Friday, December 05, 2008

Big Day for Missile Defense

You could almost hear the champagne corks popping, from Vandenburg AFB to Washington.

Barely two hours ago--around 3:30 p.m., eastern time--an interceptor missile from the California base slammed into a target missile over the eastern Pacific Ocean. The test simulated the intercept of a long-range ballistic missile, like those being developed by North Korea and Iran.

Politically, today's test came at a particularly critical moment for the missile defense program. President-elect Barack Obama has voiced opposition to "unproven" missile defense systems, suggesting he may terminate them. The successful intercept provided a major boost for one of the key components of the missile defense shield, demonstrating the ability of ground-based interceptors to engage long-range ballistic threats.

The threat-representative missile was launched at 3:04 p.m. from Kodiak, Alaska, followed 19 minutes later by the interceptor missile. Over the next six minutes, the defensive missile maneuvered into the target's predicted orbit and delivered its kill vehicle, which destroyed the target missile.

Today's test featured several new operational wrinkles, as described by the Missile Defense Agency:

This was the first time an operational crew located at the alternate fire control center at Ft. Greely, Alaska remotely launched the interceptor from Vandenberg AFB. In previous interceptor launches from Vandenberg, military crews at the fire control center at Schriever AFB, Colo. remotely launched the interceptor.

The target was successfully tracked by a transportable AN/TPY-2 radar located in Juneau, Alaska, a U.S. Navy Aegis BMD ship with SPY-1 radar, the Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and the Sea-Based X-band radar. Each sensor sent information to the fire control system, which integrated the data together to provide the most accurate target trajectory for the interceptor.

The interceptor’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle is the component that collides directly with a target warhead in space to perform a "hit to kill" intercept using only the force of the collision to totally destroy the target warhead.

Initial indications are that all components performed as designed. Program officials will evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

According to MDA, today's test was the 37th successful hit-to-kill intercept (in 47 attempts) since 2001. But even that number is a bit misleading; most of the unsuccessful tests occurred in the early years of that period. As missile defense technology evolved, so has its accuracy and reliability.

Given his campaign rhetoric, most analysts still think that Mr. Obama may cut some missile defense programs. But the string of recent successes--including a successful firing of the Airborne Laser last month and February's dramatic intercept of a failing U.S. spy satellite by naval based-missile defense systems--will make that effort more difficult.

It's worth noting that the interceptor missile used in today's test was launched from the Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Site at Vandenburg. The Gipper's Dream, once derided as little more than science fiction, is steadily advancing toward reality.


Snake Oil Baron said...

While I was against missile defense at first due to the weak track record and the arrogant attitude of certain American politicians toward Canada's legitimate concerns, I have now decided that the time has come for Canada to offer both territorial and financial support to the project in order to keep North America secure and to further develop the technology. The technology has been proven plausible and world trends and events have proven it of potential benefit. We (Canadians) should noe be supporting it.

Snake Oil Baron said...

"We (Canadians) should noe (SB "now") be supporting it."

More blogs should have an "edit" function for comments.

Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group said...

Today a rocket launched from Kodiak was intercepted by a rocket launched from Vandenburg AFB in California. As the champagne celebratory haze clears, keep a few things in mind:

1. It wasn't a resounding "success": According to Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, "...the target did not release planned countermeasures designed to try to confuse the interceptor missile. O'Reilly did not say what those countermeasures were, but they often include decoys or chaff to throw off shoot-down attempts." Apparently the technology to shoot down a real enemy missile which would have countermeasures is not yet working.

2.It wasn't a truly realistic test: The "test" was very tightly controlled - everybody knew when the interceptor would be launched and its probable path (they've launched targets from KLC before). One wonders what would happen if they actually had to scramble an interceptor with no prior warning. Now that would be a true test.

3.Neither North Korea or Iran has ever successfully fired a missile that had any chance of landing anywhere near the U.S. Right now, if North Korea got really lucky, they might be able to hit the tip of the Aleutians. We are sure the folks out there appreciate the expenditure of ten billion dollars a year to help them sleep more soundly.

4. It's ALL about the money: Roughly $10 billion is spent per year on the program, which is run by defense contractor Boeing Co. but includes work by most of the nation's largest weapons makers. It is spread across three branches of the military and is composed of missiles, radar and satellites designed to intercept missiles during different stages of flight.

