Table of Contents
“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.” -- Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT.
THE SWORD OF DAMOCLESE
By Dom Stasi
From deep inside the rogue state of Bezurkestan the missile rises above the mountains. It will climb toward airless soundless space largely undetected by the thicket of ground-based early-warning radars, picket planes, and ships that protect America’s distant frontiers with tireless vigilance. They comprise the far-flung and powerful ballistic missile early warning (BMEWS) array. Though these once-invisible once-impenetrable walls of energy were raised in decades past, their twelve story concrete bunkers still encircle the globe casting long shadows across tundra and tropics alike. America’s first line of defense in the electronic age, their installations have been increased and continuously improved since the end of World War II. But practically speaking, their day has come and gone. They were designed and built, and lately rebuilt, to stem our shores against a once rising ideological tide. That tide is at ebb today. So the old Cold War radars, resplendent in their new phased-array jackets, see little or nothing at all of this rogue rocket’s firing. With less than nominal accuracy, they can only watch it climb.
The clandestine launch will be detected, however. Quickly. Accurately. Certainly.
Optimum defense reaction time mandates that we no longer rely on terrestrial early warning systems alone. A physically seamless product of both evolutionary and revolutionary, design, no place on earth is hidden from the cybernetic eyes and ears of America’s defense network. Today much of that network is space-based.
Thus an American satellite, in stationary orbit 22,300 miles above the earth, a satellite that looks down on this spot, never blinking, at all times every day of every week, has detected the missile’s white hot engine exhaust on infrared sensors, and done so within a minute of its ignition. That report alerted a constellation of reconnaissance satellites in polar, equatorial, or geosynchronous orbits according with their individual mission objectives. Still other, low Earth orbit satellites refine that location to within inches. These spacecraft will record and relay their detection of the weapon’s deployment from wherever on the planet it occurs, and will do so with exquisite accuracy. These data will be aggregated, assessed, reduced and assessed again in near real time on DOD and NSA supercomputers, and the information shared across their encrypted networks. This is high-tech secret stuff at its fantastic spooky James Bond best. Within milliseconds, this missile will be more closely followed and photographed than Paris Hilton.
Discriminated from the cascade of data that ceaselessly flood in to the communications systems of the national security infrastructure, a series of hierarchical decisions are made on these diverse and aggregated data. Within seconds it is concluded that the threat is real. A ballistic missile attack has been launched from inside Bezurkestan. Given its point of origin, the United States is a possible target. Given its fast-developing profile, the United States is the probable target.
But detection alone, however swift and conclusive is not nearly enough. An analogy to this might be seeing the flash of a gun barrel, then realizing it’s been fired at you. But ballistic missiles move many times faster than any bullet ever fired. Countermeasures must be deployed. Lightning fast defensive tactics that might intercept and destroy the missile before it reaches its target are the most obvious means our immeasurably wealthy, powerful, and scientifically astute nation could employ in the interest of protecting its people in these unstable times.
NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, also observes the clandestine launch, along with the weapon’s moment-to-moment progress. Mach-3 interceptors are scrambled from strategically deployed air bases and carriers in the hope of destroying the missile in its boost (early) phase, while it’s still accelerating through Earth’s atmosphere toward space. (Keeping with our gun shot analogy, this response is analogous to seeing a muzzle flash somewhere within your field of vision, then moving quickly enough to deflect the shot before it leaves the gun’s barrel.) But minutes have transpired. It is already too late. Even with perfect situational awareness and perfectly choreographed response, the interceptors are based too far distant to catch the rapidly rising and accelerating vehicle.
Moving at several thousand miles per hour now, the rocket’s trajectory takes it farther and farther aloft, until, from across the wide Atlantic, its form emerges above the curvature of the planet. Thus exposed, the big missile’s sensors detect the first electromagnetic pulses generated by the next echelon of ground based American defensive radars thousands and more thousands of miles distant. The powerful multi-million watt pulses of energy have emanated from radars whose probing electronic eyes follow a line of sight tangential to their terrestrial sweep, thus they skim across the dark ocean, weakened, vestigial, until finally they skip off into space only as the planet’s surface curves away beneath their straight and narrow beams. When they find the soaring missile, it’s well on its way. They track it. Next the anti-missile missiles are deployed. And many will be deployed in the first several minutes following the detection. (Returning to our gunshot analogy one last time, this stage of defense is akin to drawing your own pistol after you’ve been shot at, and attempting to shoot the attacker’s bullet out of the air before it strikes you.) But it will be the same for this and all of the American defenses arrayed and sequentially deployed against this single threat. All will prove useless. We can only effectively respond with retaliatory measures that will strike the launch site, destroy it, and perhaps destroy the country from which the missile came, thus diffusing further attacks. For the moment we can do nothing more. Once aloft and accelerated to near escape velocity, we cannot stop the missile’s flight any more effectively than the RAF could protect London from the German V-2 rockets of WW-II.
