Star Wars: The Phantom Missile

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The first test in two years of the U.S.'s very expensive and still non-existent missile defense system fizzled, with the interceptor missile failing to even launch, and the target missile landing in the ocean. This particular test cost $85 million, and the U.S. has spent at least $130 billion on developing a missile defense system so far, with $50 billion more planned over the next five years.

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  1. On an earlier thread I posted the following:

    <sarcasm>
    If we want to build a missile defense shield, how about something like an X-Prize? The test could be something like, “when you say you’re ready to try for the prize, the military will launch two missiles from some random spot in the eastern Pacific at some random time in the following week, directly at your CEO’s and CFO’s houses. Stop the missiles from destroying both houses, and you get the money. Otherwise, SORRY.” I would contribute to a fund like that.
    </sarcasm>

  2. I forgot who stated it in the original secret spy satelite, but since when is deploying an unverified, unsuccessful and expensive government program on faith alone a conservative position?

  3. Oh I almost forgot. [Insert faith based initiatives joke here]

  4. And just who would is it that is going to be shooting missiles at us now? With government, even making a case for actual need is not a requirement for spending other folks’ money.

  5. Make that: “And just who is it…”

    I’m going to have a New Years resolution, and it’s going to start with the word “preview” and end with the word “button”.

  6. hey Shawn
    Call it sarcasm if you wish but, for a government spending plan, that’s not a bad incentive for performance. I still like the way China made sure they were Y2K ready: require the officers of every airline to take a flight on Jan 1st.

  7. I could have made them a cardboard rocket that doesn’t launch for roughly 0.0000001% of the cost.

    Same results but the savings go directly to you, Joe Taxpayer.

  8. A while back I composed a little piece on missile defense, applying a statistical and cost/benefit analysis to the problem. I meant to send it to the local paper as an op-ed, but I want to polish it. I invite your comments:

    Iraq and terrorism have overshadowed another national security matter. The Bush administration wants to deploy a missile defense system within the next few years. Pundits and politicians seem to mostly evaluate the system?s technical feasibility according to their partisan affiliations. However, the basic technical issues have nothing to do with ideology, and you don?t need to be a ?rocket scientist? to understand them. Common sense will suffice.

    (Note: Although I am pursuing a doctoral degree in physics, my work has no relation to missile defense. My arguments are based entirely on logic and the perspective of an informed citizen.)

    First, do we need a missile defense system? In the short term, our main concerns are terrorists with anthrax and box cutters. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) are not in Al Qaida’s arsenal. Delivering a nuclear device with a truck, boat, or small airplane will likely be much easier for terrorists than missile delivery. Also, despite North Korea’s recent posturing, for nearly 60 years a strategy of deterrence has dissuaded communist dictators from attacking the United States. Unlike religiously motivated suicide bombers, communist dictators have a keen desire to remain alive and in power.

    Of course, some day deterrence might fail and America could then face credible threats of attack by nuclear-tipped ICBMs. Forward-thinking leaders must prepare for this possibility. It is reasonable to devote some of our defense resources to preparing a missile defense, even while we direct more defense resources to combating more immediate terrorist threats.

    Can we build a system that will consistently knock incoming missiles out of the sky? Yes, surprisingly, even if the technology has a high failure rate. Suppose that we build a missile defense system (e.g. lasers or interceptor missiles), and only 5% of the shots fired reach their targets. If we fire 20 shots at one target we have a 65% chance of hitting it. Increase the number of shots to 60 and we have a 95% chance of hitting the target. Or, if we improve our accuracy, so that 10% of shots fired hit their targets, we could achieve a 95% success rate with 30 shots. So, even a system with only modest efficacy can scale up to achieve a high degree of accuracy.

    Of course, just as we can scale up our defense, our enemies can scale up their offense. If, hypothetically, we could stop 100 incoming ICBMs with 95% accuracy, our enemies could hurt us by sending 500 ICBMs. The result would be an arms race, where our enemies try to overwhelm our defenses by sheer numbers and we try to keep up with their growing arsenals.

    The costs of an arms race might favor our enemies initially. Nuclear-tipped ICBMs are a more mature technology, while missile defense is more cutting-edge. Still, as the world?s wealthiest nation we could certainly win such an arms race against any small, rogue nation whose leader becomes suicidal.

    Our prospects in an arms race against larger nations, especially in the future, are less certain. Technological progress may make missile defense less expensive in the future. Technological progress may also make nuclear-tipped ICBMs more affordable for our enemies. And economic growth may enable currently second-tier militaries to upgrade. It is not clear that we will be able to afford a future arms race involving missile defense.

    Until we can be confident of winning an arms race, or at least until we face a threat that cannot be deterred by a strong offense, Congress should delay a full-scale deployment of missile defense. Instead, Congress should set goals for generations of successively better (and cheaper) prototypes, and offer award money to companies that demonstrates such prototypes. When deployment becomes necessary we will then have a cost-effective solution available for mass production. At the same time, we should not undervalue our strong offensive capabilities, which have deterred nuclear-armed dictators for fifty years. Obviously it is best to combine a strong offense with a strong defense, but a strong offense must take priority if it delivers more bang for the buck.

    Finally, remember that this analysis relies almost entirely on common sense. Obviously the experts have valuable insights, but informed citizens must ask questions and analyze expert assessments. This is a weighty matter of national security, technology, and budgets, not the partisan issue that too many pundits portray it as. We the People have a duty to study these issues and instruct our elected representatives.

  9. Who might shoot missiles at us? Oh, maybe N. Korea. Or maybe Iran, in the not so distant future. Or whoever they, or the Chinese or Russians, decide to sell their missiles to.

    High tech defense projects are about as emotionally charged as environmental issues. There are some hard truths to be faced. Every weapon now in our arsenal was once developmental, and they all looked risky to begin with. Plus, you never 100% know what’s going to work exactly and what isn’t, until there’s a bang-bang shoot-em up war. For every measure somebody tries to build a counter measure.

    Hard questions:

    1) do we need the capability (I’d argue yes)
    2) how much are we willing to pay for it
    3) at what stage of development do we deploy it

    The last question is not so easily answered. Without a field test in a real war, how do you know when a technology is “proven”?

    Nonetheless, I wouldn’t argue with those who say this one’s been rushed into the field. But if it was rushed, it’s also not the first weapon system that got rushed.

  10. The Maginot Line worked perfectly. They went around it. This Maginot Line doesn’t even work.

    I always thought the best sort of strategic defense program would be to tell Russia and China and Iran and N Korea and anyone that we would buy every nuke and every missle they could produce, no questions asked. Sure they wouldn’t hand all of them over but maybe it would eat up 90% of the global production capacity. Probably wouldn’t be more expensive than SDI.

  11. credit Powerline:

    The Reuters report by Jim Wolf of a failed missile defense test last night is flawed by either intent or ignorance.

    The first test in nearly two years of a multibillion-dollar U.S. anti-missile shield failed on Wednesday when the interceptor missile shut down as it prepared to launch in the central Pacific, the Pentagon said.

    The interceptor missile did not shut down because of some malfunction, it was shut down intentionally because of inability to monitor performance of a boost stage rocket detected during pre-launch system checks. The boost stage might have been set to work properly or it might not have, but a test of this magnitude and expense demands ability to monitor all mission critical systems so that all necessary data is available for post-mission review. When it became clear that this would not be the case, the mission was scrubbed, not failed.

    About 16 minutes earlier, a target missile carrying a mock warhead had been successfully fired from Kodiak Island, Alaska, according to a statement from the Missile Defense Agency.

