Back to: Blair: The Final Countdown | Forward to: Spinning the hamster wheel

Paging Dr Evil (or, Who designs these things, anyway?)

The Strategic Defense Initiative (aka "Star Wars" program) has, since Ronald Reagan announced it more than 20 years ago, cost the US government more than US $100Bn. (That's a lot of M&Ms.)

To be fair, they've got some bang for their hundred thousand Big Ones — the Missile Defense Agency now operates a Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System whereby they can (in bright light, with a tail-wind, and on days with a "T" in their name) shoot down a crude incoming ballistic missile. There are about ten interceptor missiles available, and the current goal of the project is to pop a cap in the ass of any rogue state that tries to destroy the United States by launching a single 1950s-vintage ICBM with a single warhead and no countermeasure capability. (Presumably before the response turns the attacker's country into a glowing hole in the map.) There's also a slightly more advanced naval system that can track and intercept intermediate and theatre ballistic missiles (assuming the rogue state in question is shooting across a sea patrolled by the US Navy).

However, there is one leetle weakness in the BMD program. To hit a missile with a missle requires fairly accurate radar — it entails accurately tracking a target the size of a dustbin at a range of several thousand kilometres — and so they've also developed an appropriate radar system. The sea-based X-band radar system (pictured above) is a thing of technological beauty that looks as if it sailed in out of a Bond movie: a $900M fifty thousand tonne offshore platform with a 1800 ton radar installation on top of it, it's designed to sit in the ocean near the Aleutian islands and spot incoming sub-orbital trash cans and guide the rocket interceptors into the target.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with it. And the problem isn't just the fact that it doesn't have a lifeboat and can't be evacuated in event of a storm.

No, the problem is quite simple: any budding Doctor Evil can ensure the success of his orbital mind control lasers or terrorist ICBMs by the simple expedient of sending something like a 1950s vintage Whisky class diesel-electric submarine to poke a pointy stick through the eyes of the ballistic missile defense system. Which is, you will notice, not exactly mounted on a vessel that's capable of fighting off a bunch of Malacca Straits pirates in a speed-boat, never mind a third world navy.

I don't know about you, but I'm coming to the conclusion that the Pentagon subcontracted this job to the same guys that James Bond's enemies always hired to design their headquarters — you know, the one with the prominently labelled SELF DESTRUCT button. (That would be Halliburton and Brown & Root, right?) I mean, what other explanation is there for spending $100Bn on a mind-numbingly sophisticated ballistic missile defense system ... only to leave it vulnerable to a single good old-fashioned torpedo?

58 Comments

1:

I've had more seaworthy vessels floating in my bath when I was 5 years old.

2:

On the other hand, "the dastardly North Koreans just blew the hell out of our Aleutian ballistic missile defense system; whatever can they be planning?" is a question with some very obvious answers.

3:

This particular creature was docked at Pearl Harbor earlier this year for an overhaul. Pictures don't adequately convey the weirdness or size of the thing - you could see it from miles away on the freeway. My first fragmentary thought was "Did aliens just land?" From ground level it looks like nothing so much as some kind of SFnal starship. The second more reassuring thought was that the Air Force had put up some kind of weird control tower. Then as I drove along I realized from the parallax that it was a whole lot further away than I'd thought, about 5 times bigger than I'd thought, and was sitting out in the harbor. Eventually I found out what it was, but it took some hunting.

Practical it may not be, but stunningly strange - yes.

4:

Tony: suppose you're Dr Evil.

First, you send your submarine to do the dastardly deed, then you prep your missiles for launch. Next, you start looking for backscatter from the (over-the-horizon) radar. When the radar suddenly goes quiet, then you launch your missile.

In other words, blowing a hole in the radar platform is the trigger for the attack.

5:

I guess their $900M budget left no room for a few free-fall life boats.

6:

If you look at the picture on the wiki, you can see that it does actually have lifeboats. They're those bright orange things on the front of the thing. What it lacks is any kind of utility boat for doing the kind of things that need doing on a sea-going structure like this, such as rescuing men overboard.

7:

Ah, you're right. Serves me right for just scanning the linked article. There are indeed lifeboats, though judging from the pic at http://cryptome.sabotage.org/SBX04.jpg, they're winched up and down. This works fine, as long as you don't leave the drydock. There's a reason they invented the free-fall lifeboat

8:

For former work-related reasons, I can't comment directly on the underlying program or anything close to it. However, under the parody protection, I can comment, obliquely...

