Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Strategic Missile Defense

How's it going. I am about to get my Master's degree, and I want to work in the department of defense. One field that I find really interesting, and also extremely important is missile defense. Here is my rant:

Missile defense needs to be a higher priority of people. Look at this way, nuclear technology is over fifty years old. It really doesn't seem feasible that we can stop the rest of the world from acquiring a fifty year old technology. Also, the cat is already out of the bag - North Korea, Pakistan, soon maybe Iran? I really don't think we will be able to stop nuclear proliferation. It will become reality that other rogue nations will have nukes. In twenty years, there may be nuclear weapons that pretty much any rogue nation that can buy one. There is pretty much agreement that proliferation will happen, the question is how quickly.

I think the American people are desensitized to the threat of nukes. We have lived so long with the MAS mindset (mutual assured destruction) that we don't see that the times have changed. The way I see it, missile defense will soon be the only thing stopping a nuke. I think that when nuclear proliferation becomes more common, people will secure the borders very quickly. That is something that if made a priority, could be done in one year or even a few months. Missile defense however is very dependent on technology, and can't be thrown up overnight.

North Korea has shown us we can't rely on our old mindset. Missile defense funding should increase and be more of a priority than technology to fight terrorists in the middle-east. Our biggest defense priority should be stopping our own nation's vulnerabilities first. We also need to defend against a e-bomb attack. A nuclear bomb detonated several hundred miles above the US could wipe out all electronics in the entire continental United States.

Okay, end of rant. Sorry to sound so alarmist, but I think people really need to wake up to the changing times. The war against terrorism isn't a tenth as scary to me as nuclear proliferation. A terrorist attack would not send us into anarchy or the stone age. Now I would like to talk about the cool defenses we already have.

"We have gotten way beyond being able to hit a bullet with a bullet. We can now hit a spot on a bullet with a bullet."
- Lt General Henry Olbering III
[Retired] Director, Missile Defense Agency

There are three phases to shooting down a missile:

Boost phase (3-5 minutes) - the missile is launched and accelerates until reaching space

Airborne laser - basically an large aircraft shoots down a missile with a huge laser. Able to hit a spot to the nearest few feet. Relies heavily on intelligence or advanced warning allowing us to send aircraft in area of launch.

Kinetic energy interceptor - planned, however canceled due to budget changes. Basically like the THADD, but designed to catch up with a rocket instead of intercept.

Midcourse phase (about 30 minutes) - missile travels in space until re-entry

Ground based missiles - Land missile that intercepts while in space. We currently have about 26-30

Aegis cruiser - Cruiser that is strategically placed that can launch missiles that reach space and intercept. We have 16 destroyers and 4 Cruisers planned for 2009.

Terminal Phase (1/2 to 1 minute)
Patriot missile - Very short range hence so many. We have 600 - 700.

THAAD - pretty much fast missile designed for speed. Just knocks the missile out of the sky by collision. Intermediate range. Can defend a state the size of Vermont. WE have about 6 mobile launchers, and 8 land based interceptors.

As you can see, there is no way we could survive a barrage by a country such as China or Russia with hundreds of missiles with very sophisticated countermeasures. We should at least try to be able to stop a rogue nations shots at us though.

So far, since 2001, 37 of 46 US missile defense tests have been successfully shot down. That is pretty good considering how many different layers of defense overlap, except there is one big problem. Why missile defense really needs funding is that pretty much simple countermeasures on a missile can defeat efforts during the midcourse phase. Also, the terminal phase is very risky. A missile that doesn't follow a known straight trajectory is still hard to shoot at terminal phase. Just releasing decoys in space generally fools our current technology. Much of it is classified, but there is substantial evidence that we are not there yet when you factor in evasive action during terminal phase, and countermeasures during midcourse phase. So even North Korea could put simple countermeasures and pose a threat.


  1. Wow, what a detailed post on missile defense. I don't think I have ever read something this detailed.

    I think you are right, it is just a matter of time. I've actually wondered a lot how more countries, now in the 21st, aren't able to produce things we could produce back in the 40s. We didn't even have computers! How hard can it be?

    Anyways, I am all about having good defense. I have objected to policing the world preemptively, but you always have to be prepared for the worst.

    I hope these systems work. I get a little nervous when we use things that we don't get a chance to test very often.

    But again, great post.

  2. Hi Laren! Long time no see. For those of you who don't know, I was actually Laren's home teacher while we were both at BYU. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised to run into him again - there aren't that many mormon physicists out there.

    I agree that we need to spend more on missile defense. I don't worry about China and Russia - mutual assured destruction works great for stable countries. It's places like North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran that worry me. We don't need to be able to stop hundreds of missiles - just a few reliably.

  3. Hey Nick,

    I am at UCI, but I have finished classes and I am looking for a job.

    To reply to Joe, I think we have had a pre-emptive strategy because if someone launches, we are pretty much dead. So we needed to apply pressure so we needed to apply pressure so we wouldn't be in a corner.

    Last place I checked, we spend about 8 billion a year on missile defense. I think we have spent a total of about 165 billion since Reagan started missile defense. That sounds like a lot except consider that teh defense budget is now over 600 billion a year. Missile defense is about 1%. And that is not including non-budget expenses such as Iraq.

    I think the technology is now there after all this time. With super-computers and current technology we could invest in a massive program and we could probably even stop Russia and China from nuking us.

    We could then secure our borders and withdraw and have a defensive foreign policy. Not having to be preemptive would free a lot of the budget, but I am scared that Obama is cutting the one area of budget where we need it most if we want to not be constantly at war. If we could defend against nukes, we could literally be safe from attack.

    Right now, no one could attack American soil conventionally and win. I am afraid that all our entanglements will drain us so much that we China can catch up to us so that we won't even have conventional warfare security anymore. That is how the Romans lost. Too many entanglements that drained their treasury.

  4. Finally a good blog entry. I thought liberals was taken over this blog.

    Stand for something like this guy and your blog will be great.

  5. @John,

    Your from Feminist Mormon Houswives and you are concerned about liberal influences?

    I don't mind but I thought it was funny. :) By the way, I think I am the only person you who could accuse of "liberal influences" on this blog. Just ignore my posts and you will have a great time. Good to see you around.

    (By the way, I don't consider myself liberal but it seems to come across that way. By accident I promise!) Great to see you.



    How embarrasing. Sorry. I ment what I said earlier. Stay true to the faith and always pray.

  7. Thanks for the complement John, but I do need to stand up for Joe. I know Joe loves freedom as much as I do.

  8. So on a personal-scale practical application, is it possible to protect our individual electronics (laptops, HHD, etc) from being fried/erased by using a Faraday cage or something? The idea of losing all of my data/pictures from an EMP is minor compared to anything else that may be happening, but if I am collecting food storage I might as well collect proper storage for my sensitve electronics. :)

  9. Well, I am THAT extreme... I just want to preserve my life AND my data. :) Besides, I am sure Google and cockroaches with survive the nuclear holocaust!
    Here are some fun links:
    -to keep people from knowing "what's in your wallet":

    -for the doom-sayer in all of us:

    -and a synopsis of a MythBusters episode concerning Faraday cages:

    enjoy! (and you better start building those cages before the nukes start flying... don't say I never warned you!)

  10. Those are some great sites. I'm planning on lining my apartment with copper mesh as soon as I get home.

    In all seriousness though, I know a family here in Colorado that lives up in the Rockies. They have a "bunker" on their property dug into a hillside and lined with sheet metal to preserve their electronics. When the world ends, they will be ready.

  11. John,

    I'm curious that you find our blog liberal. Could you give some examples of posts you consider liberal?


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