    The aborted $85 million test appeared likely to set back plans for activation of a rudimentary bulwark against long-range ballistic missiles that could be fired by countries like North Korea.

    Unfortunately, a very expensive target drone was lost, and somebody is presently being chewed out because of that. But the kill vehicle and its delivery system remain intact for future use, and by far most of the test hardware funds were expended there. As for schedule delay, expect this test to be rescheduled as soon as a replacement target is ready.

    Media coverage of scientific and technical issues is driven largely by ideology, not science. Thus, the MSM blindly adhere to global warming theories without asking basic questions like: if the computer program that predicts warming based on CO2 content in the atmosphere is reliable, why are its projections contradicted by the actual experience of temperatures on Earth over the past 2,000 years? Another example is embryonic stem cell research; it is an article of faith in the MSM that such research is a uniquely promising medical breakthrough, but it is nearly impossible to find a rational discussion of why embryonic stem cells should be superior to any other stem cells.

    The MSM will continue to denounce missile defense as impossible–I think they’ve given up on the argument that it would be “destabilizing”–right up to the moment when it is successfully deployed.

  12. I largely agree with Thoreau, but I think missile defense deserves a large share of the military budget, as soon as possible.

    The threat of nuclear war with Russia is more potent now than it was during the ’50s. Russia’s military is a mess. Their missile detection and launch systems are going to hell in a handbasket and a technical failure could start a war yet.

    And it’s not just Russia. Nuclear nonproliferation is simply not a workable policy. Right now all we have to worry about is leaky borders. There will come a time, however, when ABM systems will be a critical aspect of our national defense.

    We can’t waste any time. When a rival nuclear power emerges (or re-emerges), we need to be light-years ahead of them. A stitch in time…

  13. Many years ago an excellent friend of mine and I were shooting suction-cup-tipped-plastic darts at each other from spring-loaded pistols.
    Once, our darts hit head-on and fell to the ground between us.
    I haven’t checked with my friend, but I’ll bet this incident stuck in his mind as it did in mine.
    Needless to say, this incident did not inspire a Star Wars defense system in either of us.

    Today, would we call this coincidence the reciprocal of Chaos Theory?

  14. w,

    Oh, so it wasn’t a malfunction of the missile, it was a malfunction of the monitoring system. πŸ™‚ How inspiring.

    Media coverage of scientific and technical issues is driven largely by ideology, not science.

    And your analysis isn’t?

    ___________________________

    The extremely poor performance of the Patriot I and II systems should give you an idea of how good we are shooting down even very primitive missiles in mid-flight, much less anything with counter-measures, etc.

  15. Rick Barton wrote:
    “And just who would is it that is going to be shooting missiles at us now?”

    Mr. Barton, do you believe that there is no reason to fear intercontinental missiles? Do you believe that that chapter of human history is forever closed, pushed aside by the threats of international , Islamo-fascist terrorism?

    Such a position is dangerous and should not be accepted. Terrorism is not the new way that conflict will be conducted. We must continue to pursue missile defense systems, especially given the possibility of terrorist seizure of former-Soviet missile silo’s (not unlikely) as well as further developments by North Korea and China.

    Besides, Mr. Putin seems interested in crowning himself Czar of the reformed Soviet Empire. Star Wars may be a flop, but it proved quite the powerful bluff against the Soviets decades ago and there’s no reason to fold just yet.

  16. Speaking as an engineer, I can say with 99.98% confidence, that an effective missile defense system is not possible. It is a stupid proposal from the git-go, the more you look at it the stupider it gets. Absolutely no one who has passed Physics I, and has more integrity than a used car salesman would suggest that it could EVER be made to work. For one simple reason; No matter how good you make it, I can defeat it for 1/10000 what it cost you.

  17. Warren – unless an inbound missile dances on the way to its target, why should it be very difficult to intercept it?

  18. pragmatist and Edward P Beaulac,

    The idea of missile defense systems was to get us out of a MAD scenario, not to shoot down a handful, let alone one missile. Guaranteed obliteration should deter any potential conventional adversaries now. Surveillance allows us to take out any REAL imminent threat from independent sources regardless of which silo’s they might use. And, I mean real threat, as opposed to the non-threat from Iraq. A missile defense system might actually make us less safe because it would motivate any entity that was really intent on hitting us to bring the weapon to our soil in a more stealthy fashion.

    To foster our safety, instead of another government boondoggle, we should work to promote worldwide capitalism. (Trade neutered the threat from China far more effectively than any missile defense system could have) Also, we should stop our government from endangering us and needlessly making enemies with its hyper-interventionist meddling in the affairs of other nations.

  19. Rick Barton,

    Please get yourself a thesaurus.

  20. phil,

    If you mean “hyper-interventionist”, nothing communicates the truth better than that.

  21. Warren,
    I’m also an engineer and I think you may not appreciate the fact that *effective* counter measures are at least as difficult to implement as the kinetic weapons we’re developing. I disagree with your conclusion (along with the Union of Concerned Scientists) that it can’t work.

    Rick Barton,
    I wish I could believe that working for world wide capitalism was going to solve our problems. Have you ever read anything about the life of Chairman Mao? That boy wasn’t going to yield no way no how, short of brute force. But I do agree that we should keep our noses out where they don’t belong.

    In spite of Patriot, I’m not convinced a missile defense system would make us less safe, if the reason is stealth. It’s one thing to be able to hit an incoming ICBM, but another matter entirely to make an ICBM actually invisible. Making an ICBM invisible is a much greater technological stretch than hitting it in mid-flight.

    thoreau,
    I largely agree with you, though I think maybe the priority should be a little higher than you do. But I also concede that’s a debatable point.

    You know what the biggest paradox is that I see with missile defense? Suppose somebody shoots a nuke at us and we take it out. Then what do we do? Invade? Shoot one or five or six back? Punt and do nothing?

  22. No matter how good you make it, I can defeat it for 1/10000 what it cost you

    Unless your countermeasures are 100% effective, which they cannot and will not be, the contest will still come down to a battle of the budgets. And the significant figure involved isn’t the “1/10000” cost of countermeasures, but the cost of the ICBM they’re on. ICBMs start at around $40 million and go up from there. ABMs appear to cost around the same (given the $85 million cited cost of the ABM prototype test above). We have almost 400 times North Korea’s GDP. For every ICBM it fields, we can field 400 ABMs. If the ICBM’s countermeasures are 99.8% effective, a swarm of 400 ABMs will still have a 50% chance of taking it down (probably much higher, actually, since most effective countermeasures rely on decoys, which perform poorly against intelligent massed attacks). If the countermeasures are only 99% effective, the chances of a shoot-down increase to 98%. Beyond that they’re effectively guaranteed.

    You’re also missing the game-theory angles here, perhaps because you’re assuming that all world leaders have a “know-it-all engineer” mindset and that everyone in the world BUT Americans sneer at the idea of missile defense as an impossible dream. We know for a fact that that isn’t the case. For example, many Soviet leaders honestly believed Reagan’s proposed ABM system would work.

    People building countermeasures to our system have no effective way of testing them. They’ll have no way of knowing for sure how effective our ABMs are. This means that they’ll never have a good idea what their chances are of *successfully* launching an attack on us. That very uncertainty makes them less likely to launch nukes at us. Simply put, ABMs will always have non-zero effectiveness because the very existance of ABMs, however dubious their effectiveness, make enemies less likely to attack us — and a nuke that is never launched because of ABMs is the same as a nuke actually shot down by ABMs.

