18 October 2004

launching a magical foreign policy

Boost Phase missile defense strategy not feasible against many potential threats
The APS Study Group looked at boost-phase defense systems utilizing land-, sea, or air-based interceptors, space-based interceptors, or the Airborne Laser.

The effectiveness of interceptor rockets would be limited by the short time window for intercept, which requires interceptors to be based within 400 to 1,000 kilometers of the possible boost-phase flight paths of attacking missiles. In some cases this is closer than political geography allows. Even interceptors that were very large and fast and that pushed the state of the art would in most cases be unable to intercept solid-propellant ICBMs before they released their warheads.

A system of space-based interceptors, also constrained by the short time window for intercept, would require a fleet of a thousand or more orbiting satellites just to intercept a single missile. Deploying such a fleet would require a five- to tenfold increase in the United States' annual space-launch capabilities.

The Airborne Laser currently in development has the potential to intercept liquid-propellant ICBMs, but its range would be limited and it would therefore be vulnerable to counterattack. The Airborne Laser would not be able to disable solid-propellant ICBMs at ranges useful for defending the United States.

'Few of the components exist for deploying an effective boost-phase defense against liquid-propellant ICBMs and some essential components would take at least 10 years to develop,' said Study Group co-chair Daniel Kleppner. 'According to U.S. intelligence estimates, North Korea and Iran could develop or acquire solid-propellant ICBMs within the next 10 to 15 years. Consequently, a boost-phase defense effective only against liquid-propellant ICBMs would risk being obsolete when deployed.'

Although a successful intercept would prevent munitions from reaching their target, live nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads could strike populated areas short of the target in the United States or in other countries, shows the study. This 'shortfall problem' is inherent in any boost-phase defense and difficult to avoid.

Ozplogistan is fast filling up with reports and denunciations of faith-based politics. Over the weekend a string of much-blogged articles spoke about Bush's war against actuality, the suppression of dissent, the manufacture of al-Qa'ida and the fabrication of Zarqawi. The rhetoric is two-edged, and talks about US eccentricity as well as Bush's war on reason..

Bummer. We have our own eccentricities. Australia has signed up for the Son of Star Wars madness. Is that a commitment to doing whatever we're told or has the Man of Steel developed his own fantasies.

Son of Star Wars does not work and probably cannot work. The US Missile Defense Agency can claim it works only because they keep ignoring test results. As a high imperial official said:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Magical thinking is a cognitive disorder, not a policy. And the Man of Steel has decided to take Australia out of the reality-based community. That decision went unchallenged in the election campaign.

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