" out of MAD doesn't seem like such a bright idea.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:28 AM on June 16


"If they wanted this system to actually work, why don't they take the previous Safeguard/Sprint (or current Russian A-135) approach and arm the interceptors with nuclear warheads?"

As I understand it, the current threat these are to guard against, however ineffectually, are non-nuclear missiles from North Korea, %terrorist%, etc. A nuclear-tipped interceptor exploding over US territory would be more devastating than any non-nuclear missile -- the EMP from a 100-mile-high nuclear detonation would wipe out all electronics -- end civilization as we know it -- for a huge radius, hundreds of miles.

If we're attacked with a nuke, the launcher has to know we will retaliate in kind, it's the basis of MAD and similar policies widely known for decades. North Korea launches a nuke at California, we nuke North Korea if China doesn't beat us to it.

North Korea launches a non-nuclear missile at California? If we launch a nuclear-tipped interceptor it has to intercept at some point where there's nobody below to complain that all their electronics died -- which means not where it goes over China, Japan, Russia, or (presumably) the US (most of the Great Circle path goes over the Aleutian Islands, not densely populated, but they really need their heaters to work.)
posted by Blackanvil at 8:08 AM on June 16


Why insist on kinetic kill vehicles, which make the task impossibly difficult?

A shame we didn't do that with the F-22 or F-35.
posted by eriko at 8:09 AM on June 16


Why couldn't we have spend $40billion on a space power system?

Well, for one reason, anything that can beam gigawatts of power down to a collection station is, for all intents, a death ray.

The kill radius of a nuclear weapon in space is surprisingly small, but a near-miss would be good enough.

The Sprint/Spartan's weapons were high-radition. They didn't really kill the missile directly, they cause the warhead to sort-of-explode-but-mostly-fizzle, which was good enough to keep you from losing a city.

Against non-nuclear warheads, they're less effective. They would be more effective than a kinetic warhead in the near-miss situation, though.
posted by eriko at 8:13 AM on June 16


Can we get a non-partisan study done on what is better for the people of the country: Missile defense vs. increased mental health care, physical health care, and assistance to decrease unemployment?

1) Do you honestly think such a study is actually needed? It's prima facie true,

2) No Republican who wishes to be re-elected would vote for such a study. It'd have to come out of a private think-tank, and would then be conveniently shelved.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:50 AM on June 16


US Prompt Global Strike Missiles Prompt Russian Rail-Mounted ICBMs

Reading between the lines there, I think the rail-mounted missiles probably have more to do with the aging Russian submarine force than anything to do with Prompt Global Strike. The way the US achieves the same objective (retaliatory capability following a hypothetical first strike) is with the boomer fleet. The Russians have had...issues keeping theirs going. IIRC they're down to a single operating Typhoon (aka Акула) these days, and a half-dozen or so older boats, probably not enough to maintain a credible deterrent on constant patrol. They supposedly are building new ones, but I wonder if the whole rail-launched concept is part of some inter-service rivalry that they have going between their land and naval forces. There's certainly a long history of that in the US as far as strategic weapons were concerned, so it doesn't seem implausible that they have the same issues.

It would seem like the operating costs of some missile trains are probably lower than submarines anyway. Submarines have a first-strike advantage but only if you regularly get them close to the enemy's coast, which you can't do unless they're very quiet (and expensive).
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:50 AM on June 16


“If they are nuclear armed, they probably work. The kill radius of a nuclear weapon in space is surprisingly small, but a near-miss would be good enough.”

It’s much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, worse than we think.

Putting aside the technical problems and aspects of the evolution of competition (e.g. bow vs. armor, longbow vs. better armor, crossbow vs. heavy plate, artillery vs. terrain and digging in, stronger portable systems vs. tank mobility, stand off firepower vs. electronic countermeasures, etc. etc.) and shelving the – really quite vast – future of bioweapons (leveraging countermeasures against various bioweapon agents is doable, but only on a sort of one to one correspondence because of the diversity, and you start getting chimera type agents (mixtures, mutants, etc.) and you’re really screwed, the lag time alone could reduce your crops or population or livestock, or any/all combinations to practically unrecoverable) and the matter of detection (enriched uranium sends up nice big and clear flags, biolab not so much) and – relative - ease of creation (I mean this was 12 years ago) - nukes are essentially useless as deterrents in the modern age.

They don’t deter terrorist groups (demonstrably in 9/11). They promote aggression (regardless of the political controversy, from a purely strategic perspective, an invasion of Iraq for example would have been off the table if they had nuclear weapons) and increase the likelihood of non-nuclear countries to have them (Iran for example).

Our long term nuclear strategy is (was?) a joke (Obama’s looking into it but it’ll cost us $300 billion to just maintain operations on our delivery systems over 10 years) – the New SALT (treaty) pares our arsenal down to 1,500 by 2018, but sub launched nuclear missiles deter a fairly specific sort of threat that is pretty long odds now.

