Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Slate on SDI--Good Old Yankee Inability

On the heels of last weeks failed test of a missile defense system, critics of the program are quick to call for an end to the program. I ran across this article entitled "Just Another Unknown Anomaly--Must we spend another $80 billion before we admit missile defense doesn't work" at Slate by Fred Kaplan who writes a column called "War Stories" .

Let's say you're buying the most complicated computer system ever devised. It's still in the early stages. The payments are costing a fortune. The software's riddled with bugs. Some software hasn't been written yet. Several scientists doubt the thing will ever work properly. Finally, just this week, you couldn't even get it to switch on.

Several scientists? Who are they and what are their qualifications Fred? Are these like unnamed sources?

That would be a good analogy provided not having this computer system could make American cities vulnerable to catastrophic nuclear attack.

.......But 23 seconds before the interceptor missile was scheduled to blast off, the system shut down, due to what the MDA is calling "an unknown anomaly." As of Thursday afternoon, Pentagon officials were saying,both publicly and off the record,that they still don't know what happened.

They still don't know what happened? After one whole day? What incompetence.

A question for the overseers in Congress: Is it time now for a serious look at this program? Missile defense consumed $10.7 billion of this year's military budget, far more than any other weapon system. About $80 billion has been spent on it since Ronald Reagan stepped up research and development for the mission 20 years ago. Another $80 billion is scheduled to be spent before the decade is out. It may be time to ask: Why?

Why? Well perhaps because it is a dangerous world with bad guys out there that would like nothing more than to kill as many Americans as possible (you included Fred). There are rogue nations, that have nuclear capabilities and missile technology, North Korea for one and if Iran doesn't already it likely soon will. Iran has ties to terrorist organizations and North Korea is in desperate economic condition and will do business with anyone.

There is no need to repeat here the dozens of reasons for skepticism that an antiballistic-missile system has much chance of shooting down a single enemy warhead. If it can shoot down one warhead (a lucky roll of the dice), the bad guys can simply launch a second warhead, and there hasn't yet been even a rigged test involving multiple targets. Everything about the system is way too complicated, the software; the command-control network; the integration of early warning radars, target-acquisition sensors, and weapons-launch centers.

Nothing like a positive "can do" attitude. Good old Yankee Ingenuity is dead at Slate. It is impossible so let's not even try. If we could only use embryonic stem cells in the research? Fortunately Gorbachov had a higher opinion of what America might accomplish should we put our mind to it.

I would be more concerned if all the tests went flawlessly. Sometimes we learn more from our failures than we do our successes. Through trial and error we can get the bugs out of the system and devise ways to overcome problems we may not be aware of. If only every failure were not used as a political blunt instrument to demand an end to the program.

I have never understood the knee-jerk reaction against missile defense from the left in this country. This is a weapons system that is by it's very nature strictly defensive. What on earth do they have against defending ourselves? Is it some sort of fatalistic mental disorder.

I can't help but think the critics of missile defense would be the first people screaming for answers about why we didn't do more to defend ourselves if we ever were to suffer a missile attack. There would be special commissions made up of former Senators to dole out the hindsight recriminations.