Monday, April 30, 2007

Part Two: The U.S. missile defense system: does it work?

Last Friday, I posted Part One: The U.S. missile defense system: "blowback" about Russia’s decision to suspend its pact with NATO, apparently as a result of the U.S. proposal for a new missile defense system in Europe and the Bush administration’s unilateral pull-out from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972.

A logical follow-up question to Bush’s insistence that we have a missile defense system despite the reaction of Russia and other countries is: Does it work?

Hmmm, not an easy question to answer. Depends on what you read. According to a April 27 CBS News report, U.S. missile defense test is successful, “The U.S. military's sea-based missile defense system on Thursday showed it could intercept two targets simultaneously when it destroyed a cruise missile and a short-range ballistic missile during a test off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The test marked eight out of 10 times the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy's Aegis ballistic missile defense system successfully intercepted targets. But it was the first time the system knocked out two targets at the same time.”

A comment posted in response to the article: “Will missiles intercept atmospheric nuclear explosions? LOL,” linking to an article at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). I receive e-mail alerts from NTI and trust this source of information.

As recently as last August, the Washington Post reported Rumsfeld Unsure of Ability to Intercept Korean Missiles: “After his first look inside the nerve center [at Fort Greeley, Alaska] of the U.S. missile defense system, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Sunday sounded a note of caution about expectations that interceptors poised in 10 underground silos here would work in the event of a missile attack by North Korea.

Asked at a news conference whether he believed the missile shield was ready for use against a North Korean missile like the one test-fired unsuccessfully on July 4, Rumsfeld said he would not be fully convinced until the multibillion-dollar defense system has undergone more complete and realistic testing.

‘A full end-to-end’ demonstration is needed, Rumsfeld said, ‘where we actually put all the pieces’ of the highly complex and far-flung missile defense system together and see whether it would succeed in destroying a warhead in flight.”

Short range? Long range” I’m certainly not an expert in missile defense systems, but I note that there’s a significant difference in the distance between the island of Kauai where the missile target was launched and offshore Kauai where it was intercepted, and Fort Greeley, Alaska and North Korea.

The bottom line for me is to continue to pay attention to this issue.

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