...that a key element of U.S. missile defense program successfully completed a key flight test over the weekend?
You wouldn't, unless you read The Drudge Report, The Australian newspaper, or its affiliated websites. Drudge has a link to the Australian account, which was published this morning. The story details Saturday's test flight by the U.S. Air Force's Airborne Laser (ABL), which is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles during their boost phase.
During the weekend test, the modified Boeing 747 "demonstrated most of the steps needed to engage a threat missile and deliver precise and lethal effects against it," said a company spokesman.
To simulate an intercept, the prototype Airborne Laser actively tracked an airborne target, compensated for atmospheric turbulence and fired a "surrogate" for a missile-zapping high-energy laser, according to the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, which is funding the project. The successful test clears the way for the next phase of ABL development, installing a high-energy oxygen-iodine laser, and eventually, firing the weapon against a simulated missile target. That test is now scheduled for August 2009.
The ABL program manager, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel John Daniels, said the successful test marked an historic day for directed energy weapons. "This will fundamentally change the way we engage and destroy fleeting targets," he said. The commander of the Air Force's Air Combat Command (which will eventually operate the ABL) has described the weapon as "one of only two truly revolutionary weapons" in the entire Pentagon budget.
So, why is this news in Australia, but not the United States? Did the Aussies score a journalistic coup? Or perhaps The Australian had some sort of head start over its American counterparts, you know, that whole "rotation of the earth" thing. Or maybe it's because The Australian is owned by News Corporation, supposedly the media arm of the vast, right-wing conspiracy.
We don't know if Mr. Murdoch told his editors down under to "hype" the ABL, but the answer to the question about journalistic coups is a resounding "no." Boeing's press release on the ABL test was posted on the company website yesterday, and The Australian report was prepared by its Washington bureau, which (presumably) maintains a schedule similar to MSM outlets in the United States. So much for the Aussies getting a jump on the Yanks, just because their morning editions appear hours ahead of the Washington Post, or The New York Times.
Which brings us back to our first question, about why the successful ABL test was deemed newsworthy by Australian editors, but not their U.S. counterparts.
Unfortunately, the lack of American media interest in the ABL test is merely a reflection of partisan politics and media agendas. Both the Times and the Post have consistently lobbied against missile defense, both in their editorials and opinion columns. In fact, the closest the Times has come to supporting missile defense was in a recent op-ed by MIT Professor Theodore Postol, who encouraged the Bush Administration to accept a Russian proposal to utilize their Azerbaijan-based radar as part of a defensive shield. We thoroughly debunked Moscow's offer after it was unveiled at the G-8 Summit in early June; it is unworthy of consideration, for a variety of military and political reasons.
The Post has also expressed serious misgivings about missile defense, a position that dovetails nicely with that of Congressional Democrats. With their party now in control of the House and Senate, they've launched a major campaign to gut missile defense, with ABL as one of their primary targets. ABL stands to lose $400 million in next year's budget, based on recent mark-ups of the 2008 Defense Authorization Act. At this point, the airborne laser program doesn't appear to be in danger of imminent cancellation, but its long-term survival is very much in doubt.
So, there's little reason for Congressional leaders to tout a program they want to kill, and the MSM won't waste column inches, web space or airtime on an effort they also oppose. That's why the successful ABL test is apparently news in Australia, but a non-event here at home.