Seinfeld's joke comes to mind, about how Bruce Wayne orders gadgets such as the Batmobile, and tells the contractor: "It's not for me. It's for a friend..."

The reply to this was the rather good film "Batman Begins" where Bruce Wayne, shown the beta-test Batmobile asks: "Do you have that in black?"

Dr. Evil's #2 was entangled with Starbucks and Microsoft. Does that mean that Google wants to be identified with Austin Powers?

Any comments on the recent poll of British schoolchildren on top-ranking supervillains?

9:

Oh, for God's sake, man. What are you, some kind of reality-based thinker? Here in the U.S. we simply decide what reality is, and act accordingly. Plus, if we weren't buying trillion-dollar defense systems, we might actually have to fund health care or something. And once you start doing that, it's only a matter of time before the homos and the pinkos take over, and then it's pillars of salt all the way home.

10:

No, no, no, you've all missed the point. This is so much more fiendishly clever than you think. Look at it! Nothing that big and that obvious could be anything but a decoy!

In the first place, it really looks like it cost billions, and there couldn't have been enough left in the budget after the Halliburton tithe to build a real one.

11:

Just how common are 1950s era subs in US waters near important military assets? I mean, it's not like we have a navy or anything to stop people from blowing up our important military installations...

12:

Tony: suppose you're Dr Evil.

Avoid "Evil Genius" - it is a huge timesuck.

First, you send your submarine to do the dastardly deed, then you prep your missiles for launch. Next, you start looking for backscatter from the (over-the-horizon) radar. When the radar suddenly goes quiet, then you launch your missile.

They might not be able to shoot 'em down, but wouldn't the ABM radar going down be a trigger for immediate heigtened alert and retaliation?

Come to think of it, why on earth would anyone launch ballistic missiles at the US at all? There must be easier ways to kill yourself.

13:

vulnerable to a single good old-fashioned torpedo?

That's a bit harsh isn't it? I assume the pontoons on those things (drilling rigs, what it is based on) are subdivided. Therefore you should need 2-4 torps to do for it.

BTW, the SBX is often the subject of posts on sci.military.naval
http://groups.google.co.nz/group/sci.military.naval/search?q=SBX

15:

Dude. Charlie. Fucking cracked up over the Bullshit reference to M&Ms. Thanks for the memory!

16:

Tony: Come to think of it, why on earth would anyone launch ballistic missiles at the US at all? There must be easier ways to kill yourself.

If you take out the ABM radar so they don't know precisely where the ballistic missile was launched from (to better than a few hundred miles), use a submarine launch platform, and run a decent disinformation campaign ahead of the attack, then it's a great way to kill your hated neighbour. Ditto the terrorist nuke in a container. Call it a thousand-fold force multiplier.

Because, y'know, the whole moral of the 9/11 and Iraq thing is that if you piss off the Americans they will go off and beat up on someone, even if it's the wrong person, just as long as they think they're getting their revenge.

Andrew G: Your faith in the US navy's anti-submarine patrol capabilities, especially in peacetime, and especially in the open waters of the north Pacific Ocean (clue: oceans are big) is touching.

I've seen a pretty picture of a US Navy CVN, taken through the periscope of a 60's vintage deisel-electric submarine owned by the Australian navy -- it's now in a museum. The picture was taken at torpedo range, with the CVN sitting fat and happy in the submarine's sights, and the sub inside the fleet's innermost defensive zone. Unlike this Dr Evil contraption, a CVN is capable of steaming along at high speed and taking evasive action. The photograph was taken during a SEATO exercise in which the carrier battle group knew that there were hostile submarines stalking their carrier: the whole point of the exercise was to find and "sink" the submarines. You know what? The submarine won. One of the dirty little secrets they don't talk about much in the press is that this happens regularly in exercises. Fleet Carriers -- even with a battle group of 10-30 other warships to protect them and sweep for submarines -- are vulnerable. And this platform makes a carrier look like a hardened target.

Unless you assign the equivalent of a couple of carrier battle groups on permanent protection, this thing is a sitting duck. And even if you do assign fifty or sixty ships to permanent picket duty, the sub captain only needs to get lucky once.

