Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Insisting on Success

As I have noted, in spite of the numerous and fundamental experimental failures in the first trial, TRW and the Defense Department reported that the experiment was an unqualified success.

A second, similar test was launched on January 16, 1998-and once again, fundamental signs of the system’s inadequacy continued to be overlooked. Chief system architect Keith Englander claimed that in both tests “we were able to pick the reentry vehicle out of the target complex.” Lieutenant General Lyles and his successor, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, also praised the experimental results before Congress. Kadish went so far as to assert that the first two experiments had “demonstrated a robustness in discrimination capability that went beyond the baseline threat.” The Lincoln Laboratory scientists who helped review the experimental claims for the Department of Defense after Nira Schwartz, the TRW whistle-blower, had raised the alert made no mention of the sensor array problems in their public report, issued in late 1998.

Between mid-1998 and December of 2001, five other trials were conducted. The decoys that were the most difficult to discriminate from warheads in the first two tests were removed from these and all subsequent missile defense development tests. These included the cone-shaped decoys that had the same size and appearance as the mock warhead, the striped balloons with the same base diameter as the warhead and the small cone-shaped balloons that could easily be made to look like warheads if their surface coating and/or dimensions were slightly altered.

The only “decoy” flown in the three tests immediately following the first two trials was a very large balloon, which was easily identifiable because it was known prior to the test to be seven to 10 times brighter than the mock warhead. When the seventh test was ultimately flown, last December 3, the diameter of the large balloon was reduced somewhat-from 2.2 meters to 1.6 meters-but it was still three to five times brighter than the warhead. And for future trials, according to accounts in the New York Times, a completely new set of infrared decoys is to be unveiled. These are to be made up only of spherical balloons composed of uniformly unvaried materials and without stripes, virtually guaranteeing that they will have perfectly steady and unvarying signals. By contrast, the dummy warheads will intentionally be deployed so as to tumble end over end. This simulates the most primitive ICBM technology, where the warhead is not spin-stabilized-so as to maintain its orientation in space and make its entry into the atmosphere and subsequent flight path more predictable-and causes its signal brightness to scintillate wildly.

The implication of this carefully contrived choice of new decoys is chillingly clear. All the problematic shortfalls in the defense system discovered in the first two experiments have been removed through the painstaking designing of a set of decoys that would never be used by any adversary, but would make it possible to distinguish warheads from decoys in flight tests.

This should be of profound concern to every U.S. citizen. The officers and program managers involved in developing the antimissile system have taken oaths to defend the nation. Yet they have concealed from the American people and Congress the fact that a weapon system paid for by hard-earned tax dollars to defend our country cannot work.

Space-based vs. boost-phase defense
Both drawings depict a North Korean attack on the U.S. missile defense outpost in Clear, AK. In today’s missile defense plan (above), the attack is tracked by satellite and ground radars. Interceptors are then launched from Clear. In a boost-phase system (below), ship- and/or ground-based interceptors near Korea, relying on satellites and “local” radars, destroy the enemy ICBMs much closer to their launch points.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Computing

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me