    Then there’s the blackmail angle. The real threat of nukes isn’t that some loon will suddenly launch a missile at us — its that someone will get nuclear missles and use them to threaten us into doing what he wants.

    But it is a well-known fact that you can’t blackmail somebody who doesn’t believe you’re capable of carrying out your threat. So even if a missile defense system doesn’t work, it still renders us immune to nuclear blackmail if the President believes it will work and other countries know he believes it. For example, if Bush thinks missile defense is effective, and the North Korean leadership knows he thinks that, and the North Korean leadership itself isn’t completely sure whether our missile defense system will work or not, then North Korea will not ever attempt to blackmail us with nukes — because they’ll know that we’ll just shrug off the threat and nuke THEM (something we wouldn’t be willing to do if we thought we had no way of stopping an NK nuclear missile). Basically, a nuclear missile system that the President believes is effective calls the bluff of all would-be nuclear blackmailers around the world, eliminating the threat posed by ambitious but non-suicidal dictators.

  23. Whatever the merits of a missile defense system, these have to be weighed against the benefits of using that money to address some other more pressing vulnerabilities.

    It’s clearly a case of opportunity cost. And though it’s easy to forget it when you’re dealing with endless strings of zeros, every dollar spent on missile defense is one less dollar spent on some other security issue.

    And there are many many more pressing security issues. As thoreau hinted at, why would any–even “rogue”– state leader commit an act of suicide by launching an easily tracable missile against the US?

    Indeed why, when any one of tens of thousands of ships that enter major US ports each year can easily be made to set off a nuclear device, at less cost than an ICBM, and without leaving a clear target for retaliation.

    You don’t need to be a rocket surgeon to think of a hundred better ways to spend our money right now in the interests of national security.

    Should we be putting a dime in the piggybank every day towards the eventually construction of such a system? Sure. And it should have roughly the same priority as an asteroid collision prevention initiative.

  24. Pavel,

    A missile attack is way more likely than an asteriod strike. It’s far more probable that a N. Korea or a China is going to want to hit us, than an asteroid (unless you’ve got a lot more faith in the rationality of those people than I do). Do you know that the USSR always had plans for war, and that in every scenerio they looked at, *they* were the aggressor? The only thing that deterred them were our weapons. The minute they think they can get around our defenses, we’re toast. That puts ABM’s high on my list of priorities. I think Dan is right.

    And the “other” security issues you bring up, while valid, are even tougher technology problems than ABM’s pose. That makes the money even less wisely spent.

  25. Brian,

    Two things; I think that the Germans did indeed bust through the Maginot line at one point, and they did it quite easily.

    And buying nuclear weapons from dictatorships would have the same effect as giving a bum 100 bucks. You just would end up with a lot more of them.

  26. Missile defense is a bit like the “climate change” debate; the unknowns are so large that any asshole can have a plausible opinion on the subject.

    pragmatist, Dan, etc.,

    We still have the same missile defense in place today that we had when the USSR existed, I don’t understand why we are now so much more vulnerable to North Korea or China (either to “blackmail” or whatever) than we were then.

    The minute they think they can get around our defenses, we’re toast.

    Yeah, and China is just itching to nuke the U.S. πŸ™‚

  27. kwais,

    I know you hate France, but there is no need to engage in historical myth-making (talk about letting prejudices get in front of sound thinking); taking La Ferte was a herculean task (it required ~260 artillery pieces) and was not repeated again because the Germans simply could not concentrate the necessary artillery or manpower to take the maginot forts (nor count on the luck of one of the forts electric generators creating fumes and thus asphyxiating the defenders); accordingly they concentrated their forces along the Weygand line and did not come near it again until after the Armistace.

    See Bruce I. Gudmundsson, “After Dunkirk,” in No End Save Victory, ed. Robert Crowley, pg. 50-63

  28. I agree with Pavel on opportunity costs. I think it would be foolish to discount the future prospects of this technology, and the uncertain future challenges that we may face. I firmly believe that development should continue. But there’s a big difference between development and deployment. Deployment costs must be weighed against the cost of other defensive and offensive measures.

    It’s tempting to say that when we’re facing something as dire as nuclear attack we should spare no cost. That way lies horrible decision-making. The deadlier the danger, the more important it is to carefully weigh the likely benefits of each counter-measure.

    The nuclear threat that we face right now is from terrorists delivering a nuke by boat, car, or small airplane. Spending decisions will have to be skewed toward non-proliferation and counter-terrorism. (We can debate the best way to advance those priorities, but those are indeed the priorities.) The nuclear threat of the future, however, is less certain, and may very well be from nation-states with ICBMs. If a threat akin to that of the cold war does indeed re-emerge, it will be too late to start developing ABM technology. The technical hurdles are too high to be cleared overnight. So we need to at least make sure that somebody is working on this now to prepare for the future, even if other areas remain higher priorities for the present.

    I would identify the greatest technical challenges facing ABM technologies (including the easiest counter-measures) and set concrete goals. I would offer financial incentives for companies that clear each hurdle, in a manner akin to the X Prize. I would avoid setting an order of which hurdle must be cleared in which order, because it’s hard to predict which solutions will emerge first. (Although some of the hurdles may be contingent on the solution to other hurdles, of course.)

    After the first generation of hurdles is cleared, a decision on deployment would have to be made. There are many reasons why it might be prudent to only develop and test a small quantity of the defensive weapons, and pour the money into developing the next generation of defensive weapons.

    Anyway, in summary, I’m going to channel Cathy Young and do a “on the one hand…on the other hand…” thing:

    On the one hand, given the grave technical challenges facing ABM defenses, and the much more urgent nuclear threats coming from non-missile delivery systems, it would be foolish to rush into any sort of deployment. On the other hand, given how much is at stake, and given how uncertain the future is, it would be foolish to abandon the concept entirely. Work must continue, but that work should be based on a realistic assessment of the technical issues.

  29. Gary has been exhibiting much stronger Francophile tendencies lately.

    Interesting.

  30. thoreau,

    Ex-historians don’t like it when the historical record is abused. πŸ™‚

    As to ABM technology, one has to ask oneself just how much money it will cost to develop this technology; at this time we don’t have any system developed (despite the fact that we’ve been funding this technology since the mid-80s) and its not clear that any deployed system would be any better than the Patriot systems, or that any system would have the “swarming” effect that Dan would like to see (the proposals I have seen call for 12 ABMs to be deployed in Alaska).

    Dan,

    People building countermeasures to our system have no effective way of testing them. They’ll have no way of knowing for sure how effective our ABMs are. This means that they’ll never have a good idea what their chances are of *successfully* launching an attack on us.

    That’s why other countries have spies. It should be readily apparent that getting access to American military technology isn’t remotely as hard to do as we would hope it is.

  31. thoreau,

    You know I read and write French too; it being the most graceful and aesthetically pleasing tongue on the planet. πŸ™‚

  32. Gary Gunnels,
    I don’t hate France. It will be salvagable when it is completley over run by Arabs as it appears is currently in the process.

    I don’t care for the language though. Unfortunately the Arabs are all learning French. I would rather them keep Arabic. That is a cool language, even though it is hard to learn.

    The statement I made was in reference to a class I had about the use of Artillery. It was back in 2000 and it was all about what geniuses the Germans were, and how they used arty to create positions of cover for the infantry. I don’t remember any mention of electric generators.

    I grant your knowlege of history is most likely better than mine. Maybe you have a theory as to why the Germans appear to easily crush the French every time? One theory I heard is that the brave gene was lost in the Napoleonic wars due to a high casualty rate of brave fighters. And the condition was exacerbated in WW 2.

