Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Faith-Based Defense

by Tom Bozzo

Gotta love the W$J today, luring innocent readers of its news coverage to the famously wingnutty op-ed page which wingnuttily proposes foiling a prospective North Korean ballistic missile test with our swell new ballistic missile defense system:
[W]e hope we'll also learn that the U.S. responded [to a North Korean missile test] by testing its newly operational missile defense system and blowing the Korean provocation out of the sky. What better way to discourage would-be nuclear proliferators than to demonstrate that the U.S. is able to destroy their missiles before they hit our allies, or the U.S. homeland.
We can only assume they expect the Spirit of the Gipper to guide the missile defense interceptors.

The Union of Concerned Scientists was unsparing in 2004. Discussing the value of previous test "successes," they say:
First, the test conditions have not been varied: The test geometries and closing speed and angle have been nearly identical. The tests have occurred at the same time of day, even though the infrared signal of an object in space depends strongly on whether it is in sunlight or in shadow. And in each test the target cluster included the same or similar objects...
Maybe the North Koreans will do us the kindness of sending the launch time and trajectory in advance of their test. They're reasonable guys, right?
[UCS, continuing:] The radars that will be part of the Block 2004 system will not be able to discriminate warheads from other objects (decoys or debris), so discrimination will rely on the kill vehicle alone. Yet no tests in which the kill vehicle relies on its sensor to discriminate the warhead have been conducted, and none are planned through 2007.

...[T]he goal here should be to demonstrate hit to kill under conditions relevant to intercepting long-range missiles. These tests have not done so because the endgame conditions have been unrealistic. Since the tests used a prototype two-stage interceptor, the closing speed between the kill vehicle and mock warhead was artificially low by as much as a factor of two. The defense used information from either a GPS receiver or a C-band beacon on the mock warhead to determine its position, and this was used to provide the kill vehicle with very accurate tracking data...

The new Pacific test bed, coupled with the new three-stage interceptor, will allow the MDA to conduct tests under more realistic conditions. However, the test bed alone will not address the lack of realism in flight testing, nor is it needed to address the key realism issues: testing without a priori information, under unscripted conditions, and against realistic countermeasures. The MDA flight test program through September 2007 will not include countermeasures that the Pentagon’s director of operational testing and evaluation has identified as simple for the enemy to implement. [Emphasis added.]

Don't believe those pesky scientists, who self-admittedly have an agenda of stopping the Department of Defense from wasting tens of billions of dollars that could be spent protecting us from actual terrorist threats? Here's the GAO from April 2004, "Missile Defense: Actions Are Needed to Enhance Testing and Accountability":
BMDS performance goals, such as the probability of engagement success, are based on assumptions regarding the system’s capability against certain threats under various engagement conditions. Neither the engagement conditions nor critical assumptions about the threat—such as the enemy’s type and number of decoys—used in establishing these goals are explicitly stated as part of MDA’s program goals. Without these implicit assumptions being explained, the operational capability of the fielded system is difficult to fully understand.
Great, $100 billion spent and the capabilities of the ballistic missile defense system are hypothetical.

What about the improved Block 2006 systems? Here's the GAO, again, from last month:
DOD has not established formal criteria for declaring that limited defensive operations or subsequent blocks of capability are operational... DOD has not done this because it is developing BMDS in a unique way and BMDS is exempted from traditional requirements guidance. Without specific operational criteria, the Secretary of Defense will not be in a sound position to objectively assess combatant commands’ and services’ preparations to conduct BMDS operations nor have a transparent basis for declaring BMDS operational, which will become more important as capabilities are added in subsequent blocks and Congress considers requests to fund operations.
But hey, if it doesn't work? No problem, according to the Journal:
Even a miss would be a useful learning experience all around.
Heh. All around, indeed.
That "useful learning experience" would result in either one or two missiles causing "collateral damage," of course.

The useful learning experience will be for the South Korean government, which might last another three weeks following a bollix.
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