Troubling Questions About Missile Defense

Troubling Questions About Missile Defense
April 15th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Troubling Questions About Missile Defense

Troubling Questions About Missile Defense
Boston Globe
April 15, 2008 By Theodore A. Postol
THE HOUSE Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs will hold a long-overdue oversight hearing tomorrow on the prospects for national missile defense. The most basic question that needs to be addressed is the inability of the national missile defense to tell the difference between simple warheads and decoys. A second issue that should be explored is whether intelligence and scientific findings about flaws in the national missile defense have been concealed from Congress and from the public.
The issue of the effectiveness of decoys against the missile defense is easy to understand. The national missile defense is designed to destroy warheads by hitting them with infrared homing Kill Vehicles while the warheads are in the near vacuum of space. Since there is no air-drag in space, a warhead weighing thousands of pounds and a balloon weighing almost nothing will travel together. Warheads could be placed inside balloons, and many balloons could be deployed along with the warheads. Adversaries could also make balloons of different sizes and with different surface coatings. The surface coatings would change the temperature of each balloon by changing the amount of sunlight that is absorbed, reflected and radiated, modifying the appearance of each balloon to the Kill Vehicle. Since there would be no way for the Kill Vehicle to know which balloons contain warheads, the chances of actually hitting a warhead would be minuscule.
In 1999, the US intelligence community predicted that this countermeasure, and others that would defeat both the current and upgraded national missile defense system, would be available to any state that has the technology to build ICBMs. But the finding disappeared from all subsequent intelligence estimates after the Bush administration took office. Its disappearance should be the focus of further congressional investigations.
Another issue that should be investigated by Congress is allegations of tampering with scientific findings by the Missile Defense Agency, and by organizations like MIT Lincoln Laboratory that were created by Congress to provide the nation with accurate technical information on these matters.
In June 1997 and January 1998, the Missile Defense Agency conducted two proof-of-concept missile defense tests aimed at demonstrating that missile defense Kill Vehicles could tell the difference between warheads and decoys. The test was simply aimed at determining if the objects could be observed with enough precision to match what was expected to what was observed. One of the flight tests took no usable data, and the other could not have succeeded because certain decoys accurately mimicked the appearance of the warhead.
I believe the Missile Defense Agency made false statements to Congress that the tests were a success, and it modified all its follow-up flight tests so they would never encounter the simple and effective decoys used in the earlier proof-of-concept tests. All the flight tests to date have become increasingly simplified to avoid dealing with the fundamental unsolvable problem of telling decoys from warheads. The last two flight tests, hailed as successes by the Missile Defense Agency, were the simplest of all, not even having objects that should have been clearly distinguishable from the warhead.
Making matters worse, I also think the MIT Corporation was involved in concealing evidence of scientific fraud from Congress that would have revealed that the Missile Defense Agency had lied about the success of the first two missile defense tests. In concealing this information, MIT may have impeded a federally mandated investigation by claiming that information was classified when it was not.
Also, I believe MIT researchers from Lincoln Laboratory misled the Senate Armed Services Committee when it said a proof-of-concept missile defense experiment was a success when the experiment had in fact failed.
If Congress vigorously pursues these matters of alleged scientific fraud in the missile defense program, it may not only find that the promise of missile defense is a pipe dream, but that major institutions charged with protecting US security have failed in their duties.
Theodore A. Postol is professor of science, technology, and national security policy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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