  33. Kwais:

    Kaif halak?

    Kwais, al-ham’d al-allah, I trust.

    Yeah, learning Arabic is a mofo, but I’m glad there’s only one verb conjugation.

  34. 1) do we need the capability (I’d argue yes)
    2) how much are we willing to pay for it

    mr pragmatist, these two items are not separate questions, i would posit. much like buying a gallon of milk, there is an implicit tradeoff.

    the united states can continue ad infinitum without missile defense. the world will continue to turn. there is no point in getting hysterical (not that you are) about this particular scheme being some sort of utopian military messiah.

    $130bn has been spent, and we are nowhere near a servicable product with no end in sight. this has become an extraordinarily expensive gallon of milk.

    worse — it is clearly a maginot line, imagined effective by people who are still fighting the cold war. does anyone really imagine ballistic missiles have a future in a world where technology has made possible long-range cruise missiles are smaller, cheaper, more reliable, more accurate, evasive and stealthy?

  35. Then there’s the blackmail angle. The real threat of nukes isn’t that some loon will suddenly launch a missile at us — its that someone will get nuclear missles and use them to threaten us into doing what he wants.

    but — to add to my comment — i fear that the motive for sdi is nothing reasoned but rather something like mr dan articulated here.

    let’s call this what it is: naked utopianism. “if we just do this, we’ll never have to fear anyone again, we’ll never have to do as we’re told again, we’ll never have to listen to anyone again.”

    the idea that external threat will somehow go away is ridiculous, of course. but it’s extremely appealing in our age of absurd individualism supreme.

    sdi, whatever else it is, is a bit of escapist militarism conjured by people who fear threats to their total individual emancipation from any obligation fo the real world. (people who obviously populate densely the neocon crowd, among others.)

    this is clearly not a rational motivation, any more than the anabaptists were rationally motivated. it is this irrationality that makes me fearful, for irrational motivations are often the most difficult to deter.

  36. Barry P.
    Al hamdalla, wa anta?

  37. I want to compliment Pavel on coining the phrase “You don’t need to be a rocket surgeon…” Brilliant. I think we all have a duty to work that one into the lexicon.

    I think Dan’s explanation of the deterrence strategery of the program makes a lot of sense – make the development of ICBMs seem pointless to potential adversaries, and the anti-missile system has worked, even if it doesn’t work.

    But I wonder – does the Bushies’ determination to spend the money to roll the thing out even though it doesn’t yet work indicate that they are aware that it can’t ever work? If they had confidence that an effective system could someday be deployed, why would they reduce the deterrence effect in our rivals’ minds by undercutting the image of our invulnerability by making the system’s failure so public?

  38. A comment about the Patriot system:

    First, it is not true that Patriot was a failure. It succeeded in the PR war, by making Saddam think that he was wasting his time firing SCUD missiles because they were being shot down.

    Second, the Patriot was originally designed as an aircraft interceptor. It was only pushed into missile intercept duty because it was so good at the first task people realized its mission could be extended to much harder targets.

    Third, the Patriots worked as advertised. But the first-generation Patriots used in the Gulf war were not designed to hit their targets. Rather, they are ‘proximity’ weapons – they fly within range of the target and explode, sending shrapnel through it to disable it. This works great for aircraft – it’s like a big aerial shotgun, which maximizes the chance for a ‘kill’. The problem with a missile, though, is that when it is on the way down it’s essentially a big dumb rock. A proximity ‘kill’ just pushes it off course a bit. And since the SCUDS were so inaccurate in the first place, they were likely already off course, so pushing them a bit was irrelevant. But the Patriots worked well, and did exactly what they were designed to do – just against the wrong kind of target.

    Finally, the new generation Patriot IS an impact weapon designed to strike the missile and destroy it.

    So saying the Patriot showed that missile defense has been a failure is simply wrong. Israel has deployed the advanced Patriot, and has tested it thoroughly against missile targets, with very good results. Criticising the Patriot system for its failures in the Gulf war is like criticising Kevlar body armor as being a ‘failed concept’ because it worked so well that someone decided to see if it would stop a tank round and it didn’t.

    I also believe that the primary purpose of a U.S. missile defense today is to act as a credible counter to nuclear blackmail – by far the most likely nuclear scenario we face. If the thugs in North Korea and Iran know that the U.S. has exactly zero defense against a missile, then the minute they have one it may become an overt or implied threat during negotiations. The American president, whoever he is at the time, needs a credible counter to that threat. Without one, it just becomes a game of brinksmanship.

    The world is a far more dangerous place now with respect to nuclear weapons than it was during the cold war. Would another country risk a launch against the U.S.? Perhaps. If they can conjure up a way to blame it on ‘rogue’ elements, or if they feel the U.S. sentiment is such that the U.S. would never launch a retaliatory strike against civilians. Or if they thought that their other missiles would act as a deterrent to a counter-strike.

    What would the U.S. do if ten nuclear missiles were launched out of one of the ‘stans? Obliterate Russia? What if Putin says that Russia had nothing to do with it, and it was some rogue generals? Is he willing to take that risk? Not today, for sure. But what about in ten years? Russia is sliding back into authoritarianism – without the iron control over its missiles it once had. This is very dangerous. Iran and North Korea could both have missiles that can hit the U.S West Coast within five or ten years. To me, that’s the deadline for a deployed, credible missile defense. That means full steam ahead with both development and deployment so that the bugs can be worked out and the system demonstrated to the world. This is NOT the kind of program you want to put on the back-burner while you go after other priorities. It’s one of the most critical systems for our defense over the next couple of decades.

  39. What mr. gaius marius just gave us a successful test of an sdi. He scored nothing but bullseyes on all escapist militarist arguments.

    Now can we move on to solving what makes folks want to point lethal weapons at the US?

  40. gaius — yes, I think ICBM’s do have a future. You can shoulder carry a rocket today that’s got about the same punch as a tank shell, but that hasn’t obviated the role of tanks. And you’re right, the need and cost questions are closely tied together.

    The Cold War is over with the USSR. But as Dan points out, that doesn’t mean Russia is down and out. And looking at China, I think it’s foolish to believe they aren’t a serious up and coming threat, even if Russia doesn’t pull all the way back together.

    I pretty much agree with Dan. The external threats we face are real.

    Ruthless — in some instances we’ve caused our own international problems (was creating Isreal a dumb idea or what, if you want peace in the Middle East?). I agree, we should stop doing dumb stuff, and we’ve done way too much of it.

    Flip side of the coin, we can ask ourselves why the world hates us, but let’s face up — some ideaologies are simply incompatible, and we aren’t going to melt people like Chairman Mao no matter what we do (unless we just surrender now).

    There’s a good reason for implementing SDI even in embryo stage. You learn things from implementation that you aren’t going to learn from building prototypes. You want a working system in 5-10 years? Implementing now is a smart move then. Of course, if you don’t want it in the first place then there’s no point.

    I’m surprised at the number of technical people who think ABM’s can’t ever work. They can, do, will. The “failures” that have occurred in test, to date, have no been failures of the controversial part — namely, can we “see” and track the target. That part of the system has already proven itself.

  41. pragmatist-

    Of course ABM defenses can work. I pointed out in my first post that low success rates can always be compensated for with volume. Fire enough shots, and one of them will eventually hit that ICBM. Of course, our enemies can play the same game. Fire enough ICBMs, and eventually one of them will get past the defense.