Indeed, it’s more likely there would be an accident than a scenario where we’d need a sub launch. The Fukushima disaster was pretty unlikely. Number came up though.
So, if you take a look at maps of nuclear power plants, Illinois has a bunch. And they’re grouped in the upper half of the state. If you live near Braidwood, say, you’re within driving distance of 7 of them.

So imagine you live there in the middle of 7 nuclear power plants. Feel safe against failure?
Well, they’re pretty overbuilt and engineered, but again, most people can come up with three accidents offhand (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima).
So what’s the failure rate for nuclear weapons?

William Perry gave even odds to a nuclear terrorist attack within the next 10 years (from 2007).
Back before the Iraq war Albright said the odds were less than 1 percent but even that was unacceptable. So, yeah, roll those 1% dice once a year. Scary. And part of the reason I supported (at first) invading Iraq. Logically – you want as few nuclear weapons as possible in the world and having them in the hands of any entity, a country, anyone, that increases the probability of their use is worth almost any level of conventional war. The alternative is literally the end of the world.
(Of course, it’s quite likely the invasion increased the likelihood of nuclear terrorism, which defeats the entire purpose of going in the first place.)

Right now the missile defense thing is (like most of the defense industry) tied up in this political jimmy-leg thing where it’s pork, money, geopolitics, blah blah – yeah, there’s no solid number to hang on like the odds being 0.000001 or so per year. But whatever the number, the higher the odds, the greater the risk and the worse off we’ll be not changing how we deal with this.

So – all that said – the cost difference between modernizing (or building new), maintaining nuclear weapon systems and dismantling and destroying systems through nonproliferation treaties is gigantic. It’s far, far cheaper (and safer) to destroy them. Disarming Kazakhstan ('91 to '95) is an example.

Meanwhile we’re still using this stupid, outmoded strategy that drives policy, and so funding, to actually greatly increase the odds of a nuclear exchange.

"We took a system that was still in development — it was a prototype — and it was declared to be 'operational' for political reasons.


Yeah, granted it’s been a political tool since its inception. If y’all remember Saddam attacking Israel and Saudi Arabia with the Scud missiles, the big magilla there was reigning in the anger and helplessness and circumventing an all out response – a counterstrike by Israel would have not only broken the Arabs from the coalition, but could have gone nuclear (Saddam did, at that time, have WMDs, and Israel has made no bones about using nukes if they’re backed into a corner).

But y’know, it was basically voodoo bullshit. The Patriots did pretty much nothing. Real good for propaganda though. Which was the purpose, so, in that circumstance, call it a win. Sometimes placebos do work regardless of the fact that they’re, y’know, placebos.

But now, theater defense is alloy with strategic defense. All that’s happened is the stakes for face have been raised. If we do have a missile stand off in the middle east, and doesn’t that just look likely as hell the way things have been going lately – a missile defense system will be deployed. And now a success for a nuclear aggressor becomes a near miss or hit and that becomes a legitimate tactic rather than an appalling attack on unarmed civilians – because hey, you have a shield.
Guy puts up his hands, it looks like he's willing to fight. Whether he’s going to swing or not. Doesn't make it right to hit him. But you can (or you can at least tell yourself you can, particularly if you're a fanatic) argue the point.

So the missile defense systems aren’t just a waste, they’re actively working toward ending the world. Not just by draining resources, but by encouraging proliferation, legitimizing missile attacks – and specifically WMD warheads to circumvent the missile defense, and inviting alternative methods to missile delivery.

As part of the larger strategy, missile defense even if - especially if - it worked technically perfectly - works against having a nuclear free world.
And the best odds of safety is proactively eliminating nukes. By any and all means. Security agreements and other kinds of treaties would be best. The last resort would be getting an allied nation force to invade and destroy the facilities. Of course, the U.S. has already cried “Wolf” so that really screwed that tactic in the ass. I think we can fix it. And I think the world wants us to fix it (e.g. Obama getting the Peace Prize). Not 'cause we're so wonderful, but because I think they recognize we all have the gun to our heads.

Because the global threat is still in the response. Not in the intitial strike of one nuke or two or whatever.
Someone launches a few nukes at you. Missile shield fails. You fire back - a lot.
Or, someone launches at you. Missile shield works perfectly – now what? Gonna just sit there? Go after them conventionally? Hell no, they have nuclear arms. You fire back - a lot. Or nuke goes off in your backyard. You investigate. Find out it’s a non-state actor – now what? You've got 50,000 dead, hundreds of thousands dying from radiation, hundreds of thousands more sick with burns needing care you can't give within 20 miles of the site, etc. etc. People were pissed enough about 9/11. Think they're going to ask questions if you flatten Beirut or North Waziristan (Hell, Pakistan is hitting them right now over the Karachi airport thing).