At altitude now, the offensive missile deploys its multiple warheads and more multiple decoys. Each warhead an ablative shell designed to withstand the fires of reentry. Each vehicle potentially housing and protecting a multi-megaton yeild atomic bomb, they all begin their long fall back to planet Earth. Each follows a separate and confusing path. Three follow an indistinct, but guided trajectory. In all they form a macabre ensemble swan dive toward the familiar landmass below: the United States. Minutes later, and completely without effective warning to their people, the cities of New York, Boston, and Washington, DC are vaporized by a searing white heated shockwave. Expanding at 20,000 feet per second per second in all directions, the white-hot hurricanes destroy everything in three separate twenty-mile radii. Millions die instantly.
They are the fortunates.
Communications-, civil-, and disaster relief-infrastructures are spared none of the weapon’s fury. As the three mushroom clouds rise into the stratosphere, all is silent beneath their convergent plumes. There are no sirens. No rescuers. There is no way into the devastated cities, no way out, and no hope of either recovery or rational retaliation. Over the ensuing days, those millions not mercifully vaporized by the impossible blast, will endure the unimaginable agonies of radiation poisoning, incineration’s aftermath, and ultimately agonizing and tortuous decline into a welcomed stupor of trauma, starvation, and shock. There will be no anesthetic, only agony. There will be no rescuers, only a beseeched - and for those fortunate enough to succumb - a merciless death.
Too horrible to contemplate? Perhaps. But what I’ve just described is an imaginary, though plausible scenario to which President Bush wants every American adult attuned. If returned to office in November it is a realization that he and his unchecked, lame duck administration will use to secure full funding for the world’s most advanced, costly, and first-ever space-based Missile Defense System (MDS). But as horrible as the aforementioned might be to contemplate, more horrible still, is the realization that what I’ve described is what could happen if the United States were so attacked AFTER it bought and finally deployed the costly and ultimately useless missile defense system Mr. Bush is proposing. What our president does not want you to know is this: as currently anticipated, the missile defense system he is endorsing and funding with your children’s money, will greatly enrich his private defense contractor cronies (the usual suspects), but it will protect the United States and her people from nothing. Nothing. Nothing!
In fact, with the false security and contingent defensive strategies such a deployment would engender, America and her people would actually be more vulnerable than we are today, and - I might add - more socially bankrupt to boot.
To rationally consider how we got here, think exploitative societal persuasion. Think Pennsylvania Avenue as Madison Avenue. Think 100,000,000 impressionable, childlike, frightened, biased, scientifically illiterate Americans.
Too opinionated? Okay. Think toothpaste.
Some decades past, old geezers like this scribbler will recall how a major toothpaste company’s TV ads described and illustrated an invisible shield called “Gardol.” In the animated ads, the Gardol Shield was illustrated as a bubble-like transparent dome that covered the dentin of those wise enough to brush with the minty flavored toothpaste from the red tube with the white lettering. Try as he might, evil Mr. Tooth Decay could not break through. The invisible Gardol Shield would thus protect ones mouth against the ravages of a hostile, albeit sugarcoated, world. It was pure hucksterism. It was wonderful mid-century fun, and a not-ineffective visual sales tool. At just that time, and in the interest of neither fun nor salesmanship, both the United States and its Soviet adversaries were also contemplating an invisible shield. It was a pair of missile defense “shields,” one against the other. To my youthful mind’s eye, the proposed defense shields always seemed an electromagnetic version of the Gardol thing. My kid mind envisioned a big protective invisible dome of radar and optical sensors covering America and protecting us from harm. Groovy. But there was an ever more aggressive arm to missile defense strategy at that time too. I would not learn about this until I grew up, became an engineer and got in the techno-spooky game myself. It was called MAD. That’s an acronym for Mutually Assured Destruction. The logic behind MAD was a bit more primal. It portended that if the Soviets launched a ballistic missile attack against the United States, we would in turn launch an unlimited apocalyptic retaliatory ICBM attack from whose horrors no Russian city or citizen would be spared. The deterrent philosophy of mutually assured destruction - though called MAD - was actually contingent upon mutually assumed sanity. The operative word in either phrase though, was “mutually.” What “mutually” subtly implied was that the first strike by either side would be successful. We were acknowledging that there was no American defense against a first strike ballistic missile offensive. If the Russians launched a nuclear missile at New York City (and it did not fail of its own accord) with no Gardol shield in the American sky, the missile would get through. Simple. Boom!