    The question is which side will be favored in that game. Early generations of ABM systems will undoubtedly have low success rates and need to be deployed on a massive scale in order to work. Scaling up may initially be much easier for our enemies than for us, in which case we should avoid that game. It may sound counter-intuitive to avoid deploying a defensive measure, but if the rational response of the enemy is relatively cheap and easy, and our rational response to their rational response (keep scaling up) is prohibitive, then we could be making the situation worse. The last thing we need is for China and Russia to decide to build more nuclear weapons that we aren’t prepared to stop.

    As to prototypes vs. deployment: I agree that testing something in a lab is not the same as sending it into the field. Maybe the better question is the scale on which a system should be deployed. It’s one thing to build a small number of interceptor missiles, or lasers, or whatever the technology is, and have the military work with them to see how the technology actually performs. It’s another thing to build on a massive scale to win the numbers game. The numbers game should be avoided until it’s something that we’re prepared to win.

    And in all of these calculations there’s opportunity cost: Money spent on defensive measures is money that can’t be spent on deterrence via offense. Or counter-terrorism to prevent undeterrable enemies from going around our ABM system (smuggling the nuke into the country rather than launching it on a missile). Or even on measures like transforming regions or providing jobs for unemployed Russian nuclear physicists. (Some people might dislike one or both of those last measures. I certainly have some thoughts on the matter. The only point is that there is a plethora of trade-offs to consider.)

    In conclusion, we should avoid a large-scale deployment until we’re able to win the numbers game, or at least until we’re really desperate.

  42. kwais,

    I don’t hate France.

    Sure. πŸ™‚ I thought Christians were supposed to abstain from lying. πŸ™‚

    It will be salvagable when it is completley over run by Arabs as it appears is currently in the process.

    Yes, in 2700 when it is overrun by Arabs. *yawn* You’re going to trot out all the myths today aren’t you? The actual immigration/birth-rate of North Africans simply doesn’t allow for the scenario predicted by various Francophobes such as yourself.

    The statement I made was in reference to a class I had about the use of Artillery.

    Well, it was an erroneous statement.

    I don’t remember any mention of electric generators.

    Probably because of your instructor’s ignorance. Military instructors aren’t known for their accuracy regarding historical matters.

    Maybe you have a theory as to why the Germans appear to easily crush the French every time?

    Because they don’t. πŸ™‚ Neither the Franco-Prussian war (e.g., see seige of Paris), nor WWI (e.g., Verdun, Chemin des Dames, the first battle of the Marne, Hartmannsweilerkopf, etc.), or the French victories over “German” Prussians (e.g., Jena and Auerst?dtor) Austrians (e.g., Austerlitz) suggests that France is “easily crush[ed].” Keep it coming; I like demonstrating your historical ignorance. πŸ™‚

    DanH,

    First, it is not true that Patriot was a failure. It succeeded in the PR war, by making Saddam think that he was wasting his time firing SCUD missiles because they were being shot down.

    Didn’t Saddam’s regime continue to fire SCUDs throughout the war?

    Second, the Patriot was originally designed as an aircraft interceptor. It was only pushed into missile intercept duty because it was so good at the first task people realized its mission could be extended to much harder targets.

    Yet it failed miserably when it came to actually knocking down missiles.

    But the Patriots worked well, and did exactly what they were designed to do – just against the wrong kind of target.

    Sorry, but this spin is not really all convincing; indeed, it does damage do to your cause. They used the wrong weapon and claimed it was effective. Now that’s encouraging. πŸ™‚

    Finally, the new generation Patriot IS an impact weapon designed to strike the missile and destroy it.

    Yet Patriot II hasn’t done that; indeed, what it has done is knock down some friendly planes.

  43. Two more things:

    First, pragmatist writes:
    The “failures” that have occurred in test, to date, have no been failures of the controversial part — namely, can we “see” and track the target. That part of the system has already proven itself.

    My understanding is that tracking a missile on radar is not exactly new-fangled stuff. I thought the greatest controversies were (1) can we hit the target once we see it? and (2) can we work around decoys? Remember that decoys generally give our enemies a cost advantage in the numbers game. (Some decoys are more expensive and/or effective than others, but even an ICBM with a dummy warhead is cheaper than an ICBM with a nuclear warhead.)

    Also, it may seem convenient that the physicist calls for more R&D rather than deployment. Keep in mind that one chapter of my dissertation (which I’m writing at the moment) is on a problem that I solved for a chemical company. I didn’t provide them with the solution that they hoped for, but I did prove that the thing they were trying to do was basically impossible, and in the process I saved them some time and money. They’re flying me out to their facility next month, where I’ll give a talk on my work, and then they’ll ask for my input on their latest projects.

    So I do know how to prevent people from making costly mistakes in technical matters. Here, my goal is to talk people out of embarking on a costly and dead-end numbers game that will only make the world more dangerous (more nukes in the hands of China and Russia) without making us safer.

  44. thoreau,

    Maybe we’re on the same track, sort of at least. I’d agree that limited roll out, to see how the technology performs, is the smart way to go. But I also wouldn’t slow development very much.

    You also bring up another aspect of SDI — an incredible lot of it isn’t new fangled stuff. Putting all that “stuff” together in one package, and getting it integrated to work together — in space — that’s new. Also, computer speed (critical requirement) is much closer to requirements than when Regan first proposed SDI.

    We’ve proven we can hit the target if we can see it. The question is, can we see through/around decoys. I expect that’s going to be an ongoing game of measure-counter measure, the same kind of thing that happens now with fighter jets and missiles.

    I’ll simply note that our tracker is a tad more sophisticated than a simple shape recognition algorithm. But I don’t want to write a book here, and I expect you’re probably familiar already.

  45. thoreau,

    Some of the proposed counter-measures – as I recall – include encasing a missile in a “tinfoil balloon” (which sounds something like the tinfoil strips called “window” that confused radar in WWII).

  46. “So I do know how to prevent people from making costly mistakes in technical matters. Here, my goal is to talk people out of embarking on a costly and dead-end numbers game that will only make the world more dangerous (more nukes in the hands of China and Russia) without making us safer.”

    Right on! mr. thoreau, (as gaius would say).

    And, besides, why should the government get to direct this thing? Has anybody asked that Rutan guy who’s aiming to send tourists into space? If he agrees with thoreau, then we should all move on to do more serious thinking about peacemaking.

  47. pragmatist,

    We’ve proven we can hit the target if we can see it.

    Have we? Or have we proven that we can hit a target that has a homing beacon on it?

  48. Gary Gunnels,
    Weren’t the Germans fixin to take Paris before the US entered WW1. And didn’t the Germans quite easily defeat France in WW2.

    Also, I believe in God. But I don’t believe that Christ was his sun. Therefore I would not be a christian. But I do think lying is wrong, therefore let me adjust my statement. I have been to France a number of times, and I really enjoyed the weather, and the countryside (and I am fond of a small number of French girls). I don’t care much for the Government though, from DeGaule onwards. And I did find the general attitude of the public disagreeable (Much unlike the other Europeans I came across. Hell, even the Germans were cool).

  49. I pretty much agree with Dan. The external threats we face are real.

    i don’t know anyone who can disagree with that, mr pragmatist. the question is: what can be done about it?

    the idea that we will never be threatened again is obviously ludicrous — a bald falsehood on its face. even if we build a perfect defense against icbms, we will still be under threat! long before we can manage a working techonology, i assure you, our enemies will have perfected a new weapon that our defense is useless against. and the net effect will be that we have broken the budget on a white elephant.

    for the maginot line, this new weapon was the panzers and the low countries. for sdi, perhaps its stealthy cruise missiles.

