February 17, 2008

Step On a Crack, Defund Ballistic Missile Defense

Hatched by Dafydd

Children often make up games where two utterly unrelated things are joined together in a faux causal relationship: "Step on a crack and break your mother's back." (In this case, it's not a double command: First step on a crack, then when you've finished, go break your mother's back; the conjunctive "and" actually functions as an "if... then" formulation: If you step on a crack, then you will break your mother's back.)

So it's not surprising that the superannuated lost boys of the Democratic Party do the same thing; no matter what their chronological age, they still have the heart -- and the logical faculty -- of a whiny, prepubescent child (New York Times article requires free registration):

The order by President Bush for the Navy to launch an antimissile interceptor [from an Aegis BMD equipped ship] to destroy a disabled satellite before it falls from orbit carries opportunity, but also potential embarrassment, for the administration and advocates of its missile defense program....

Should it succeed, the accomplishment would embolden those who champion even more spending on top of the $57.8 billion appropriated by Congress for missile defenses since the Bush administration’s first budget in the 2002 fiscal year.

It might even revive a dormant effort to focus the military on antisatellite operations, as well. Failure, on the other hand, would be cited as hard and fresh evidence for those who point to the futility of space-warfare programs.

Perhaps someone more learned in the labyrinths of logic can explain to me why failing to hit the satellite (if that happens) means that ballistic missile defense -- no, all "space-warfare programs" of whatever type -- are futile. I confess, the logical leap eludes me.

At worst, if the shoot-down doesn't work, it means that the current system, in its current state of advanced beta testing, requires a bit more tweaking before ready for deployment. But a failure could also mean nothing, if it's just a fluke failure of a standard system.

Note, we're not even talking about the entire Aegis system... just the Ballistic Missile Defense part. The Aegis system comprises two main components:

  1. Detecting, identifying, tracking, and intercepting short- to medium-range missiles whose ballistic track does not leave what is usually considered "the atmosphere"*; this program dates from the late 1960s;
  2. And doing the same to defend against long-range missiles that really do leave the atmosphere. This component is called Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), and it dates from the late 1990s (as "Aegis LEAP," for Lightweight Exo-Atmospheric Projectile).

* Yeah, yeah, I know: "the atmosphere" actually extends to infinity (and beyond?) But you know what I mean... and if you don't, you really ought!

There is no specific name for the former system; it was just called the Aegis system, and the newer research is nowadays generically referred to as Aegis BMD, rather than Aegis LEAP. The original Aegis system (non-BMD) has been deployed since the late 1970s; today, according to Wikipedia, there are over 100 Aegis-equipped destroyers and cruisers that have already deployed... in six different navies: Australia, Japan, Norway, Spain, South Korea, and of course the United States (since we invented it).

Aegis BMD is newer; we're just starting to deploy such ships now, the first in 2004, and only in the United States Navy, so far as I know -- though other navies sometimes participate in Aegis BMD tests. It grew out of President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, but it's now a Navy program. One major difference between the two is that the BMD version uses SM-3s (Standard Missile 3), which is a long-range missile, while the older (non-BMD) systems generally used medium-range SM-2s (though you can use an SM-3 in a non-BMD intercept, if you want). Also, BMD uses much more sensitive and robust tracking stations circling the globe; it's a quantum leap over the old version.

Naturally, since the failing satellite we intend to destroy is in orbit at the edge of the detectable atmosphere, we're going to use the BMD version of the Aegis to shoot it down. The technology is pretty well tested out, and the odds are very good that it will do just what it's supposed to do. But the argument of "opponents" of missile defense (a.k.a., supporters of America being attacked), that a miss means the entire field of ballistic missile defense must be scrapped as useless, is so facile and infantile, I wonder that the Times had the chutzpah to put its name to it.

Here is the newspaper's reasoning:

Often compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet, the shooting down of ballistic missiles with an interceptor rocket is difficult, as an adversary’s warheads would be launched unexpectedly on relatively short arcs [hence all those tracking stations, Poindexter] -- and most likely more than one at a time. [Most likely? Says who? That depends on who's shooting, doesn't it? A terrorist might have only one to shoot.]

So it should be easier for the Standard Missile 3, a Navy weapon launched from an Aegis cruiser in the northern Pacific, to find and strike a satellite almost the size of a school bus making orbits almost as regular as bus routes around the globe, 16 times a day.

Sure, "should be." But suppose this one particular SM-3 -- which is off-the-shelf technology -- has a rocket malfunction and fails to rise high enough to hit the target. Why would that kind of failure indicate that all "space-warfare programs" are acts of "futility?" Try as I might, I cannot find any logical connection. It's like saying if a rifle jams, that demonstrates the futility of firearms-warfare programs.

But really, this article has little to do with shooting down a satellite with an Aegis BMD system from a naval ship in the northern Pacific Ocean... and everything to do with the liberal establishment's running hysteria with the very idea of active defense, as opposed to "defense" by paper treaty. The real point the Times wants to make is that we cannot rely upon self-defense measures, technology, the military, or American innovation to save ourselves; our only safety lies in getting signatures on little pieces of pressed wood-pulp. It's the decades-old Luddite exaltation of arms control over national defense:

The United States is perhaps the nation most dependent on satellites, both for commerce and for military communications, reconnaissance and targeting. And, to be sure, the Bush administration was harshly critical when the Chinese launched an antisatellite missile last year, the first time any nation had blasted an object in space in the 22 years since the United States last conducted such a test.

At the same time, however, the United States has resisted suggestions that a new arms-control regime be negotiated to govern space weapons, and has asserted its sovereign right to defend its own access to space and to deny it to others in future wars. [Sovereign rights! How barbaric]...

