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  xThursday, June 19, 2003

missile defense system flunks test


From the AP:
A missile fired from a Navy cruiser missed its airborne target Wednesday in an unsuccessful test of a sea-based missile defense system, the Defense Department said.

It was the second consecutive failed missile test over the Pacific after a series of successful strikes in the past 2 1/2 years, and the first failure of a sea-based test.

An Aries target missile was launched at 1:15 p.m. from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai and a Standard Missile-3 interceptor was fired from the USS Lake Erie, deployed at an undisclosed location in the Pacific, about two minutes later, officials said.

Preliminary indications were that the SM-3 missed its target even though its guidance system was activated, Missile Defense Agency spokesman Chris Taylor said in a news release.

...and Reuters:
An interceptor missile fired from a U.S. Navy (news - web sites) cruiser on Wednesday missed its target, a mock warhead, over the Pacific Ocean, the military said.

"We did not have an intercept," said Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon (news - web sites)'s Missile Defense Agency.

The failed test, the first miss in four attempts to shoot down an incoming short-range missile using the sea-based Aegis weapons system, was a setback for the Pentagon's largest weapons development program.

Five out of eight tests of a companion ground-based missile interceptor have successfully hit their targets in what critics have called unrealistically controlled conditions.

Preliminary indications are that the interceptor, a Raytheon Co. -built Standard Missile 3, deployed its "kill vehicle," or warhead, but failed to hit its target, Lehner said, adding it was too early to say what went wrong.

Of course, the idea of a shield to protect a fearful populace from Bush's favorite bogeyman, weapons of mass destruction (and we're talking about hte real ones here -- nuclear weapons). But Bush's billion-dollar boondoggle has several problems.

  • It doesn't work -- the American taxpayer is seeing little return on investment, although the military industrial complex sure loves it

  • A missile defense system offers no defense against terrorists, which Bush has defined as our chief threat

  • Spending on missile defense naturally takes priority over other, no doubt worthier projects, such as actually protecting America from terrorism (see the previous point)

  • The presence of a missile shield would certainly not deter nations from feeling enmity toward, or even threatened by, the US; therefore, it would likely encourage them to develop nontraditional deliviery systems for their weapons (see the previous two points)

  • An actual nuclear threat toward the United States is practically nonexistent; however, several nuclear hotspots exist (such as Korean and India/Pakistan) for which the system would provide no relief

  • Anyway, it doesn't work

  • Even if it did, a missile system would give the US the ability to wage nuclear war with impunity -- a prospect I think the rest of the world relishes about as much as it does for Iran.

  • Moreover, a perception of invulenrability might motivate an arrogant, narrow minded president to develop and deploy a new generation of nuclear weapons and threaten the global security framework, rather than patiently align national interests through diplomacy. Wait -- we already have that problem...



If Bush is the great leader his supporters say he is, maybe some day he can tackle the problem he's created of simultaneously demanding massive tax cuts and expensive, inefficient corporate welfare programs like this. At this point, I'd chastise Congressional Republicans -- presumably some of them must still be principled conservatives -- for not standing up for the good of the nation, but given the abject failure of the Democratic Party to function as an opposition party, I'm inclined to give them a pass this time.

(via Oliver Willis)

Update: In this CNN story, officials call the test, in which the interceptor missed its target, a "success."
"I wouldn't call it a failed test, because the intercept was not the primary objective," said Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the MDA. "It's still considered a success in that we gained great engineering data. We just don't know why it didn't hit."

Okay...actually, Taylor has a point; the engineers no doubt gained data on why the sucker missed, which they can hopefuly put to use in later development stages. But given the President's order to deploy the system in October 2004 -- right before the Presidential election, yo -- whether it works or not, we don't need "great engineering data," we need a system that has half a chance of hitting a single target. Another proble with the missile defense concept is that the US faces threats right now that won't wait for us to develop and deploy the system -- indeed, it's in their interests not to wait until we deploy the system. Research is swell and all, but we taxpayers are incurring great costs and seeing little benefits, no matter what the engineers think -- after all, a failed test that secures "great engineering data" simply means the project gets extended for some more months.

Put it this way: Would Raytheon think the project is such a hot idea if they were the ones taking a financial risk, developing the system on their own nickel, knowing that if they succeed, the government would buy it? I doubt it. Bush likes to invoke his so-called business acumen, but it's clear that there's no business case for taking this risk on these expenditures at this time.





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