So it was. So it remains.
Given this subliminal realization, coupled with the propensity toward fear so characteristic of modern America and its Compassionate Conservative “leadership,” both then and now, it was obvious that a defensive and preventative approach to ballistic missile defense should meet with popular favor. Fortunately, before we sold the ranch or bought the farm, the Russians became our pals again. As such we were spared the cost of building and then dismantling the Star Wars Missile Defense System so dear to the heart, if not actually the head, of Ronald Reagan.
But there was something that MAD did not contemplate, and the Reagan Star Wars system inadvertently did.
What MAD overlooked was the willingness if not outright eagerness of today’s enemies to face assured self destruction as well as the retaliatory devastation of everything one might hold dear, in the single-minded interest of achieving a greater good under god. That greater good in this case would be the eventual destruction of the infidel empire known as America. The new threat, the threat of terrorism on the grandest scale imaginable, makes the too-often fearful and more-often ill-informed American citizen once more receptive to the idea of a missile defense system predicated upon the preventative shield. So we once again find ourselves faced with an equally dubious, if less costly (in dollars, not lives) and fatally flawed missile defense shield. With the stage thus set, enter the scientifically averse and fear-mongering Bush administration. Enter as well, their version of the equally stupid Reagan administration’s equally misguided (pun intended) missile defense pipe dream. Prepare yourself, America, for the invisible Gardol Shield of the American Psyche, less popularly known as the Ground-based Mid-course Defense system (GMD) and its centerpiece the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle.1 Tada! (Fanfare)
The operative word amid all the acronymic babble is Kill. The operative question is, who, what, where, when, and why?
However fantastic and physically implausible such a scheme might be, it would be readily accepted by a substantial plurality of today’s Star Wars and Valium drenched Americans. However scientifically or economically dubious such a scheme might prove to be to the informed minority, just one more dark-skinned man with a box cutter is all that stands between rationality and a trillion dollar deep space missile defense system. As usual, the Bushies and their defense industry cronies would find the quivering majority of Americans and the corporate press that feeds them, to be just so many pushovers. And don’t look for too much deductive reasoning from the technocrats or intellectual elite. A missile defense system’s design and construction would employ the very scientists, professors, and engineers who would be otherwise expected to speak out against its viability. In a depressed tech economy, that shuts up most everybody. There would be no substantive and vocal informed minority.
That’s how we got here. So let’s discuss the system our children are going to buy us.
You’ll be pleased to know that the concept of exoatmospheric interception is more difficult to pronounce than it is to understand. Perhaps that’s why our president never speaks of it conceptually when demanding enormous sums of our money for its development. Allow me, then, to fill in the gaps.
The proposed and proposed yet again missile defense system, or the MDS as it was known, has now been renamed GMD by the DOD. It’s supposed to work like this. Through the combination of the satellite and ground based early warning radar and optical systems described earlier, incoming ballistic missiles will be detected and tracked precisely from the moment their booster fires carry the hostile rocket aloft. We do this part well. Once the radar and satellite data confirms the target as hostile, interceptor jets will scramble to shoot it down. They will fail as the swift rocket climbs out of their range. Rockets, big, American, Minuteman class ICBMs, will also be launched from subterranean silos. Guided by the big ground radar net, they will home in on and converge with the hostile rocket faster than a speeding bullet. This homing interceptor technology is similar to that deployed in the first Iraq war when CNN-watching Americans were introduced to the Patriot Missile for the first time. The Patriots of course were deployed against enemy Scud missiles that flew much closer to the ground than any ICBM spacecraft. The Scuds were also very much slower, visible, predictable, and - not incidentally – obsolete dumb bombs little changed from their WW-II-era predecessors.
The Patriots were pretty exciting to watch as they blazed off of their launchers to destroy Saddam’s incoming Scuds. The CNN news guy in the leather jacket and all those retired generals whom I would presume fought bravely in Grenada were almost orgasmic as they described the scene through our TV sets. What neither they nor any of us dopes at home were ever told, though, was that every one of the Patriots we fired, all forty-five missiles, very probably missed. That’s right. According to an impeccably credentialed American rocket scientist, each and every one missed.2 Though innitially dismissing the allegations as baseless, under pressure and subsequent proof from MIT scientist and former Senior Scientific Advisor to Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon, Theodore Postol, the Army admitted that the Patriot Missile failed in Iraq.3 Its manufacturer denies these allegations.