  50. Gary-

    With your strong Francophile leanings, it’s a shame that you didn’t participate on this forum back when Jean Bart was here. You probably would have enjoyed discussing things with him.

    I know you said recently that back in March you were lurking. Jean Bart was here then. Too bad you didn’t join the discussion. It would have been fun.

  51. Thoreau,
    Are you teasing Gary Gunnels about his alleged link to Jean Bart, and Jason Bourne?

    While reading a milloin postings to try and verify Ken Schultz’s claim that LoneWacko is a neonazi, I came across an exchange between you and GG where he denied any link between him and the other two Francophiles.

    Perhaps they all just have the same debating techniques in France? And perhaps they teach history a lot better than they do here (if somewhat more biased).

  52. kwais-

    Whatever my opinions may be on that matter, I told Gary some time ago that I will never again accuse him of being another poster.

    I’m simply saying that it’s too bad that he wasn’t here earlier. I now take him at his word on the issue of his identity, and I take him at his word when he says that in March he was just lurking. He certainly seems acquainted with at least one of the debates that was going on here back in March, and I take him at his word when he says that his familiarity with that debate derives solely from lurking.

    And I shall continue to take him at his word, while saying that it’s too bad he arrived just as Jean Bart was leaving. Those two Francophiles with remarkably similar debate styles and knowledge bases would have gotten along great.

  53. πŸ™‚
    right. I will take you at your word, that you are taking him at his word then. And I will question you no more about it πŸ™‚

  54. Back to the subject at hand, I think that pragmatist and I are in agreement on a lot of things:

    This technology is worth exploring and testing, because if it can be made to work then the benefits may be considerable in an uncertain future.

    This is the sort of technology where scale can compensate for accuracy or vice-versa, but scale is expensive. So any large-scale deployment should be postponed.

    Still, some sort of small-scale deployment is necessary to gain practical experience. Simply testing it and then developing the next model is not enough.

    So, keep working at it, but avoid the numbers game like the plague until the costs and scale are tamed. Otherwise we’ll just encourage Russia and China to build missiles that we can’t block.

  55. kwais,

    Weren’t the Germans fixin to take Paris before the US entered WW1.

    No. This is one of the sillier myths we see in the U.S. concerning WWI. There was a crisis in the French ranks in April-May of 1917 (a vast mutiny along the French lines staunched by Petain), but that was long before the AEF was in France. Also note that French troops in 1918 took the brunt of the German offensives of that year; though they gave ground tactically and strategically, they didn’t buckle, and the German army was broken against French ground troops and artillery in that offensive.

    And didn’t the Germans quite easily defeat France in WW2.

    No. It took a heck of lot of effort to take down the French military in WWII. Now, the defeat was relatively quick, but its not like the Germans just marched in with a small force and took France. It took most of Germany’s military force at the time to take France.

    Of course there’s also the fact that French military kept on fighting throughout out the war; indeed, its hard to think of a front in Western Europe where the French military wasn’t involved in some way: either as commandos (e.g., D-Day), as a regular army (e.g., in Italy, southern France, Bavaria), as an air force (e.g., Battle of Britain, bomber escort, Battle of the Bulge), etc.).

    Also, I believe in God.

    I don’t.

    I suspect your experiences in France are what they are due to you being an ignorant ass. πŸ™‚

    thoreau,

    *yawn*

  56. *yawn*

    Yeah, I guess there’s no point lamenting it. Jean Bart’s gone, and all the talk in the world won’t bring him back. But if he ever did come back, you’d have fun with him.

  57. oh where’s rick santorum when you need him.

  58. oh where’s rick santorum when you need him.

    Yeah, but I came clean on that alter ego, and I only channeled Senator Santorum to keep the mood light. Senator Santorum never argued with anybody. (Well, he argued with his sexually frustrated wife and his Mafia handler, as well as me a few times, but those don’t count.)

  59. drf,

    Screwing a horse? πŸ™‚

  60. Senator Santorum prefers beagles. Everybody knows that! ;->

  61. That’s why other countries have spies. It should be readily apparent that getting access to American military technology isn’t remotely as hard to do as we would hope it is.

    The Soviet Union had more spies and supporters within the United States scientific and engineering community than any hostile nation is ever likely to have again. In spite of that, they arrived at the mistaken belief that Reagan’s “Star Wars” system was a credible threat to the effectiveness of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Espionage doesn’t get you perfectly accurate information.

    But even if spies did get their hands on the blueprints for the entire missile defense system, that still wouldn’t be the same as a field test. You could look at the blueprints and plan countermeasures based on them, sure. But proving on paper that your countermeasures should work isn’t the same as proving it in a field test — as (ironically) the failed missile defense tests have shown. If the US missile defense strategy is to launch large numbers of interceptors at a small number of inbound missiles (which presumably it is, since the only hostile nation in the world with more than a few dozen ICBMs is Russia) then the only way to truly test you countermeasures would be to build a small-scale missile defense system and actually try shooting down a souped-up ICBM with it. That’s a very expensive undertaking; the only hostile nation that could probably afford to do it would be China.

  62. “Screwing a horse? :)”

    oh shit. that’s funny. there’s snorted tea all over the friggin place now.

    at least i missed the pic of my wife.

    “baiser un cheval…” i guess that gives new meaning to monter a cheval…

    amicalment,
    drf

  63. “We’ve proven we can hit the target if we can see it.”

    Have we? Or have we proven that we can hit a target that has a homing beacon on it?

    It’s the same thing. The homing-beacon test was simply a matter of controlling the variables. It asked the question “If we know where the missile is, can we kill it?” and determined that the answer is “Yes”. That’s a good thing to know; it confirmed our belief that the real R&D problem was precisely locating the missiles in the first place.

  64. Dan,

    In spite of that, they arrived at the mistaken belief that Reagan’s “Star Wars” system was a credible threat to the effectiveness of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

    At first … but I believe as they re-assessed the issue they came to a more accurate appraisal of the system’s weaknesses.

    But proving on paper that your countermeasures should work isn’t the same as proving it in a field test…

    But you argued that they had no effective way of testing their theories, not that they had no effective way of field testing them. You’re making a rather different argument now.

  65. Dan,

    That’s a good thing to know; it confirmed our belief that the real R&D problem was precisely locating the missiles in the first place.

    Which has been known since the 1970s. Sorry, this sounds like a bullshit rationalization for fudging.

  66. But you argued that they had no effective way of testing their theories, not that they had no effective way of field testing them. You’re making a rather different argument now.

    Oh, boy, here we go again…

  67. The Soviet Union had more spies and supporters within the United States scientific and engineering community than any hostile nation is ever likely to have again.

    what about the pentagon?

    In spite of that, they arrived at the mistaken belief that Reagan’s “Star Wars” system was a credible threat to the effectiveness of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Espionage doesn’t get you perfectly accurate information.

    i agree about espionage, mr dan, but the soviets plainly were under no such delusion. gorbachev told reagan as much at reykjavik:

    Secretary General Gorbachev: As far as SDI is concerned, it is not evoking concern among us today in the military respect. We are not afraid of a three-echelon ABM system. If your laboratory research motivates you to create such a system, considering that obviously America has a great deal of money, our response will be different, asymmetrical. What actually troubles us is that it will be difficult for us to persuade our people and our allies as to the absence of the ABM treaty. There would be no logic in this, and nothing could be built on this basis.

