TCS Daily

Boosting Defense

By Ken Adelman - November 26, 2002 12:00 AM

Last week was a milestone for our homeland security. No, not because of passing a bill - but because of passing a test.

That's the test for effective protection against the vilest leaders in the world launching the vilest weapons - ballistic missiles topped with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Indeed a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system for homeland security will protect us more than any department of homeland security.

And that's what advanced last Thursday, when a bullet hit a bullet in space, over the oceans. That mind-bending event proves that BMD is more than Ronald Reagan's pipedream. It's our future protection.

SDI drove its critics batty over the past 19 years since Reagan sprang the Strategic Defense Initiative on a "mutual assured destruction" (MAD) world.

Some critics griped that SDI was undesirable. But it proved tough to persuade many folks that we (and our allies) were better off remaining vulnerable to missiles launched from Iraq or North Korea, than seeking protection from missiles they launched against us.

So most critics used another argument: Okay, SDI's desirable, but it's unfeasible.

Where were they on Thursday when a ballistic missile - like that conceivably launched by an "axis of evil" state - was demolished early in its flight, way before it could demolish us?

Why no public notice of this big event? Partly because the test was conducted in plain sight. Leaked classified tests get real notice. Plus, war on Iraq has replaced SDI as Bush critics' preferred line of attack.

But this test is a really big deal for lots of reasons:

  • it's the third successful test in a row, showing a consistency of performance;
  • it's the first in that series to hit a launched ballistic missile while rising - in its "boost phase" - rather than when falling (called its "terminal phase");
  • attacking in this boost phase precludes the enemy from using decoys, and makes BMD programs in other phases easier (since fewer missiles are still coming in);
  • the intercepting missile was fired from an Aegis cruiser at sea, which assures vast mobility;
  • that mobility enables us to deploy BMD to protect 1) our homeland itself, 2) our troops fighting in some theater (Iraq, Korea), or 3) our friends and allies under threat (Israel, Europe, Japan), depending upon the crisis at hand.

But don't just take my word for it. Take that of a real expert in this field - Robert Jastrow, SDI's early and prescient backer, who founded and was (for 20 years!) Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. On Thursday, Dr. Jastrow said: "With this latest successful test, the Aegis missile defense system is appreciably closer to deployment." Past winner of NASA's Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, this gifted scientist and policy wonk now chairs the Marshall Institute, which promotes unbiased, scientific findings critical to public policy.

Here, at long last, is a Pentagon BMD program that won't go on endlessly being tested. It'll actually get deployed, which is the only way to boost our homeland security.

Such a whopping accomplishment would have gotten noticed if the Navy had somehow made it into a video game. Imagine how kids would have been wowed by the Aegis weapon system detecting a "hostile" missile launch within seconds. Then, precisely tracking it for two minutes. And then firing. And then two minutes later - bamo! - having that bullet hit and obliterate the incoming bad-guy missile. Way cool!

Even if kids weren't so wowed last week, adults will be grateful when the system getting deployed - as early as 3 or 4 years from now. For that will constitute real homeland security.



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