Thursday, September 17, 2009

Missile Defense: It Doesn't Work

Here's a list of flight test results for the GMD (Ground-Based Midcourse Defense) - the system we're now not going to deploy in Eastern Europe. As you read down the table, look for the successes. You might note the FTG-05 test result (from December 5, 2008).   Looks pretty good, right? Here's the associated press release. It certainly looks like the best result so far.  (Up until that test, the successful results always included caveats about the speed of the target, the nature of the target, etc...)  But what's missing?  The salient phrase used to describe the nature of the target here is "threat representative."  What I don't see is any reference to the operative definition of that phrase in this context.  Do you think I'm being a little picayune?  Doesn't "threat representative" mean what it seems to say?  If you're at all familiar with the defense industry, you'll know that almost every bit of technical jargon is a term of art, an arbitrary designation often depicting something that seems at odds with the plain meaning of the words used. Think of "collateral damage" as a euphemism for dead civilians.  If you doubt this consider the words of Jack Hitt (h/t bjkeefe):

Missile defense exists in a world of its own. It has a special budget process that exempts it from most congressional oversight, and it is pioneering a new acquisitions process that redefines the very nature of what constitutes a "threat." The system has a separate definition to denote what it means for a weapon to "work" and even what it means to "know" something to be true. The shield operates beyond the world of empirical testing, and outside the four service branches of the U.S. military.
 I recommend reading the whole article, and Brendan's blog post, both linked above.

Ignoring this one result, for the moment, there is nothing in the test record that provides any degree of confidence in the GMD - none.  All of the "successes" are at best, technical successes - that is they indicate some benchmark has been reached; or they're dumbed down demonstrations that something can be hit with something else, disregarding the important consideration that the ballistic properties of the target don't bear any resemblance to those of an actual target.  Another factor ignored is the existence of realistic decoys - the only decoy tests listed used a small number of balloons to simulate the existence of decoy warheads.  These are important benchmarks, to be sure; but, the ability to distinguish a lighter than air, comparatively slow moving soft target, from a missile warhead traveling at supersonic speeds does not provide any sort of real world confirmation of an anti missile system.

I don't see any reason to believe that the FTG-05 result provides any reason for greater confidence, based on what has so far been published.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link. I wish I could compel everyone to read that Jack Hitt article.