17:

There's a perfectly obvious way of covering that little weakness you've pointed out, Mr. Stross: put a carrier group around the radar whenever it moves through international waters, or there's a serious possibility of enemy ships coming by. The thing doesn't have to defend itself if there's a navy around to defend it.

18:

Michael: this thing is designed to be stationed several hundred miles off-shore from anywhere, effectively in international waters the whole time.

Has the navy budgeted for the extra escort group yet? The permanent one about the same size as the Royal Navy that this turkey is going to need?

And for the other escort groups for the other X-Band radar platforms that BMD are going to need to cover the flight path of missiles coming from places other than North Korea?

19:

Without land-based ABM radar you can detect the heat bloom of launching missiles via IR or even optical satellite tech. The caveat with that, of course, is that you have to have enough satellites to cover the hot-spots (North Korea, parts of the old USSR, China, India, Pakistan, soon Iran, probably South Africa (although I don't think we have missile launchers), Israel) etc, and a geosynch platform would probably be too far away to be useful, so you're going to have to have lots and lots of little orbiting sats, which themselves are vulnerable to anti-sat missiles launched from near-stratospheric fighter-interceptors. I could be wrong about the geosynch thing...corrections welcomed. I could also have been reading way too much Tom Clancy (although I'm not guilty of that anymore. His politics annoy me).

20:

Colin: if South Africa has anything to be proud of, it is of being the sole nation to first acquire nuclear weapons, then to get rid of them.

21:

Martin: of course, if South Africa decided it wanted nukes again it wouldn't take them too long to find the disassembled bits and recreate them. The estimate I heard was that if Germany wanted nukes it could have deliverable devices within two years, eighteen months at a push. Ditto for Japan.

22:

I can't help thinking that a more cost-effective defence against North Korean ballistic missiles would be a few AEGIS-equipped boats in the Sea of Japan, to intercept the missiles in their boost phase.

23:

Martin : Yeah, I know. But I still like to think that tucked away somewhere in a dark, cool mineshaft is that one device that no-one knew about. Of course, it wouldn't be a nuclear weapon. It would be a "radioaktiewe stelsel wat die Here het vir die Volk gegee", and would be ignited by prayer (or an NGK spark-plug). If no-one knows what I'm talking about, that's probably just as well.

24:

BDM Top Tip: Instead of installing your very expensive X-band radar platform on an wobbly oil rig in the middle of the deep ocean off the Aleutian islands, why not build it ON the Aleutian Islands instead thereby eliminating the risk from pesky Captain Nemo-types.

25:

Charlie:
Well, an offshore platform would be somewhat easier to defend against subs than a carrier group:

Let's consider the tasks a submarine has to accomplish in order to attack successfully:

0. Target detection:
Sure, the carrier group has the advantage of being able to move, but it's also very noisy. Against an adversary who uses airborne radar or RORSATs (Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellites) or aerial/space-based ESM this is an advantage.
However, if all the enemy has is surface-surface radar and sonar (e.g. third world nation), the sonar has a much longer range - Keep in mind that radar is line-of-sight only.
Conclusion: Against an enemy with a lot of old hardware a quiet but stationary target is probably harder to detect than a noisy moving one. (As you said, "oceans are big")

1. Approach:
Diesel-Electric submarines are extremely quiet when not moving (Batteries have no moving parts). The attacking submarine can just wait in the surface group's path and then pop up when the carrier is right on top of it.
This is not an option when attacking a stationary target (like an oil rig) where the submarine has to move first - which makes especially older models with noisy engines very easy to detect.

2. Avoiding detection:
A carrier group loses most of it's underwater sensor capabilities while on the move since most ship mounted sonar systems become almost completly useless at speeds greater than 10-15 knots. The only working sensors of the carrier group are aerial sensors and dedicated ASW ships that use sprinting.
An offshore platform however can use fixed sonar arrays (SOSUS etc.) to detect any contact that enters the area. Think multiple layers of bottom-moored or free-floating sonar arrays. Any submarine entering the proximity would have to pass right over them, making it rather easy to detect. (Detection probability being roughly inverse proportional to the square of distance). Once the submarine is detected one or two ASW helicopters could be launched from the rig to provide a lot of additional sensor- and firepower (ASW helicopters are a submariners worst enemy).

3. Kill:
Well, this is the easy part. The platform has no known countermeasures or evasion capabilites. If the BDM designers were clever the pontoons are amagnetic and covered in anechoic tiles, making hitting them with torps a bit more difficult. But why waste torpedos when you can just send a small underwater demolition team...