Keep that in mind. Keep as well your government’s disregard for truth in its recounting. Because the same gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight who designed the Patriot Missile – Raytheon Corporation – was also picked to design the most critical stage of the entire GMD interceptor system: the missile’s actual payload. What each huge, multistage interceptor rocket carries aloft and accelerates to “ramming speed” is something known as the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle.
Small. Less than six feet long, the kill vehicle, or EKV, is a little rocket itself. It's designed to be carried aloft by the booster rocket to rendezvous with the incoming rogue just as the latter releases its nuclear warhead(s). This occurs high in space at or shortly after the rogue’s trajectory achieves its mid-course zenith. Once the EKV is within about 400 miles of where the now falling warhead(s) should be, the kill vehicle’s infrared lenses seek out their target. Once identified, the kill vehicle’s little rocket engines fire, steering it on a collision course with the doomed warhead. Closing at about seven miles per second, the kill vehicle simply rams the incoming atomic bomb, thus reducing it to space junk in the most inelegant fashion imaginable.
Now let’s talk some more about what really happens and why.
To date the system’s been subjected to empirical (real missiles, real kill vehicles, real exoatmospheric encounters, ever-and-ever-less-than-real decoys) test some eight or ten times. For reasons that will become obvious in the next few paragraphs, they don’t publicize the tests much anymore. They just declare them successful whatever the results might be. So let’s talk about the last one, and the first seven. Those are the ones I took the time to learn about. As an engineer, I often wish I’d not done so. But for others of you with technical backgrounds, who are interested in a more detailed assesment of the program, Theodore Postol has written an extraordinary treatise on the testing. You’ll recall that he’s the MIT rocket scientist who discovered and forced the U.S. government to admit to their deceit about the Patriot missile’s abysmal performance in the first Iraq War. Postol recounts in MIT’s Technology Review (Vol-105 / No-3, see Footnotes) how in the first test of the new GMD system a disarmed warhead and ten decoys of various shapes and sizes were deployed. We in happy land were told that the test was a resounding success. The U.S. Army told us that the exercise proved definitively the possibility of picking out a warhead from within a swarm of decoys. We were not told that the satellite tracking devices lost track of the ascending missile 3 minutes after its booster engines shut down and went cold, thus leaving the EKV with a distinct accuracy disadvantage as it was carried farther aloft. That was seven years ago. Since then the Bush administration has removed funding for a new more accurate radar from the program’s budget. So the same loss of track and attendant error has been experienced in every test since. We were also not told that the decoys were all of substantially different shapes than that of the warhead, something no enemy with enough brains to even spell the word missile would do. This would be the equivalent of Cheney and Scalia putting cork-filled eagle decoys in the lake to attract the ducks they so enjoy shooting together. In reality that just ain’t gonna happen. Decoys are supposed to be decoys. We were also not told that immediately after the EKV’s sensors locked on to the obviously-different-from-all-the- “decoys” warhead, one of the decoys – a balloon – deflated. This caused the EKV tobecome confused and lost lock on the actual warhead. At the closing speeds we’re talking about, the EKV had about three seconds to recover. It flew off harmlessly into space. If this were reality, BOOM! Goodbye New York.
The Pentagon called it an unqualified success.3
In three of the other six tests essentially the same thing happened. At no time could the EKV effectively desciminate between warhead and decoys that resembled the warhead within the few seconds between acquisition and flyby. In susequent tests any decoys which resembled the warhead in size, shape, reflection coefficient, or motion were systematically replaced. That’s a failure by any standard. In two, the EKVs’s heat sensors couldn’t find the warhead or the decoy and instead locked on the Sun. Unless we’re trying to kill the Sun, that’s a failure. These things occured despite that the tracking radars told it exactly when and from where the target missile would be launched. Each test was concducted within the same geometric parameters and at the same time of day, thus placing the sun, and planet Earth in identical reference positions. With each try the decoys and warheads were not only made more physically and reflectively diverse, but spaced farter apart, then closer together, and the EKV programmed to look at a predetermined quadrant. Even then, in three of the subsequent tests the kill vehicle missed the warhead completely.
BOOM! Goodbye Washington, DC.
BOOM! Goodbye Boston.
BOOM! Goodbye to some other place.
Fortunately the tests used mock warheads. Thus the Pentagon remains standing, and was able to declare the test program a rousing success.
The most recent test with which I’m familiar, I’ll call it number eight, I will take the liberty of personally declaring an abysmal failure. I’ll declare it a failure without even knowing if the EKV hit the warhead or not. It was a failure because as an engineer I find the test suite employed in test number eight – in fact in all tests but test number one - nothing less than a criminal deception by our government against its people and our security. We’ve been defrauded. To insist upon success to the point that one completely distorts and prostitutes a test process upon whose results millions of lives might someday depend, and to do so in the interest of guaranteeing the test’s favorable results is to aid and abet mass murder. In test number ‘eight,” that’s exactly what was done.
