Incoming Missiles? Duck and Cover

I am not reassured.

First they said it was six.

No, cancel that, it was just three.

Hold it. The first report was correct, it was six.

Nix that. It was five.

OK, this time we've got it -- it was six after all.

Now it's seven.

The Russians and South Koreans say there were 10.

That was the -- dare I call it the Chinese fire drill -- that unfolded at the White House on the day North Korea shot a baker's half-dozen missiles in our general direction. Foxy Tony Snow really earned his money that day, running back and forth between the White House press room and the White House situation room, changing the number of missiles up, down, up, down and back up again all morning.

Hours after North Korea pushed the launch buttons, our U.S. commander in chief still had only the foggiest idea of what had been heading our way. Were they the big Taepodong Two intercontinental missles? Or were they shorter range Scuds? Or both? Or a combination of all the above? The Bush administration clearly did not know and didn't know for an unsettling amount of time.

Had this been the real thing, Hawaii might have been missing an island on Wednesday morning.

Of course the Pentagon was quick to reassure folks that they were ready, willing and able to shoot down an incoming Korean missile had it appeared to be heading our way. Which is, of course, utter nonsense -- and a barefaced lie.

The U.S. Missile Defense System (aka "Star Wars") has been controversial since Ronald Reagan dreamed it up nearly a quarter century ago. I have neither the desire nor energy to re-argue the case(s) for and against such a system. But, in light of this week's happenings, I am forced to wonder, what have they done with my $500 billion spent on it so far?

By this time, and with all that money, our commander in chief, whose command is required before interceptor missiles can be launched, still had less information during this crisis than CNN. Worse yet, CNN had better information.

So, 20 years and $500 billion later, here's what we have: If someone launches a missile attack with our address on it, we still cannot tell exactly how many missiles are heading our way or what kind of missiles they might be. All we know is something wicked our way comes -- maybe.

If you are inclined to find comfort in the Pentagon's post-launch chest thumping, you haven't been paying attention. Yes, it's true that President Bush has ordered a limited deployment of the first missile interceptors, based in California and Alaska. But be clear, those two Star Wars bases are to U.S. missile defense what the Potemkin Village is to North Korea. All show, no go.

In the past six years of flight tests, here is what the Pentagon's missile-defense agency has demonstrated: A missile can hit another missile in mid-air as long as (a) the operators know exactly where the target missile has come from and where it's going; (b) the target missile is flying at a slower-than-normal speed; (c) it's transmitting a special beam that exaggerates its radar signature, thus making it easier to track; (d) only one target missile has been launched; and (e) the "attack" happens in daylight. (Slate)
The only way the Pentagon and its co-conspirator defense contractors can get these interceptors to hit a moving target is to cheat.

I don't know if missile defense is possible or just history's most expensive "duck and cover" public relations ruse. What is clear is that doing so is very, very, very hard. And finding out is going to continue being very, very, very expensive.

The Rand Corp. looked at the program and concluded:
Even under ideal circumstances and with the latest technologies, ballistic missile defense is exceedingly difficult. Destroying an (missile) RV in flight requires an end-to-end sequence of successful tasks: detecting and classifying the threat missile, predicting the threat trajectory, cueing sensors down the line, tracking the target, discriminating the target from clutter and countermeasures, acquiring the target for intercept, intercept, kill assessment, and repeating the sequence as required. A failure anywhere in this chain precludes successful intercept … Countermeasures compound these challenges. (More)
Can you reconcile the above with what we saw and heard from the White House this week?

Where was that "end-to-end sequence of successful tasks?" They detected launches but couldn't tell how many. They knew there were missiles but could not "classify the threat." They had no idea where they weee going (trajectory) but had to wait for confirmation that the missiles had fallen harmlessly into the sea of Japan. And forget about "discriminating the target from clutter," since everything was cluttered until hours after the smoke cleared.

So, what's my point? Am I against the United States' being protected from missile attacks? No. I could get behind a missile defense system if it worked and if they could get it working before it's actually needed.

It just seems to me that this event raises only two possibilities:

(1) America has lost its touch. We can't do remarkable and important things any longer; and (2) someone(s) needs to go to jail for stealing half a trillion bucks from U.S. taxpayers, leaving us no more secure from nuclear attack than we were back in the 1950s when I and millions of other school kids were reassured we'd be safe from nuclear attack huddled under our wooden desks.

Come on, folks. Admit it. What we saw this week is all you need to conclude that it's one or the other.

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