Conclusion:
If the designers know a bit about ASW this thing can be made quite secure against submarines.
Long-range ASMs or cruise missiles (range 70+ miles) launched from civilian freighters seem a much bigger thread, and they're widely available. Remember Iran's C-802s.

-- David

26:
I can't help thinking that a more cost-effective defence against North Korean ballistic missiles would be a few AEGIS-equipped boats in the Sea of Japan, to intercept the missiles in their boost phase.
Although boost-phase interception is the most desirable way to take out a missile (it's so much more fun to make it explode and burn up, then just to divert it by applying kinetic energy), I don't think this will work.
  • I doubt AEGIS has the ability to target a long range ballistic missle during ascent. Its range is listed as 100 nautical miles on Wikipedia; even giving it 250 means that it won't be able to see a missle that's aimed 5000 miles away for long, because the missle has to go higher than that in its trajectory.
  • What do they hit it with? The BMD doesn't have anything that can hit over 5000 miles away in the 3 minutes or so that boost will last, and I doubt that they can launch from a ship.
  • And if I were worried about an AEGIS ship detecting my launch, I'd rain down medium range missles on it just before I launched the ICBM, to keep it busy. AEGIS can track a hundred or 2 targets, but I don't think they can intercept that many; I suspect that trying to kill or dodge a few dozen would keep them too busy to launch A BMD even if they had the capability.
27:

This is apparently a re-build of a commercial oil platform, designed by the Norwegians for the "North Sea", which means bewteen Norway and Greenland. I'm not sure that "seaworthy" is quite the right word, but it should be able to take the weather.

One criticism is that the electronics aren't up to the environment. Another seems to be that they've not properly handled the helicopter facilities. Oil platforms can handle helicopters, but it may not have been fully tested, and one claim is that there's no provision to refuewl a helicopter.

Resupply may be the problem. The oil industry has various ships, carrying equipment out to rigs and providing such things as rescue support. This thing would have support vessels in the North Sea, but have they been provided for this deployment?

Finding the thing: it's transmitting, and I suppose a lot of power. With the right gear, I'd expect a sub to be able to home in on those transmissions. Could North Korea build a radar-homing head for an anti-ship missile? I wouldn't bet against it.

Or just wait for the weather to turn nasty.

Not all the eggs may be in one basket, but this is a very expensive basket. It needs support ships. What's the acceptable response time for a tug? Where's the infrastructure?

It maybe doesn't need a full escort group, but I can see this needed 3 or 4 warships to maintain a minimal cover, something that makes an attacker's life complicated.

This looks more like one of those ships the Russians built to provide communications for their space program. NASA had a sheep pasture in Australia. If they hadn't, this might have been a solution.

28:

use a submarine launch platform

This would be the kicker. That limits it to, what, Russia, China, India and Israel?

29:

I figured out some time back that Pakistan could build a covert nuclear-capable missile launch system into an old freighter, the sort that roams the seas pretty much anonymously under flags of convenience today. Just plant some of their 500-mile-range truck-mobile launchers in the holds. They don't even need to get within the 200 mile limits to shoot. They'd probably not survive but a suicide mission to knock out New York or LA is not an impossible consideration for a radicalised Talib-led Pakistan after Musharref bites the big one.

30:

Hrmph. Y'all are barking up the wrong tree. Even before googling, this thing smelled of defence contract, and sure as hell the name "Raytheon" came up on globalsecurity.org as the prime. Question answered.

These guys could come up with 10 pounds of shit in a box, and their pet legislators would make sure the next budget included a thousand of these things so long as they were painted green with Mil-spec connectors.

31:

Anyway, any nation with the capability to build an ICBM also by definition has the capability to launch a satellite, so you have to assume that RORSAT or EORSAT could be used against it.

Trying to hide a really powerful radio transmitter that has to be switched on all the time is, well, alarmingly stupid.

32:

Tony: you forgot the UK and France off your list. (As if.)

But it's a lot easier than it sounds. The reason we associate "missiles at sea" with "honking great nuclear submarines" is because, if you want it to be a second-strike deterrent system, your nautically-launched missile needs to be inside something that can hide, which limits the field to rather big submarines, which are extremely expensive and quite complex pieces of kit.