  68. drf,

    I was inspired by rumors about Catherine the Great. πŸ™‚

  69. thoreau,

    There’s nothing wrong with pointing out internal inconsistencies in someone’s argument. You seem to regard this with great horror for some reason.

  70. Gary-

    Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out internal inconsistencies. But you go a little bit overboard and fail to allow for the inevitably informal nature of the writing found in blog comments. We don’t always frame things in the most rigorous language, making all of us prone to charges of inconsistency.

  71. That’s a very expensive undertaking; the only hostile nation that could probably afford to do it would be China.

    which is why no nation would bother when building stealthy delivery systems is so much more cost-effective and shorts the system.

    seriously. it’s not as if sdi is the first grand attempt at high city walls.

  72. thoreau,

    Please. I don’t go overboard. People lie about their arguments here all the time (look at the jackass I confronted regarding Young’s article for an illustration of such).

    As to this exchange, Dan gained from it by being shown his error.

  73. thoreau,

    BTW, if this just another attempt on your part to turn this into a personality contest between you and me, just stop. Or go start your own blog devoted to discussing me. Honestly, you’re getting a little myopic.

  74. Dan-

    You raise a good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

    I guess accurate aiming is only worthwhile if you know where the target is with sufficient accuracy. If what you are saying is correct then the “rate limiting step” (to borrow lingo from my chemical engineer colleagues) is finding it, not shooting at it.

    I’m curious: From the way you wrote, you almost sound like you’ve been directly involved in SDI (“it confirmed our belief that…”). I know that people frequently use first person plural when talking about public policy (“We should invest in a program that does such-and-such”) but you were referring to a fairly specific technical issue (whether the limiting factor is detecting missiles or accurately aiming).

    And I don’t think your statements have been all that inconsistent, FWIW. But you already know that if you try to clarify your statements you’ll be called a liar.

  75. thoreau,

    I was using the first-person plural in a “we people who had been following the progress of the missile defense system” sense, not a “we engineers” sense. I’ve worked in defense, but not on SDI or anything else aerospacey.

    I would also like to point out that I haven’t actually endorsed missile defense; personally, I have mixed feelings about its cost-effectiveness. I was just arguing against the claim that such a system would be useless and/or impossible. There’s no doubt that it would be useful even if it was almost completely non-functional, it’s just that the benefits we’d reap from that might not be worth $130 billion.

  76. agree about espionage, mr dan, but the soviets plainly were under no such delusion. gorbachev told reagan as much at reykjavik:

    Gaius, two points: first, whatever the public statements of Soviet officials were at the time, we have since received both firsthand testimony and (briefly) access to Soviet-era records that indicated that many of them did, in fact, believe our ABM tech would work.

    But secondly, and more importantly, no part of the Gorbachev quote you offered says, or suggests, that Gorbachev thought the SDI system wouldn’t work. What he claimed was that if the United States deployed SDI, the Soviets would respond in an “asymmetrical” manner. That was a not-very-veiled threat to respond to SDI by dramatically increasing the size of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. That was their plan for beating SDI — overwhelming it. The problem was that the Soviets were basically broke at that point, and thus lacked the ability to carry out Gorbachev’s threat. That is what made the Soviet generals nervous about SDI; they felt that if SDI were deployed, they wouldn’t be able to do what they needed to do to counterbalance it.

    which is why no nation would bother when building stealthy delivery systems is so much more cost-effective and shorts the system.

    At this point in time, a ballistic nuclear missile has close to a 100% chance of reaching its target — it only fails in its mission if the missile itself is defective.

    Every other means of nuke delivery — plane, cars, cruise missile, horse-and-cart, shipping container, Federal Express, you name it — has less chance of reaching its target than a ballistic missile does, because effective (though by no means perfect) countermeasures exist for each of those delivery systems. That is the main reason why the United States and USSR went hog-wild building ICBMs instead of going hog-wild developing extensive nuke-smuggling networks. That’s the reason why North Korea is bothering to develop missiles with intercontinental range.

    So yes, you are correct that an ABM system would just mean that people would use other methods of delivery. But since all other methods of delivery are less effective, that still means that an effective ABM system would reduce the chance of a nuclear attack on the United States succeeding.

  77. “But proving on paper that your countermeasures should work isn’t the same as proving it in a field test”

    you argued that they had no effective way of testing their theories, not that they had no effective way of field testing them. You’re making a rather different argument now.

    Proving something on paper isn’t the same as testing it. Any non-newbie engineer knows this. An engineering department could spend decades analyzing every detail of a design; the answer to the question “Have you guys actually tested this design?” would still be “no”. The mathematical way to prove something works is to write it out on paper; the engineering way to prove something works is to build it and test it.

    “it confirmed our belief that the real R&D problem was precisely locating the missiles in the first place.”

    Which has been known since the 1970s.

    It hasn’t been known, it has been believed. The belief wasn’t actually confirmed until the test in question.

    The moon program worked in a similar manner — they “knew” that their designs worked, on paper. What they didn’t know is if they worked in real life. Each step of the space program leading up to the moon landing, through the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, was designed to test one specific aspect of the moon-landing process that they thought would work but hadn’t tested yet. I’m sure there was some know-it all saying “we knew that building the heat shield would be easy, WTF did you guys bother testing it for”, but most engineers probably thought *that* guy was an idiot too.

  78. Dan,

    …first, whatever the public statements of Soviet officials were at the time, we have since received both firsthand testimony and (briefly) access to Soviet-era records that indicated that many of them did, in fact, believe our ABM tech would work.

    In 1983-1984 yes; afterwards, no. The Soviets clued in fairly quickly that Reagan’s SDI wasn’t something that was deployable anywhere in close proximity to the near future.

    Proving something on paper isn’t the same as testing it.

    Sure it is. Simulations (be they are in a computer or otherwise) and the like are tests. Any non-newbie engineer knows this. Anyway, you’re disingenuously arguing that the information would simply be sat on and people would just pour over charts, tables, etc. and not actually do anything with them.

    It hasn’t been known, it has been believed.

    No, it was known. Missiles knocking down other missiles with homing beacons on them has been done since the 1970s (that is during the Carter administration). Nothing new; they are merely repeating what was done decades before (which is in part why the efforts were so pathetic).

  79. Sure it is. Simulations (be they are in a computer or otherwise) and the like are tests. Any non-newbie engineer knows this.

    Really? Are you a non-newbie engineer? In my lab, we’ve done all sorts of things that were tested in simulations, but it turned out that the simulations were not accurate models of what we were actually testing.

    Simulations are nice, and even helpful, but ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby!

  80. thoreau,

    You avoid the actual point of my statement course. They are tests, whether they are wholly accurate or not.

  81. To sum up: I would say that spying, analyzing the stolen material, using it to inform simulations, mock-ups, etc., is a pretty “effective” (to use Dan’s term) way to test counter-measures. Of course its not a wholly perfect way, but at this point all Dan and Thoreau are doing is making the perfect the enemy of the good.

  82. Pentagon misses missile shield deadline – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6730391/

  83. Really? Are you a non-newbie engineer? In my lab, we’ve done all sorts of things that were tested in simulations, but it turned out that the simulations were not accurate models of what we were actually testing

    Yes, I am an engineer, and I can’t say I’ve ever encountered anyone in my profession who considers a simulation of a design to be a test of that design. I know if I told my boss “I tested this” and it turned out I’d just run the numbers on it I’d be due for an ass-chewing. Now, I have heard theoretical physicists refer to simulations as “tests”, but that’s because they tend to judge success by whether or not the math works out. Simulations test theory; actual tests test reality. The latter is the part that matters, especially when you’re talking about questions like “will this nuclear weapon work”. That’s why the Manhattan Project guys used a large portion of their weapons-grade uranium setting off a test nuke even though they already “knew” that it would work.

