The headline in today's New York Times (Defense Missile for U.S. System Fails To Launch, by David Stout and John Cushman Jr.
) was unsurprising. My general understanding of the proposed National Missile Defense (NMD) system boils down to: It's a really expensive, rather bad idea with terribly risky geopolitical consequences. and it probably won't work
The American Physical Society released a report
on the matter, and their October press release started
, "Intercepting missiles while their rockets are still burning would not be an effective approach for defending the U.S. against attacks by an important type of enemy missile."
It seems that the main concern of the report was the narrow window of time in which the interceptor would have to hit its target, but in today's test the interceptor never even got off the ground (in fact, it can still be used again, though the target was wasted.) You gotta love the upbeat attitude of the agency spokesman: "Mr. Lehner said that despite the disappointment, Wednesday's event was not a total failure. He said "quite a bit" had been learned from the aborted test, which he called "a very good training exercise
The problem with citizen oversight of this program is that it's incredibly difficult to wrap your head around. All the component projects are farmed out across the country, giving many Senators and Representatives a stake in preserving it for the sake of jobs (as opposed to efficient national defense.) When I graduated in physics from Berkeley in the spring of 2000, I belonged to a fairly political class. We tabled on Sproul Plaza, asking people to send postcards to Congress to preserve science funding. It's possible that we were too giddy at finishing college, but ourcommencement speaker's explanation of the problems with NMD
didn't make a very strong impression, and it seems that similar speeches to much less receptive audiences also fail. Hopefully, however, the resounding echo of test failure after test failure will make some impression on the public. Remember, that's $50 Billion that's not going into streamlining production of armored vehicles for our troops in Iraq--a problem that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently said was not due to lack of funds but was "a matter of physics
." (See thisCounterpunch article on companies that are more than willing to ramp up production of armored vehicles.
) It doesn't take a degree in physics to realize that money can be more productively thrown at an already working production process than at an most likely unworkable missile scheme that fails test after test.