5. Fortunately, President-elect Barack Obama expressed skepticism about the capabilities of the system during his campaign, leading to speculation he may reduce the program's scope. Russia has strongly objected to plans to install missile interceptors in Eastern Europe.

6. At least the true character of the KLC has finally been admitted. According to the AP: "WASHINGTON - The Defense Department said today it shot down a missile launched from a military base in Alaska..."

7. Finally, Kodiak desperately needs a new high school and a new police station and jail. Our roads are a mess and infrastructure in Kodiak, Alaska and all across the United States is crumbling. Take a drive down Mission Road past the Salvation Army and ask yourself: Is Missile Defense worth it? Friday's test cost between $120 million to $150 million.

Carioca Canuck said...

The Gipper's vision will become reality soon enough.........

We must keep working on, and supporting, missile defense and other advanced space based war fighting technology at all times, regardless of the economics involved.....

The cost of not doing so is too high for your nation to pay.

I am a Canadian too.

The Yellow Porcupine said...

Or we could spend the money on defense that would actually protect our country from its real enemies.

Brian said...

Aside from the bit about the planned countermeasure failing to work, the other huge difference is the velocity. A ballistic missile fired at the US from Iran or North Korea is going to have a much higher velocity - about 40% higher than the target in this scenario.

So I'm not quite sure how this "proves" the ability to intercept a missile from either of those two States when it's moving at a much lower speed and with no countermeasures, two things we know they are going to have.

Carioca Canuck said...

"Or we could spend the money on defense that would actually protect our country from its real enemies."


Yes, but shooting all of the school teachers, university professors, member of the main stream media, as well as democratic party would be too time consuming and troublsome.

lgude said...

During the Reagan years I wondered if missile defense was really feasible, but was pretty sure it would be one day if we persisted with it. It looks like that day is a lot nearer now and that credible threats are developing in tandem with this incredibly difficult and expensive defensive technology. What gives me pause is that for the foreseeable future the US will remain the world's no 1 target for both state and non state actors who are, for idealogical reasons, much less deterable than our adversaries in the cold war. I think it is self evident that bin Laden would have been happy to nuke NY and Washington if had the capability on 9/11. Being able to neutralize a first strike in this environment is quite quite different from what it was in Regan's time. Such a capability may give us time to solve the challenges of nuclear weapons coming into less and less responsible hands over the next decades.

Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group said...

What are the odds that Al Quaeda or any other terrorist group is going to launch ICBMs at the US?
For 9/11 all they had to do was hijack a couple of planes - we doubt that any terrorist group is going to spend years and billions on developing ICBMs to attack the US. Terrorist attacks will come in other forms.

The Yellow Porcupine said...

Food for thought on the post that advocated shooting teachers, etc.

First: the United States educational system spawned the folks who conceived, designed, and constructed the Missile Defense system. It would be rather counterproductive to shoot them all.

Second: Consider this thought bout the reasons for, and results of, killing the academic commuity clipped from:

Iraqi Academics Assassinated During the US-Led Occupation

Pakistan Daily has published the list of Iraqi academics assassinated by US and allied occupation forces. The objective of these targeted assassinations is to "kill a nation", the destroy Iraq's ability to educate its people, to undermine its research and scientific capabilities in literally all fields of endeavor, to transform a nation into a territory, and ultmately to destroy civilization.
Of particular significance is the assassination of prominent scientists and physicians, professors of medicine in the country's leading academic institutions, its social scientists and historians, its physical scientists, its biologists, its engineers.

Jason Wolfe said...

What does this do to the global deterrence environment? How does this affect our relationship with Russia? Keep in mind that this was launched from Alaska, which can see Russia from its windows. Even if this missile defense shield is propoganda and would never work in against a real missile, it will still have the effect of driving up deterrence tensions. Russia will now have to move ever closer to launch on warning readiness. Remember "Able Archer" from 1983? Remember how close the world came to ending from false alarms? These missile defense systems would never stop a real nuclear assault, simply because the number of interceptors is less than the number of nuclear missiles. But these missile defense systems dramatically increase nuclear tensions by forcing the weaker nations to adopt launch on warning posture.

Pretend we successfully get this missile defense shield online. The era of deterrence will be over, and America will now have the power of "compellence". America will be able to compel all other Nuclear powers to obey us, because we can win in a Nuclear war. Does anyone else see how dangerous that world would be? Any nuclear war, even small ones, will end our civilization. Eroding deterrence, and entering compellence puts the world at risk. These missile defense shields are needlessly jeopardizing the future of the species.