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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  January 2005

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE January 2005

Subject:

Article--Rude awakening to missile-defense dream

From:

Wren Osborn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 5 Jan 2005 07:12:15 -0800

Content-Type:

multipart/alternative

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (122 lines) , text/enriched (147 lines)

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0104/p09s02-coop.html

Commentary > Opinion
from the January 04, 2005 edition

Rude awakening to missile-defense dream
By Scott Ritter
DELMAR, N.Y.  On Christmas Eve 2004, the Russian Strategic Missile 
Force test fired an advanced SS-27 Topol-M road-mobile intercontinental 
ballistic Missile (ICBM). This test probably invalidated the entire 
premise and technology used in the National Missile Defense (NMD) 
system currently being developed and deployed by the Bush 
administration, and at the same time called into question the validity 
of the administration's entire approach to arms control and disarmament.

 From 1988 to 1990, I served as one of the American weapons inspectors 
at the Votkinsk Machine Building Plant in Russia, where the SS-27 and 
its predecessor, the SS-25, were assembled. When I started my work in 
Votkinsk, the SS-25 missile was viewed by many in the US intelligence 
community as the primary ICBM threat facing the United States. A great 
deal of effort was placed on learning as much as possible about this 
missile and its capabilities.

Through the work of the inspectors at Votkinsk, as well as several 
related inspections where US experts were able to view the SS-25 
missile system in its operating bases in Siberia, a great deal of data 
was collected that assisted the US intelligence community in refining 
its understanding of how the SS-25 operated. This understanding was 
translated into several countermissile strategies, including aerial 
interdiction operations and missile-defense concepts.

The abysmal performance of American counter-SCUD operations during the 
Gulf War in 1991 highlighted the deficiencies of the US military 
regarding the aerial interdiction of road-mobile missiles. Iraqi 
Al-Hussein mobile missiles were virtually impossible to detect and 
interdict, even with total American air supremacy. Despite all the 
effort put into counter-SCUD operations during that war, not a single 
Iraqi mobile missile launcher was destroyed by hostile fire, a fact I 
can certify not only as a participant in the counter-SCUD effort, but 
also as a chief inspector in Iraq, where I led the United Nations 
investigations into the Iraqi missile program.

The rapid collapse of the Soviet Union did not leave much time for 
reflection on the American counter-mobile missile launcher 
deficiencies. In mid-1993, the Department of Defense conducted a 
comprehensive review to select the strategy and force structure for the 
post-cold war era. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the threat 
to the US from a deliberate or accidental ballistic missile attack by 
former Soviet states or by China was judged highly unlikely. In 
Votkinsk, US inspectors observed a Soviet-era defense industry in 
decline. SS-25 missiles were produced at a greatly reduced rate, and 
the next generation missile, a joint Russian-Ukrainian design, was 
scrapped after a few prototypes were produced, but never launched.

After the resounding Republican victory in the midterm 1994 
congressional elections, a new program for missile defense was proposed 
covering three distinct "threat" capabilities ranging from 
"unsophisticated threats" (an attack of five single-warhead missiles 
with simple decoys), to highly sophisticated threats (an attack of 20 
single-warhead SS-25 type missiles, each with decoys or other defensive 
countermeasures). Funding for this program ran to some $10.8 billion 
from 1993 to 2000.

When President Bush came to power in 2001, there was a dramatic change 
in posture regarding ballistic missile defense. The administration 
announced it was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, 
clearing away development and operational constraints. At the same 
time, the administration laid out a comprehensive plan that envisioned 
a layered missile-defense system. After studying the SS-25 missile for 
years, the US military believed it finally had a solution in the form 
of a multitiered antiballistic missile system that focused on 
boost-phase intercept (firing antimissile missiles that would home in 
on an ICBM shortly after launch), space-based laser systems designed to 
knock out a missile in flight, and terminal missile intercept systems, 
which would destroy a missile as it reentered the earth's atmosphere.

The NMD system being fielded to counter the SS-25, and any similar or 
less sophisticated threats that may emerge from China, Iran, North 
Korea, and elsewhere, will probably have cumulative costs between $800 
billion and $1.2 trillion by the time it reaches completion in 2015.

However, the Bush administration's dream of a viable NMD has been 
rendered fantasy by the Russian test of the SS-27 Topol-M. According to 
the Russians, the Topol-M has high-speed solid-fuel boosters that 
rapidly lift the missile into the atmosphere, making boost-phase 
interception impossible unless one is located practically next door to 
the launcher. The SS-27 has been hardened against laser weapons and has 
a highly maneuverable post-boost vehicle that can defeat any intercept 
capability as it dispenses up to three warheads and four sophisticated 
decoys.

To counter the SS-27 threat, the US will need to start from scratch. 
And even if a viable defense could be mustered, by that time the 
Russians may have fielded an even more sophisticated missile, remaining 
one step ahead of any US countermeasures. The US cannot afford to spend 
billions of dollars on a missile-defense system that will never achieve 
the level of defense envisioned. The Bush administration's embrace of 
technology, and rejection of diplomacy, when it comes to arms control 
has failed.

If America continues down the current path of trying to field a viable 
missile-defense system, significant cuts will need to be made in other 
areas of the defense budget, or funds reallocated from other 
nonmilitary spending programs. With America already engaged in a costly 
war in Iraq, and with the possibility of additional conflict with Iran, 
Syria, or North Korea looming on the horizon, funding a missile-defense 
system that not only does not work as designed, but even if it did, 
would not be capable of defending America from threats such as the 
Topol-M missile, makes no sense.

The Bush administration would do well to reconsider its commitment to a 
national missile-defense system, and instead reengage in the kind of 
treaty-based diplomacy that in the past produced arms control results 
that were both real and lasting. This would not only save billions, it 
would make America, and the world, a safer place.

 Scott Ritter is a former intelligence officer and weapons inspector 
in the Soviet Union (1988-1990) and Iraq (1991-1998). He is author of 
'Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of 
America.'

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