"Starwars" missile defense test fails.
July 8, 2000 8:39 AM   Subscribe

"Starwars" missile defense test fails. What you have to understand is that these tests are rigged. They're not really fair tests of the systems; they're designed to make it as easy for the system to succeed as possible, because their purpose is to produce "successful" results for political reasons. So the fact that it still didn't work (and this is the third failure) is pretty impressive.
posted by Steven Den Beste (10 comments total)
MORE For example, when they were first testing a surface-to-air missile intended to shoot down a jet, the target drone they used contained a transmitter and the missile homed in on the transmitter. Also the drone flew slow and in a straight line. (And, I might mention, the missile still missed.) Needless to say, any enemy jet won't conveniently have such a transmitter on board and it's not going to be flying in a straight line.

When these tests fail, it's embarassing as hell, once you realize that the deck is stacked in favor of the system and it still screws up.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:44 AM on July 8, 2000

Look for this to be spun as a success anyway, and for tense billions of taxpayer dollars (that could be frittered away on equally useless but more interesting things, not to mention paying down the national debt or such) to be shunted straight to defense contractors. Because that's what this is really all about, isn't it?

That and pissing off China.
posted by snarkout at 1:01 PM on July 8, 2000

"Well, since it didn't work after the third test, I'm just going to scrap the whole program."

-Thomas Alva Edison on the light bulb, in a darker alternate universe
posted by mikewas at 2:45 PM on July 8, 2000

There's the small problem that the "Starwars" missile defense is a direct violation of the ABM treaty, which was ratified by the Senate. That makes it the law of the land.

But more important is this: anyone who's studied the problem knows that it's insoluble. You can build a system, you may even make it work under some circumstances, but no matter what you build it can be defeated, and the price of defeating it is lower than the price of upgrading.

Of course, only Engineers get the real joke: it's got to work perfectly the first time. Yeah, right.

What's really going on is that it's been moving forward for quite some time on economic momentum alone. It's never had any actual military reason to exist; if a "rogue state" lobs one nuke at us, the response would be for us to turn their entire country into a parking lot. And they all know it, which is why they'll never do it.

But if some lunatic did want to nuke the US, they wouldn't do it with a missile. They'd just hide the thing the the bilge of a freighter, sail it into NY harbor, and set it off.

And the proposed system would do nothing whatever about that.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:41 PM on July 8, 2000

More on that: fully half of the population of the US lives within the fallout zone of a major port. Why is it that everyone seems to think that a "rogue state" who decides to nuke the US is gonna use some damned experimental rocket?

The whole concept is foolish. Why are we armor plating only one wall of the castle?

posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:45 PM on July 8, 2000

Because there are corporations with vast amounts of money to spend lobbying Congress who will make billions and billions of dollars on this project, even though they--and the Defense Department, and presumably even some of the slightly brighter members of Congress--know it will never work? That'd be my guess, anyway.

Oh, and to piss off China.
posted by snarkout at 6:25 PM on July 8, 2000

Forgive my usual stupidity, but I don't see why the mindset doesn't work something like this.

"Gee. I'm a leader of a small foreign country and I just found out I can purchase a keen nuclear warhead on the blackmarket. If I launch this puppy at any other country, all the other countries on the planet will rain on my ass and I'll suddenly be a very dead leader of a very dead country. So why buy the piece of crap at all? Maybe I should spend that money on improving the quality of life for the people whom I serve."

But nooooooo! Why should any leader of any country think with anything but their penis? Buy that damn missle! Make sure it's bigger than anybody else's!

You'd think after what happened at Hiroshima, the entire human race would go, "gee, maybe we should stick to machine guns..."
posted by ZachsMind at 9:15 PM on July 8, 2000

The whole concept of an anti-missile-missile is a logistical nightmare. It's like trying to hit a bullet with a bullet. Let's say that they do manage to get a computer program that can work thing problem out. The next step is a missile with an anti-missile-missile system. Now we are going to have another tech race on are hands.

I remember watching the Discovery channel do a show on tanks. The evolution of tank armor sounds like the level progression of a video game. Power Ups! We have some amazing minds being put to these tasks of killing each other.

Now I do understand that some amount of military strength is needed to maintain peace. This is a time tested fact. I do think that is a huge misjustice to see how our money gets spent. No one else is going to have the resources to make one of these "defense" systems and the mad atomic bomber case is the weakest story yet.
posted by john at 4:47 PM on July 10, 2000

How many of you have read Heinlein's Starship Troopers? I'm thinking of the part in the first chapter in which the powered armor troopers are dropping in from orbit and spewing a dozen kinds of countermeasures into the sky as they drop, to confuse enemy targeting systems. It seems like at least half of those countermeasures could be added to a modern-day missile much more easily than the process of building the missile itself. There was a good piece on how to spoof such targeting systems in SciAm a few months ago, in the same issue that covered the Oxygen project.
posted by harmful at 5:52 PM on July 10, 2000

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