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The U.S. Defense Department claims that its Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) and Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) systems make the U.S. homeland invicible from ballistic missile attack. These claims are insane, say two of the nation's top security experts.  (Source: Nato Source/Atlantic Council)

The security researchers claim drone-based interception over the enemy nation is the only reliable way to shoot down ballistic missiles.  (Source: DARPA/Boeing)

Iran is reportedly designing fin-less ballistic missiles that could outwit current U.S. interceptors. Iranian defense officials are pictured here unveiling their new drone bomber, which they nicknamed "the messenger of death".  (Source: Reuters)
They suggest a drone based solution would fix the flaws presented by a ground-based system, using only existing tech

The United States recently followed Israel's claims that it was ready to shoot down any nuclear missile aimed its way, with similar claims of its own.  The U.S. has begun reexamining space-based defenses and has also been quietly upgrading its ground-based missile-defense shield, even as U.S. President Barack Obama pushes his vision of global nuclear disarmament.

A new study, though, published in the 
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, insists that the U.S.'s claims of security are very flawed.  Authored by two top American security authorities, the study argues that despite recent upgrades and breakthroughs, America assertion that its homeland is safe from any airborne nuclear threat is a "dangerous fantasy".

George N. Lewis, a physicist and associate director of the Peace Studies Program at Cornell University, and Theodore A. Postal, a physicist and professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT, authored the new report.

The report specifically targets an April 2010 U.S. government resolution that declared the U.S. to be safe from ballistic missile threats from hostile nations such as Iran and North Korea, thanks to its US Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) and Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) systems.  According to Professors Lewis and Postal, though, this new declaration is based on a "technical myth" as Iran is thought to be developing countermeasures to make its ballistic devices harder to shoot down.  Other hostile nations may be working on similar countermeasures.

But the pair of professors isn't just griping about what they view as an ineffective strategy -- they're proposing what seems like a sensible solution.  They advise that rather than rely on what they call a "ineffective, untested, and unworkable" GMD system, that funding instead be put into developing a constantly airborne fleet of stealth drones over the airspace of hostile nations.

That way, rather than trying to shoot down missiles that have already reached the United States, Northern and Western Europe, and Northern Russia -- and likely are deploying countermeasures -- the drones would instead launch fast interceptors taking out the missiles over the hostile country's own airspace, preventing them from deploying effective countermeasures.

The plan would also be kosher with the New START arms reduction treaty, recently signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.  That treaty set a limit of 1,550 ready-to-use ballistic warheads (each) on the U.S. and Russia's respective arsenals.  It also contained language limiting certain missile defense strategies.

The current systems, according to the pair of researchers, are ineffective for two reason.  The first is simple physics.  Interceptors, in their current form, can only accurately predict and target regular trajectories from finned missile designs.  Iran is reportedly designing fin-less designs that would likely cause interceptors to miss.  They could also employ tumbling missile designs, similar to those used to defeat the Patriot Missile Defense in the Gulf War of 1991.

Secondly, decoys can also hinder proper shoot-down.  U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles are equipped with decoy warheads, so that once in space, the real warhead launches amid a swarm of identical dummy warheads, making interception an increasingly impossible task. There's no reason why Iran, North Korea, or others would be unable to develop similar technology.

The authors take special issue with the U.S. Defense Department's claims that the U.S. is already defended from nuclear threats, pointing out that they have no evidence supporting that the system would work in combat.  Professor Lewis comments, "These claims are fantastical, audacious, and dangerous."

A drone solution they say would provide a full answer to the problem and would not require new technology.  Further, shot down warheads would fall on enemy territory should they still manage to activate after being hit by an interceptor.

Professor Lewis concludes, "The situation is urgent, as Iran is already demonstrating countermeasures in flight tests that would render both the GMD and SM-3 long-range missile defense systems ineffective.  If we, as a nation, refuse to confront the fact that our chosen defense system is not reliable, and if we fail to build a robust and reliable alternative system using existing technology, we will have only ourselves to blame if the continental United States suffers a catastrophe as a result of the successful delivery of a nuclear weapon by long-range ballistic missile."

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RE: We need...
By ekv on 11/2/2010 12:14:31 AM , Rating: 3
And today we have 747's with lasers that can -- and have! -- shot down ballistic missiles. We have, today, missiles (deployed on the West Coast) that can intercept ICBM's. Etc.

Good start if you ask me.

RE: We need...
By eskimospy on 11/2/2010 10:08:55 AM , Rating: 3
None of this really addresses the shortcomings of the system. The problem is structural, one that any system designed for the mid course guidance intercept phase will run into. They are easily overwhelmed by decoys and volume by any real missile threat, and lesser countries interested in a chemical/biological/nuclear attack on us are unlikely to use ballistic missiles to do it anyway. If you're a small country interested in launching a nuclear attack on the US that is large enough to enrage us but not large enough to destroy us (ie: any rogue nation attack), it's a really bad idea to leave your fingerprints on the deed by virtue of a big glowing missile launch. So, this BMD system is largely useless.

The one thing it WOULD be good at is what makes it so destabilizing, however. It would mostly be useful after a first strike US nuclear attack on a strong nuclear adversary that wipes out most of their nuclear capability, leaving our BMD system to mop up their counterattack. This doesn't seem to be a priority for us (thank god), so I question this system's utility.

Star Wars was a ridiculous waste of money, and current BMD systems are not much better.

RE: We need...
By bh192012 on 11/2/2010 7:27:51 PM , Rating: 2
Why would NK care about the fingerprints on the missle, any more than they would the fingerprints from the nuke it's attached to? Both will point to NK. NK doesn't have enough decoys to matter. If Kim wanted to send us a couple of parting gifts from his deathbed, I'll be glad we have some interceptor capability. I'm sure he'd gladly watch us squirm v.s. China after destroying SF and LA.

RE: We need...
By ekv on 11/3/2010 1:50:13 AM , Rating: 2
No, I'm not addressing the shortcomings of the system. If that's what you're expecting then perhaps you'd also like to provide a research grant to go along with that? I promise the research paper will be top quality. Honest 8)

Further, you suggest "chemical/biological/nuclear attack" by lesser countries. An asymmetric or unrestricted approach to warfare is certainly possible given the irrational leaders of N. Korea and Iran. Each backed by China and Russia, respectively. But consider: in such a situation, leaving a "fingerprint on the deed" would not be an issue but rather a source of national pride. Especially if you're a pawn in a greater match. In this scenario, having a BMD system is invaluable. [Queen's Gambit Declined, anybody?]

As for destabilizing international relations ... I disagree. If we have the system, and we are a good people -- that wants to make a buck and provide for our family -- then you MUST think twice before trying anything stupid. That is not destabilizing.

I will grant you that whatever BMD system we have now is far from perfect. I doubt it is even funded, for crying out loud. However, I reiterate, what we have is a good start. It is interesting, not terribly expensive, productive and has great potential. [Things you cannot say about the War on Poverty].

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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