In test number eight, after an unbroken string of failures, all the decoys but one, were eliminated. The target went aloft with one warhead and one decoy. The decoy was a round balloon. It was three times larger than the warhead. This shape and size were deliberately selected because it could not ever look like the warhead, and could not tumble end-over-end as an actual warhead might do, thus virtually removing any possibility of confusing the EKV. It obviated both the possibility of failure, and the possibility of valid testing. Another success was declared. Bush approved the first round of funding to actually start building the GMD system.
We will now be left to depend upon this compound and repetitive failure to protect our nation and its people from missile attack. We will space the interceptor jets and warships – things that could, if correctly deployed in a well-designed system, actually kill an enemy missile during its boost phase – farther away from potential launch points. We will, in a word, drop our guard, while being duped into spending a treasure on false security again.
Words fail me.
Where, my dear fellow American, does it end? When do the profiteers, religious zealots, criminals, and traitors who’ve taken control of the republic we love with all our hearts and minds, when do they stop misusing our defenses, our treasure, our people’s lives, and our children’s common future as a means to further enrich themselves or satisfy their perverse dreams of power and immortality?4 Where and when do we draw the line? When do our countrymen and women - they the people - wake up, and see through the flag in which the thugs and kooks have wrapped themselves? When do our countrymen get off their knees, stand upright as did the brave, free men and women from whom we’re all descended, and join us and the world as we roar in a single human voice, “Enough!”
From my home here in the Los Angeles hills, my neighbors and I can see the rockets going aloft from Vandenberg Field pretty regularly. So it’s hard to ignore what’s happening to us and around us. The tests are pretty much all the same. The launch sites are the same. The targets are the same. And - according to my scientist friends – if we correct for the deliberate dumbing down of the decoys, the results are pretty much the same too. What changes is the scoring, of course. That’s what really matters to our government stooges and their corporate masters who will build this deadly debacle and sell it to us chumps. It does not have to work. Like the joke about the parachute that doesn’t work, who will be around to complain if missile defense doesn’t work?
Where are the military men and women who are sworn to speak out against acts of tyranny? This is surely that. If they still exist, and I’m certain they do, to whom would such men and women speak? The corporate press and their careerist superiors have already proven to be worhtless whores. The Department Of Justice has been reduced to little more than the God Police. Why would an officer destroy a career when one can predict the response (no response, only retribution) from the governing authorities?
Those who might speak out are trampled before a stampede to the public trough the likes of which our country has never endured.
In true zealot fashion (see Uncurious George, by this writer), the Bush administration came to this program with pre-drawn conclusions. When empirics belied those conclusions, or put them in doubt, they distorted the facts and results to support them.
Taboos be damned. It’s time to call this spade a spade. By that I mean our president is a declared Biblical literalist. His actions and reactions have proven him a loony Luddite who disdains of both evidence and rational science when they disagree with his pre-formed conclusions. Reality does nothing to alter his perceptions. If he’s wrong (and he is) and we all get vaporized because of it, he’s figuring he’s gonna find The Rapture anyway, so what the heck. I don’t know what exactly rapture is in Bush’s mind, but I know he’s sure nuff a-fixin’ to find it in the afterlife. Well, letting him and his equally screwball advisors endorse this unworkable missile defense system, is a very good way to get him – and the rest of us – straight to that afterlife. If left unchecked, Bush will leave us both vulnerable and ignorant of our vulnerability. As is his wont, he will do so just to profit his cronies and – like the terrorist he is - to sate his strange immortal desire for to spend eternity in Heaven. But this time, this time he’ll be taking us all through a very real hell to get there.
An engineer and pilot, Dom Stasi is Chief Technology Officer for a national television network in Los Angeles. He was the original chief engineer who helped develop both HBO and MTV’s satellite-based networks. He has been a member of the Project Apollo technical team, and worked with missile defense contractors in engineering flight and systems ground testing.
Footnotes - References
- Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle: http://www.oss.goodrich.com/ExoatmosphericKillVehicle.shtml
- Village Voice, Jan, 2003. “Weapon Of The Week,” by George Smith http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0301/smith.php
- MIT Technology Review. Volume 105. Number 3. “Why Missile Defense Won’t Work,” by Theodore Postol.
- Red Pepper, Feb. 2004, “Space Cowboys, by Paul Rogers http://www.redpepper.org.uk/Feb2004/x-Feb2004-Rogers.html