Later On

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US Missile Defense System: costly but worthless

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A very good review of the prospects of success—and the prospects of utility—of the enormously expensive missile defense system. Bottom line: it’s worthless. The story begins:

In the House Rayburn Building Wednesday afternoon, three physicists were patiently explaining to members of Congress that the U.S. missile defense system has little practical worth.

“If Iran were reckless enough to attack Europe or the United States,” said Phillip E. Coyle, senior adviser at the World Security Institute, a national-security study center, “current U.S. missile defense would not be effective.”

The hearing, held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, came a month after national security experts told the panel that missile defense draws resources away from the more pressing threat posed by Al Qaeda. The subcommittee chairman, John Tierney (D-Mass.), now plans a third hearing, on a date to be announced, where Pentagon officials will have the opportunity to defend the anti-ballistic missile program.

Congress’s oversight is perhaps the first serious challenge to a remarkably enduring defense program. As much as $150 billion has been spent since President Ronald Reagan first launched the strategic defense initiative, or “Star Wars,” in 1983. Since then, the quest to develop radar so sophisticated that it could detect and shoot down a nuclear warhead in outer space has taken on a life of its own. But the scrutiny indicates that Congress may break an old habit and finally stop funding the nation’s pursuit of missile defense. That could mean challenging the Bush administration’s latest plan to expand the program, which includes the president’s seemingly relentless push for an anti-missile shield just outside the Russian border.

“We are not on the same page with this administration,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), co-chair of the Task Force on Terrorism and Proliferation Financing, which is seeking to re-direct Pentagon money to counterterrorism programs. “It’s alarming they want to go full speed ahead with another program.”

Since the dawn of the arms race with the Soviet Union, the Pentagon has attempted to create a program to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles. These rocket missiles can be launched into outer space and travel more than 3,500 miles to deliver a warhead to a specific target.

Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Global Security Program, testified before the subcommittee on Wednesday that missile defense relies on hitting the warheads once they are in space. But since a warhead travels at the same speed in space as a balloon, a country would likely decide to enclose the warhead in a balloon. They would then launch thousands of decoy balloons containing trajectory engines that allows the decoys to enter the atmosphere at the same time as the warhead. Gronlund said that anti-missile technology hasn’t been developed to distinguish which balloon would be the one to contain the warhead.

Gronlund told The Washington Independent prior to the hearing that developing such technology was beyond the skills of scientists today. “It’s a fruitless effort,” she said. “Reagan’s vision of a ‘shield that could protect us from nuclear missiles just as a roof protects a family from the rain’ was appealing to many people. But missile defense simply doesn’t work.”

And, later in the article:

Stephen E. Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, said that missile defense should be compared not with other Pentagon spending but the Department of Homeland Security’s budget. At the first missile defense hearing, Flynn testified that $12 billion is more than 10 times what the president’s homeland security budget gives to protect mass transit, ports and national monuments.

Flynn argued that such a disparity was alarming, because threats like Al Qaeda have no incentive to develop costly missile technology. Far more likely is smuggling a missile across the border, which is both cheaper and not instantly traceable. “Smuggling a nuclear weapon into the United States,” Flynn told the committee, “provides an advantage that a ballistic missile does not: the potential for anonymity.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 11:50 am

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