    This is all a meaningless semantic discussion anyway (as is usually the case with “Gary”). You understand my point — you can’t know countermeasures are effective until you test them in the field. That means the mere existance of an American ABM system will make our enemies less certain that they can effectively nuke us, which in turn will make them less likely to nuke us. Whether that’s worth $130 billion is anyone’s guess. πŸ™‚

  84. Er, scratch the “yes” at the beginning of that last post. It makes me sound like I’m Gary (and wouldn’t that be ironic?).

  85. Gary-

    I actually agree that an enemy nation with access to blueprints (via spies) can still do a lot to augment its military capabilities, even if it can’t field test them against ours in any situation short of an actual war.

    That’s right, I actually disagree with Dan’s point.

    But I don’t think that Dan changed his argument. He said that it would be impossible to effectively test counter-measures against our system. He made it clear that his notion of an effective test is a field test. I agree with his notion that the most effective test of all is a field test, and therefore I see nothing self-contradictory in his arguments.

    I don’t actually agree with him. I think he undervalues preparations that fall short of a field test. The fact is that most preparations that rely on intelligence will fall short of field tests. (Field tests against the enemy are usually referred to as “battles.) And intelligence is nonetheless believed to be highly valuable.

    But you didn’t just engage Dan on that point. You did your classic move of calling him a liar who’s changing his story. I find that move to be unbearable. And I’m actually glad that Jean Bart is no longer here, because if both of you were doing that at the same time things would be unbearable. One is enough.

    Let’s see if Gary can nitpick this statement:

    There have not been any reproducible observations of magnetic charge.

    (Hint: There’s a loophole in my statement, explored in Chapter 6 of Classical Electrodynamics by Jackson. If you spot it, you can call me wrong. Then I can clarify. Then you can say that I’m trying to change my statement, and call me a liar. I realize that the loophole is a nitpicky point that requires an advanced understanding of physics, but you’re a smart guy with broad interests and the ability to learn quickly. Make me proud, Gary!)

  86. Dan-

    I think you got this, but just to be clear, I was engaging Gary. I agree that the gold standard of tests is a field test, not a simulation.

    However, as I said in my previous message, I think you undervalue preparations based on intelligence. The only true field test is a battle with the enemy, yet armies routinely base their preparations on intelligence because that’s what they have, and it’s certainly valuable.

    So I think you undervalue preparations based on intelligence, but I understand your point and I don’t think you’re a liar.

  87. Check out this comment from Gary

    “As to this exchange, Dan gained from it by being shown his error.”

    I guess Christmas came early for Dan.

    Dan, you lucky devil!

  88. I guess Christmas came early for Dan.

    On the first day of Christmas Gary Gunnels gave to me:

    A lecture on vocabulary.

    On the second day of Christmas Gary Gunnels gave to me:

    Two charges of lying
    And a lecture on vocabulary

    On the third day of Christmas Gary Gunnels gave to me:

    Three reading assignments
    Two charges of lying
    And a lecture on vocabulary

    On the fourth day of Christmas Gary Gunnels gave to me:

    Four mocking chuckles
    Three reading assignments
    Two charges of lying
    And a lecture on vocabulary

    On the fifth day of Christmas Gary Gunnels gave to me:

    Five consecutive posts
    Four mocking chuckles
    Three reading assignments
    Two charges of lying
    And a lecture on vocabulary

  89. Dan,

    I know if I told my boss “I tested this” and it turned out I’d just run the numbers on it I’d be due for an ass-chewing.

    And of course again you disingenuously argue that one would only be “running the numbers”; see my summation above.

    Simulations test theory; actual tests test reality.

    No, actual tests also test theory. πŸ™‚

    …you can’t know countermeasures are effective until you test them in the field.

    Well, if that was your original point, you did a piss poor job of explaining it. But then again, spying gives you the ability to test things in the field (which you stupidly didn’t account for in your original argument).

    But I don’t think that Dan changed his argument.

    Actually, he did. He’s wily in that way.

    He made it clear that his notion of an effective test is a field test.

    Not in his original statement.

    Let’s quote him directly:

    People building countermeasures to our system have no effective way of testing them. They’ll have no way of knowing for sure how effective our ABMs are. This means that they’ll never have a good idea what their chances are of *successfully* launching an attack on us.

    Only after I forced him to think through his argument a little bit more did he change “effective” to mean “field test.” Anyway, its pretty clear that they have a very effective way to test their counter-measures, if they’ve got a good enough spy network.

    You did your classic move of calling him a liar who’s changing his story.

    Where did I specifically call him a “liar?” I said he was being disingenuous (and he is), but that’s somewhat different. Maybe you ought to read through my comments before you comment on them.

    Anyway, really, your unhealthy obsession with me has got to stop.

  90. On the first day of Christmas Gary Gunnels gave to me:

    Thoreau, that’s got to be the funniest thing you’ve ever written.

    However, as I said in my previous message, I think you undervalue preparations based on intelligence. The only true field test is a battle with the enemy, yet armies routinely base their preparations on intelligence because that’s what they have, and it’s certainly valuable.

    Oh, I completely agree that intelligence is valuable. But there isn’t a competent general alive who would willingly rely on equipment that had never been field-tested — not unless he had no choice in the matter. So I think that even though intelligence-gathering is useful, it’s not useful *enough* in this case. If you know the United States has a missile defense system and you want to nuke America, do you launch a missile and hope it works, or fall back to a different delivery method? The latter, I think.

    Of course, for $130 billion we might be better off just buying North Korea instead of defending against it. What’s the cash value of that country these days, $2.75 or so?

  91. Dan-

    The $2.75 comment is funny, but I’m guessing you have in mind some more serious suggestion for how to spend $130 billion. Or at least that’s what you’re hinting. I do wonder if there isn’t a more cost effective way to defend ourselves from North Korea.

    And is anybody interested in filling in the 7 remaining days of Christmas?

  92. Sorry, that was me. I posted a sarcastic comment in the thread about child abuse in madrassas, and forgot to change my screen name back.

  93. The advantage once conferred to us by a missile defense system or the assumption by our adversaries of a functional missile defense system is no longer there. The possible marginal deterrence against conventional adversaries with fixed assets and a fixed location is very small do to our ability to deliver an overwhelming counterstrike, which would infinitely outgun any possible adversary’s first strike.

    This possible very slight additional margin of safety is more than offset because a missile defense system would motivate any potential non-conventional adversary, that was really intent on hitting us, to bring the weapon to our soil in a more stealthy fashion.

  94. thoreau,

    I’m have no idea what the proper solution is with regard to North Korea. They don’t honor diplomatic agreements and are immune (due to their probable possession of nukes and their location) to most military options. Basically I’m just hoping they don’t do anything stupid, which given their past history is a pretty slim hope.

    I’ve wondered for a while what the implications would be if the United States publically announced a new policy for nuclear retaliation — something like “we have determined that the following nations possess nuclear weapons they are forbidden to have. In the event of a nuclear attack against the United States, we will retaliate against every nation on the list.” That might allow a MAD-type system to work again. Right now, a country like North Korea or Iran could attack us and hope to get away with it. If we simply said “if anyone nukes us, we’re nuking every nation we know of that has nukes and isn’t supposed to” that might (a) discourage them from selling nuclear technology to other nations and (b) eliminate their belief that they could attack us and get away with it.

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