A first strike system doesn't need to be survivable, it just needs to be secret until it's used. (See Robert's point about container ships above.)

33:

I recall an early (WWII? Post-WWII?) scheme for towing V-2s in a submerged barge behind a U-boat. To launch the barge would tip up and breach the surface. If a nation can build submarines, a submersible launching barge shouldn't be beyond their capabilities.

Hmm, thinking about it, launch from a container ship would probably be easier, though the ship wouldn't have much chance of slipping away afterwards.

34:

Bruce, recall that the No-Dong launch pad is on the coast of North Korea, so it shouldn't be difficult to get a ship in close enough to intercept a missile during boost. The Kongos are being or have been upgraded for terminal BMD, so tracking a missile during boost shouldn't be difficult for them. The hardest part would be deciding whether the launch was just another test or an actual threat. A flock of anti-ship missiles launched at the same time would settle that question fairly quickly.

35:

Sinister Oriental Conspiracy #427834926:

The JNSDF sees the missile fired, and misses.

It has been reported that the first ballistic missile interception was done by a Spitfire, which let off a burst as a V2 was launched out of the trees just ahead.

36:

As I recall, 'Star Wars' was a Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle suggestion (drink may have been involved, but I wasn't there so I can't say for sure) that got picked up by Ronnie Raygun and treated as something serious (after all, you wouldn't expect a sense of humour from reading anything they wrote) Then REAL weapons developers got stuck with making it so.

Many years and an inconceivable amount of money later they can't even track an airliner travelling at slow speed towards the Pentagon, and their ICBM weilding enemy has privatised itself out of existence.

Does the USA have such an institution as the Audit Commission? I really think they should be told.

Oh, and Dave, it was V1s that Spitfires (apocraphally) intercepted (Typhoons actually did most of the wing waggling) and V1s weren't ballistic missiles, unlike the V2, on which the USA based its fledgling space program. Werner von Braun as Dr Evil? If the cap fits . . .

37:

Well, Raymond Baxter was apparently there, a fighter sweep over Holland, late in the war, and this V2 came out of the trees ahead of them, as near a boost-phase sitting duck as you'd ever see, and somebody let off a burst.

Probably didn't hit, as a 20mm cannon shell would likely have had spectacular results. But a lot of the launched V2s never reached England.


38:

Dave, I bow to your superior erudition. I confused it with wing tipping V1s - simple, crude, effective UAVs, to use modern parlance (Trabis to the USAF's Cadillacs) Mr Hitler called them 'terror weapons' too. Hmmm.

Certainly, a 20mm cannon shell into a V2 just lifting off would have resulted in none of the RAF wing getting back to claim that victory.

39:
Does the USA have such an institution as the Audit Commission? I really think they should be told.
That was privatized too. It's now done by no-bid contract with Halliburton.
40:

1) It looks like the platform will be based just offshore from a US base at Adak. It would be within US territorial waters, so it could be surrounded by minefields and microphone arrays in addition to air and suface ASW patrols and lurking attack submarines. I suspect that the USN would be happy to have North Korea's aging and noisy subs thrown away in a suicide mission that telegraphs their intentions rather than roaming about someplace where the're harder to find. And the best part is they don't get to complain if we wipe out their submarine fleet.

2) No, you don't get to use the backscatter going away as a signal to launch your ICBM. The array uses a megawatt of power, and there's no reason to turn it on before the missile it's trying to track leaves the atmosphere.

3) If you have a big hull, there are some fairly easy things you can do to make it hard to sink with torpedoes. Filling it with sealed oil drums, for instance. Armed merchant cruisers in WWII that got this treatment soaked up a surprising number of torpedo hits.

41:

It doesn't have a life boat? Then what is that thing underneath the helo pad painted international orange? Sure looks like a life boat to me... ah, I RTFA'd and I see that the criticism is that it doesn't have a rescue boat for man overboard situations. Slightly different issue, and probably a nit. You decide whether it's worth noting.

42:

To me, it doesn't look like a lifeboat, it looks like a hood ornament. What do you think happens when you winch down that thing in anything less than perfect conditions?

43:

Yea, there's a reason America bought samples of the Isralie Arrow II Theater Defence Missile off the Isralies early last year...