Mutual trust is a much better strategy. And one that recognizes that nuclear weapons are a threat to everyone, not just the conceptual entities we have built. They’re an existential threat and we need to recognize how integrated our existence has become. Arms races are over.

If indeed they were ever useful (as political strategy – unquestionably you will advance in weapons technology). One could argue the entire Cold War rested on the fact that the Soviet Union was a stable power. Indeed, the more unstable the world is, the better the reason to not have nukes.

While the prospect of low intensity war with small, agile special forces and stand off (albeit precision targeted) weapons such as drones creating inevitable (albeit localized) collateral casualties isn’t that charming – that is, as the final resort aspect of the intrusive nature of verifying adherence to WMD treaties (as well as other inevitabilities of future conflicts), it’s a better alternative than big warheads knocking out cities because we thought we could ignore stability and strategic balance in favor of military superiority.

You're never gonna have a good enough weapon to stop a determined enemy, but if you dictate circumstances (as Sun Tzu said bring the enemy to the field of battle, do not be brought there by him) favorable to your strengths, you can overcome any determination.

(Film worth watching – “Talking About the Nuclear Tipping Point”)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:09 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]


I think I would try education.

After what with Japan, that idea's a non-starter. Anyway, as Kewb pointed out, education doesn't give you friends, merely more capable enemies and rivals.


Can we get a non-partisan study done on what is better for the people of the country: Missile defense vs. increased mental health care, physical health care, and assistance to decrease unemployment?


Sure. But it will be done by the Haritage Foundation. So what result were you expecting again?
posted by happyroach at 10:25 AM on June 16


Wouldn't the publicly stated results of missile defense tests automatically qualify as disinformation? Which would be more strategically advantageous, to make it seem like your defense was better than it is or to make it look like it functions more poorly than it actually does?

I would stipulate that it makes more strategic sense to understate your true capabilities.
posted by thebestusernameever at 10:53 AM on June 16


Submarines have a first-strike advantage but only if you regularly get them close to the enemy's coast, which you can't do unless they're very quiet (and expensive).

Ummm, No. A trident missile submarine sitting 100 miles east of Taiwan has coverage of the vast majority of China except for the extreme eastern portion. We're talking about a missile with a 4300+ mile range here.
posted by cmdnc0 at 12:54 PM on June 16


I mean that submarines have a first-strike advantage over land-based ICBMs if you can get them close to the enemy's coast, because the reaction time it leaves the enemy is much shorter.

Yes, SLBMs can basically serve as ICBMs but part of their utility as a weapon is that they can sit only a few hundreds of miles off the coast and take the ~20 minute reaction time of an ICBM launch down to only a handful of minutes. In particular, they take it below the threshold that it takes to fuel a liquid-propellant missile. That's what makes them scary, and arguably made them a destabilizing influence during the Cold War.

A SLBM a long distance away from the enemy coast is effectively just a very survivable ICBM launcher, so rail-based missiles are competitive. As far as I know, the Russians no longer have their missile boats patrol off the Eastern Seaboard like they used to; I think they just float around up in the arctic. So they might be thinking "why are we paying for these expensive submarines when we can just haul the missiles around Siberia instead?"
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:19 PM on June 16


Missile defense technology only works as long as everyone expects it to fail. If our enemies expect it to work, then they will deploy effective countermeasures. So congress spends billions on technology that must fail in spectacular and public ways on a regular basis.
posted by humanfont at 8:22 PM on June 16


Missile defense technology only works as long as everyone expects it to fail. If our enemies expect it to work, then they will deploy effective countermeasures. So congress spends billions on technology that must fail in spectacular and public ways on a regular basis.

Do you really think the Russians and Chinese are so uninformed as to not know the true state of our missle defense capabilities public relations notwithstanding? This is pork barrel politics plain and simple and there is no need to weave a complex conspiracy theory to explain a fairly straightforward and time honored American tradition.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:33 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


The last successful launch just happened to be the last full month of W's presidency. HUH.

Besides some guy saying it was successful, do we have evidence that it was actually successful? Because, making up results is a great way to get more money thrown at something.

Make it rain.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:40 AM on June 17


What I'm saying is that there are three possible states for the missile defense system working, not working, or unknown. All sides fear the crippling first strike by their enemies. To counter this all sides have planned retaliatory strikes as a means to deter the others. If participants believe the system will work, then the retaliatory strike is no longer an effective deterrent. If the participants think the system will not work; then deterrence is the sole thing stopping them from attacking. However if it is unknown; then deterrence is maintained; and there is less risk of an enemy first strike because they will have an additional thing to overcome than concerns of the retaliatory strike.

The true state is irrelevant because if you ever get to the point that this system is used; then we're fucked anyway. Suppose North Korea's leaders really are insane enough to actually fire a nuclear missile at the US and we shoot it down or don't shoot it down; then what. Neither of those circumstances leads anywhere good.
posted by humanfont at 9:07 PM on June 17


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