Efforts to ban space weapons, like the treaty proposed by China and Russia, are generally favored by arms-control analysts, even though they view the latest such initiative [from Russia and China] as deeply flawed.

(It would be churlish of me, alas, to cite the "deeply flawed" nature of the current proposal from our enemies as "hard and fresh evidence" for those who point to the futility of arms-control programs.)

There are several hard and fast realities that cannot be wished away by all the aging hippies suffering from Peter-Pan syndrome in all the New-Left think-tanks in America:

  • We have enemies who possess long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads that can reach the United States; these enemies may decide at some point that they can take any retaliatory hit and survive... especially if we have destroyed our own retaliatory arsenal -- or just as bad, allowed it to deteriorate to the point where we cannot rely upon it.
  • We have even more enemies who possess medium-ranger ballistic missiles and WMD technology which can rain chemical or biological warheads on any country in Europe, hoping America will be unwilling to get involved in such an exchange (say, if we have Barack Obama as president).
  • And we have many, many enemies who aren't even nations themselves... but who are just dying (literally!) to get their mittens on WMD warheads for the medium-range missiles they have already secretly bought from Iran, who got them from North Korea, who got them from China or Russia. They have the will, if not yet the means, to launch horrific WMD missile attacks on Western countries... without there being any responsible adult to hold accountable under any treaty ever signed by anyone.

On a nutshell, we cannot entrust national security to a handful of pages with signatures on them. If one of our adversaries chooses to abrogate a treaty (very likely, with the likes of Putin, Kim Jung Il, and Ahmadinejad) -- or if the actor who attacks us isn't even the head of any state but just a hirabi with deep pockets and a good Rolodex -- we can't jolly well wave the paper and say, "You can't attack us... we have an agreement!" Once the missiles start flying, there's no one left to cry to.

No matter how many failures, how many successes; no matter what the cost or how long it may take; we must press on defending our country from every threat we can see or even imagine. Closing our eyes, refusing to defend ourselves is never an option... whether because we decide it's too hard or too expensive, or because we let treaty fetishists make fools of us.

Treaties are valuable; I have nothing against them -- though they should be verifiable and fall with equal gravity on all parties. But the proper order is to protect ourselves first, then sign a treaty later... after the enemy realizes he cannot harm us. That's the only thing that will keep him honest: The utter certainty that the treaty is the best he will ever get, and attacking us would be infinitely worse for him.

The only trustworthy foreign potentate is one who has nothing to gain and everything to lose by betraying America. Good fences make good diplomats.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 17, 2008, at the time of 6:04 AM

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Tracked on February 21, 2008 4:47 AM


The following hissed in response by: Colin

Aegis can track hundreds of targets simultaneously, a whole lot more than they can actually engage with SM-3s. Each Arleigh Burke-class destroyer has 1 and a half Vertical Launch Systems, and each Ticoderoga-class cruiser has two full VLS systems. That means that each Aegis ship in the Navy's arsenal has dozens of chances to hit an inbound target, even if it misses the target the first time (not all the missiles are SM-3s, some are SM-2s and some are Tomahawks, but you get my point).

Combine those two facts - that each ship, independently (without the aid of a global integrated network) can track hundreds of inbound targets, and that each ship can also theoretically engage dozens of inbound targets, you come to the conclusion that anyone who brings up either failure rate of interceptors or number of warheads that may possibly be encountered, is being intellectually dishonest.

The above hissed in response by: Colin [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 17, 2008 5:17 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Combine those two facts - that each ship, independently (without the aid of a global integrated network) can track hundreds of inbound targets, and that each ship can also theoretically engage dozens of inbound targets, you come to the conclusion that anyone who brings up either failure rate of interceptors or number of warheads that may possibly be encountered, is being intellectually dishonest.

Not necessarily; he could be ignorant, rather than intellectually dishonest.

It would have to be a towering ignorance, an "unknown unknown," as Donald Rumsfeld would say, where the person knows nothing about BMD -- and doesn't even know that he doesn't even know anything. But I've certainly met such folks, so I know they exist.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 17, 2008 7:29 PM

The following hissed in response by: Navyvet

Lack of knowledge or understanding is no bar to members of the Senate or House spouting off comments that bear no relationship to logical thought. Such has become an almost daily occurrence.

The above hissed in response by: Navyvet [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 17, 2008 8:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: Da Coyote

As is usual, your logic is correct. Why anyone would try to extract even a smidgeon of science from a NYT article...especially when it deals with the military... is a mystery to me. The article, and its childlike logic, is one more nail in the coffin of the mainstream media. When I have conversations with libs, and they quote something from the MSM, my first reply is to come back when they have some reliable sources.

The above hissed in response by: Da Coyote [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 18, 2008 5:47 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

The basic problem of treaties is this - we will not (for moral reasons) and cannot (for openness reasons) cheat on a treaty, while China and Russia obviously can do both.

Of course, if China and Russia where open and fully democratic a treaty would work. But of course, then we wouldn't need a treaty would we? Europe has the technical know-how to build ABM, but we don't need a treaty with them, do we? As near as I can tell, Europe could care less about us developing ABM technology, as long as doing so doesn't piss off the Russians too much.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 18, 2008 9:53 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dishman

In re 'treaties'...

"I have in my hand a piece of paper..."

It seems to me that most countries don't take treaties seriously. The US does. The UK does. The rest of Europe doesn't (see ref Kyoto).

The above hissed in response by: Dishman [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 19, 2008 10:48 PM

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