Missile Defense: Success and Failure

There is a remarkable article in the October issue of The American Spectator by John Train entitled At Sea on an Aegis Destroyer. In it, Train gives a very upbeat assessment of the status of American capabilities at sea-based ballistic missile defense. What I find remarkable is, on the one hand, the detailed content of the piece and, on the other, an unfortunate consequence that Train might not have foreseen.

The details that Train supplies on the specs of a recently deployed US anti-ballistic missile destroyer, as well as the underlying strategies that govern its behavior, are surprisingly explicit:

It all happens so fast that the decisions – detecting the attacking missile’s launch, calculating its trajectory, generating the firing solution, and launching the shipboard SM-3 missile to intercept – are made at lightning speed by computers, not by the destroyer’s commander, who could not possible decide fast enough So you put the necessary general instructions and specific intelligence into the vast “SPY 1B” radar system and the SM-3 program, and then sit back and watch things unfold. These days the real-life SM-3 almost invariably hits an incoming missile.

A BMD [ballistic missile destroyer] ship’s main duty is thus shooting down ballistic missiles with the interception missiles it has on board. There are 61 of them, about 33 feet long, stored in 20 square-topped vertical “cells” under the foredeck and 61 under the afterdeck. (An Aegis cruiser, somewhat larger than a destroyer, has the same radar and missile system, … [also] with 61 cells under the foredeck and 61 more aft. It also has two five-inch guns rather than the destroyer’s one.)

The missile component of the Aegis system – the SM-3 – is entering service in improved versions as testing and research evolve under a 10-year “Phased Adoptive Approach.” There are 30-some at sea already, including the entire Arleigh-Burke class of destroyers and three Ticonderoga-class cruisers.

The theory of ballistic missile defense is not to provide a perfect shield, but to degrade an attack to the point where it becomes unprofitable, as our riposte will unfailingly ruin the attacking country.

I have seen little if any of this assessment discussed heretofore in the press. Actually, it is very inspiring and satisfying to learn that Ronald Reagan’s vision of ballistic missile defense capabilities has come close to fruition. But, as I said, the number and specificity of the details on the nature of our system that is revealed in the article are striking. One wonders why at least some of the material was not classified. Why did the military provide the author easy access to these facts and more importantly, why did they give permission to divulge them? The only rational thought – other than incompetence — that comes to mind is that the US Government wants those who might contemplate a missile strike on the US to be aware of the advanced state of our missile defense capabilities. A natural line of reasoning is that armed with that knowledge, and knowing already of our offensive capabilities, our enemies would therefore be induced to refrain from such an attack, fearing that it would not succeed and that our response would be devastating.

Which brings me to the second remarkable feature of the article – the lack of any mention of a possible unintended consequence of the advanced state of our missile defense capability. One of the features of MAD that accounted for its success in preventing a nuclear exchange during the Cold War was each side’s absolute certainty that a ballistic missile attack would elicit a response in kind. It seems to me that a successful anti-ballistic defense system might remove that certainty. For example, with the Prophet Obama at the helm, it is entirely plausible that should Iran attempt a missile strike against the US and should we successfully deflect it, then the Anointed One might very likely refrain from initiating the devastating response (even if were restricted to only military targets) that the Iranian regime and its complicit people would so richly deserve.

This post also appeared in The American Thinker blog under the title, The Unintended Consequences of Missile Defense; see http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/10/the_unintended_consequences_of.html