44:

We may be getting a false image of the platform. It's described as "semi-submersible", essentially a deep-water drilling platform. So the hulls,m just visible as the bases of the legs, would be well below the surface, reducing the effect of wave action. Which means that a lifeboat dropped from near the platform level wouldn't drop as far, and wouldn't hit those hulls.

And, as an oil platform, rescue boats would be provided by an accompanying ship, which would be equippend to provide care for the casualties if there was something like an oil-rig fire.

They build the lifeboats to get the crew off a burning platform, with the sea covered with burning oil. They're built to be dropped without killing the occupants, and the rig crews are trained to cope with such an emergency.

But, as I said before, where are the support ships?

45:

"Long-range ASMs or cruise missiles (range 70+ miles) launched from civilian freighters seem a much bigger thread, and they're widely available. Remember Iran's C-802s."

-- David

With modern electronics and software, a medium-range cruise missile is presumably withing the tech capability of any first- or second-world country, and some third-world ones, as well. Probably not good ones, but probably very good for a surprise attack on a stationary target.

46:

I suspect that the truth is more that cruise missiles are within the reach of any dozen hot-shot programmers in a first-world country, given a reasonable budget. Modest-priced private airplane + autopilot + cheap GPS + a bunch of custom code + your choice of payload = what?

Look at all the people who are building high-altitude amateur rockets or autonomous drones just for fun. You can't put that genie back in the bottle. Reinventing the cruise missile doesn't take billions anymore, unless of course your whole purpose is to spend billions of gummint money.

47:

UAVs are just the model aeroplanes that geeks like me have been building for years, although some do look a bit sleeker and have obviously been through Bert Rutan's design bureau rather than Glenn Sig's. However, anyone who thinks that they are serious weapons platforms right now have been reading too much skiffy. Radio control, like radar, is line of sight.

Who knows about tomorrow, when you can combine small gps with satellite technology and real time telemetry (they probably already have it at the Skunkworks but don't trust the Marines with it yet - flying a radio controlled aeroplane is trickier than you think - take it from a man who knows - and trickier still in combat)

Which doesn't prevent paranoia. You may recall a BBC news report about some deadly types in a madrassah showing off their dangerous UAV ready to fly into the face of the infidel - a bright yellow 1 metre wingspan Air Commander foam parkfly available at your local toyshop for about $150. This is powered a 400 electric motor (look in your hair dryer) has an effective range of about 100 yards and a deliverable payload measured in grams.

Which doesn't mean that someone, somewhere isn't doing the real thing right now, as Clifton says..

48:

"A sub-launched torpedo" is 'way overkill. An enemy doesn't need a submarine to take it out.

How about: a fishing trawler with a 40mm gun? They don't need to sink the silly thing, all they need to do is to knock the radar out of commission for a while.

This radar near to a one-off: how many spares do you think they carry aboard? how many spares are there on the planet? The crew won't be running into Attu for a replacement klystron; custom-fabricated replacement parts will be no closer than California, IF they exist at all. A few well-placed rounds and the thing is offline for weeks, if not months.

49:


As far as homemade cruise missiles go, surely we haven't forgotten Hezbollah's hit on an Israeli warship at the beginning of the late unpleasantness? They came very close to sinking the target if memory serves.

50:

I'd heard that was actually a Chinese anti-ship missile donated to Hezbollah by Iran.

51:

How come none of the liberal types squawked when Clinton gave Halliburton no-bid contracts?

This page is spinning left so fast I'm getting dizzy...

52:

OK, I checked on Halliburton and Clinton.

First, some company names changed, but this was a Halliburton subsidiary, now named KBR.

They got a contract in 1992, the last year of that Bush administration, to provide logistic support for US Army operations, lasting until 1997.

In 1997 the contract went to another company, but the DoD decided to carry on with KBR in Bosnia, rather than go through the hassles of a changeover. This seems pretty sensible.

In 2001 the LOGCAP contract came up for renewal, and wen the KBR again.

So both the major Hilliburton/KBR contractes were made under a Bush administration. The Clinton contract was for a continuing military operation, to avoid the possible cock-up from replacing the people doing the job.

Now, this could be sloppy research by my Tanaka, or just repeating somebody else's mistakes. Or somebody in the chain could be deliberately lying. But if you werre to ask me who was laying the astroturf, I couldn't possibly comment.

53:

Presumably in action the platform would have escorts?

And $100 billion over 20 years is peanuts -- chump change -- when you're operating on the scale the US government does.

