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Hamstringing Missile Defense

Is an old problem, says Angelo Codevilla in a recent article on American foreign policy:

The East European system that Obama scrapped was not terribly valuable militarily because its components, high-tech ground-based radars, computers, and optically guided interceptors, had been crippled congenitally to provide strictly marginal protection against just a few medium-range Iranian missiles. Had the radar not had its field of view restricted, and had the system used the long-range interceptors now deployed in Alaska, in meaningful numbers instead of a token 10 newly developed shorter-range ones, it would have been able to defend America as well as Europe against missiles from anywhere in Eurasia, including Iran. But because using the technology to its proper effect would have defended against Russia as well, the Bush administration crippled it at conception and Obama aborted it.

For the same reason, the system that Obama proposed substituting, based on the Navy's excellent AEGIS computers and interceptors, is similarly crippled. It has always been clear that were the AEGIS interceptors programmed and launched on the basis of information from satellites, they could easily defend against warheads in late midcourse coming from anywhere. But, to make sure AEGIS cannot possibly defend America against Russia, administration after administration has restricted AEGIS interceptors to information (except for terminal homing) provided by the ship's radar. . . .

These are but the least examples of how the U.S. government, whose ideology is set by the left and whose practices are shaped by bureaucratic self-interest, has trumped technology by distorting its applications. Defending against ballistic missiles existing at any given time is not now and has not been a technical mystery since 1958, when the U.S. Army accompanied its first IRBM test with a mock intercept by the rudimentary Nike system . . . But while technology can overcome missiles and warheads, it cannot dent the "scientific technological elite's" (recall Eisenhower's warning) self-interest in current programs. Nor can it affect the left's proclivities. And so billions of dollars plus wonders in computers, miniaturization, infrared sensors, optics, and lasers have produced only devices such as our Alaska-based radars and interceptors that apply new technology to 1950s notions of missile defense and are deployed in token quantities, or in devices conceived for exemplary impotence.

For an example of technical crippling, look at something originally called THEL (Tactical High Energy Laser) and later Skyguard, intended to defend northern Galilee against terrorist Katyusha rockets. Cobbled together starting in 1996 from parts of the U.S. space laser program, by 1998 the prototype was blowing up Katyushas, in flight at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. Building the ground-based version involved far more technical complications than developing the space version in the first place: while the space version needed to move only a few degrees to track distant ICBMs, the ground version's pointer-tracker had to move fast and far to deal with nearby Katyushas, and while the space version used the negative pressures of space to turn chemical combustion into light, the ground version had to produce vacuum exhausts for each shot. It took a lot of work to turn a weapon capable of defending against ballistic missiles from anywhere to anywhere into one that serves very limited purposes.

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