$5 billion a year is not even one of the larger development programs. We spend similar amounts subsidizing weird shit like growing sugar in the Everglades.

That's $5 billion out of a defense budget of around $450 million all up -- and a lot of it would actually come out of DARPA R&D funding or something like that.

(The US military R&D budget alone is larger than the _total_ military budget of any other country.(*))

And the missile-interceptor program you mention is only a fraction of the total missile defense program; directed-energy weapons are taking more of the funding.

They've been shooting down IRBM's (and artillery shells) in flight with some success for a while now and are scaling the laser systems for field deployment with air-defense batteries.

(*) in fact, with a little over 30% of the planetary GDP, the US public and private sectors spend about 50% of the total R&D money of all types.

54:

The criticism is a bit silly. Obviously the missile-defense platform is heavily patrolled and defended from conventional threats. If you don't think so, cruise on over there in your boat and see if you aren't detained.

Anyway, like ICBMs, this is something we build for strategic reasons in the hopes we'll never actually have to use it, and also as a stepping-stone to better future technologies.

55:

a medium-range cruise missile.
anti-ship missile

Phalanx can shoot down cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles, though it's wartime record is mixed. It's been around since 1977, tho. It could very easily be mounted on the platform.

Additionally, some missiles can target cruise or anti-ship missiles, such as the Sea Dart mentioned in the above article, and such have been in use for a few decades as well.

56:

Why is it that some people believe technological progress is possible in every field except weapons and countermeasures?

57:

Steve, this gadget is part of an eye-wateringly expensive, myopically over-specialized, counter-measure to a particular type of weapon system.

This is a type of weapons system that has never actually been used against the United States -- or indeed against anyone -- at any time in its history.

It is a type of countermeasure that can be defeated by simple modifications to the weapons system (and which have already been applied to the Russian Topol-M) for a price an order of magnitude less than the cost of the countermeasure itself.

Meanwhile, while the BMD system is supposedly up to the job of tackling a single handful of crude single-warhead ICBMs, it's sufficiently inflexible that it can't deal with submarine-launched missiles (launched from outside of a fairly limited launch area), MIRVs, MARVs, cruise missiles (which are cheaper and easier to build than ICBMs), and shipping containers.

For about one fiftieth of the cost of the BMD system, the US government could have built the infrastructure to search all payloads entering or leaving the US (by sea as well as land or air), while dealing with the NK nuclear threat by simply saying, "lob one at us and we will turn you into a glowing hole in the floor of the Pacific ocean".

Arguing "but we'd have lost a city first" would be disingenuous; in the past year you've lost a city -- to a natural disaster rather than a hostile act -- and it didn't cause the nation to implode. If you're going to spend 10^11 dollars to avoid threats to individual cities, there are much more cost-effective things to spend them on -- like earthquake preparedness in SF and LA, levees in NO, and so on.

Basically, after thirty years, and a hundred billion dollars, this is still a prototype system. Doubtless sooner or later ICBMs will join the longbow and the biplane bomber on the scrap-heap of military technological history, but presenting this as a working BMD system is fundamentally dishonest (and more importantly, isn't likely to fool the people who most need to be fooled by it).

Given the US government's current foreign policy pre-occupations, I'm inclined to ask how many infantry divisions this boondoggle could have paid for -- because that's what has lost the war in Iraq, is losing the war in Afghanistan, and is going to turn the middle east into a festering hell-hole for a generation to come.

58:

I may still have it lurking in a box in the attic, but some time in the Eighties somebody published a piece about how much it would cost to fight a war. NATO, it was argued, could generate the wealth to keep its armies operating, and feed the people. The Soviet Union couldn't.

The figures were talking about the ultra-modern mechanised forces of WW3 in Central Europe, and I think they made some dodgy assumptions about the economic contributions of the countries that would be fought over, and the differences between burger flipping and making shells. We don't have the same industrial infrastructure as we had in WW2: it's not such a huge jump from cast-iron stoves to shells, but there's not so much that can be done in war by a factory which makes electric toasters.

Allowing for rotations--the Americans currently have a lot of overhead, manpower and money, for troops in the field--I wonder if this could have paid to field one more division, and there's the time needed to train and equip the troops.

Specials

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 10, 2006 9:12 PM.

Blair: The Final Countdown was the previous entry in this blog.

Spinning the hamster wheel is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda