Tags: U.S. | Plans | Multiple | Missile | Defenses

U.S. Plans Multiple Missile Defenses

Tuesday, 01 May 2001 12:00 AM

Bush called for a "new framework" for national defense and said a 30-year-old Anti-ballistic Missile treaty with Moscow should be scrapped.

"No treaty that prevents us from addressing today's threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend ourselves, our friends and our allies is in our interests or in the interests of world peace," Bush said in a speech before National Defense University.

Some say the ABM treaty is already void because it was signed with the now-defunct Soviet Union.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has recommended that U.S. scientists and arms experts explore several approaches to missile defense, including land- and sea-based systems that intercept missiles in flight, Bush said.

Bush avoided detailing a specific program, making only vague references to ground- and sea-based interceptors and boost-phase interceptors, which would knock down enemy missiles shortly after they are launched. He said more research must be done before a final plan is drawn up.

"We have more work to do to determine the final form the defenses might take. We will explore all these options further," he said.

However, obliquely, Bush indicated he would expand the system far beyond what the Clinton administration was pursuing - a $37 billion system of 100 ground-based interceptors, probably in Alaska, and series of powerful X-band radars, designed to knock down around 24 incoming nuclear warheads.

That system has been plagued by problems. Two out of three attempts to knock down a target in space - each test a $100 million endeavor - ended in failure. Only the first scored a direct hit, and the deck was heavily stacked in the system's failure. The target's location was programmed into the interceptor.

The booster rocket for that system has not been tested yet, and the final design of the interceptor has yet to be completed. The earliest that system could be finished is 2005, but it may be delayed more than two years because of technical problems.

Bush also referred to the Airborne Laser, a chemical oxygen iodine laser that will be mounted on a converted 747-400. The Air Force plans to build seven ABLs at a cost of $6.3 billion. The first will be ready, if all goes as planned, beginning in 2008.

ABL is designed to direct its laser at an enemy theater (mid- or short-range) missile, rupturing its skin and knocking the missile off course so it falls short of its target - presumably in the enemy's home territory. The warhead may not be destroyed by the laser and could detonate.

Presuming the chemical laser can be made to work, the ABL system faces two main challenges: atmospheric turbulence, which can diminish the laser's power, and simple countermeasures an enemy can employ.

ABL's laser is designed to work in nearly ideal weather circumstances, which occur only half the time, according to the Pentagon's independent test office.

The laser is being built to take on 30 different kinds of missiles, each of which will require different amounts of time to effectively irradiate, so ABL will have to accurately discriminate between them.

Any of the missiles can employ a simple technique - spinning like a top on ascent - to slow down, if not stop, the laser's effect.

The Navy is working on its own version of theater missile defense: four Aegis radar-equipped destroyers with 20 Standard Missile IIIs on board each. Navy Theater Wide, or NTW, is designed for both boost-phase interceptions and interceptions in space.

The system is expected to begin production by the end of 2007 and will cost $5.3 billion.

The first Standard Missile intercept attempt failed in July 2000. Eight more tests are scheduled by the middle of 2002.

The system also faces a number of technical challenges, including whether the Aegis radar, built to identify large targets like aircraft and ballistic missiles, can track relatively small nuclear warheads in space, and whether the interceptor missile's own plume will obscure its infrared sensor in space.

Moreover, the Standard Missile III may not be fast enough to hit targets in space, and will require either an upgrade or replacement if it means to offer more than theater defensive capabilities, according to the Pentagon's test office.

Bush did not mention the controversial Space-Based Laser program, one of the old components of the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative.

Space-Based Laser would use a massive hydrogen chloride laser and would take at least 20 years and as much as $100 billion to develop. As it is now envisioned, each satellite would weigh around 80,000 pounds, requiring at least two heavy-lift launches at a cost of $500 million each and a visit by the space shuttle crew to assemble it.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal report this week that Bush intends to funnel an additional $2.3 billion to the already $3 billion SBL program, a move that one knowledgeable official labeled a bad idea.

"That would be a huge mistake," the source said. "We've got a technical problem, and we've got to show we can get there first."

A panel of senior defense advisers, the Defense Science Board, is putting the finishing touches on a report that will sharply criticize Space-Based Laser this month.

The DSB report on high-power chemical lasers will express grave concerns about SBL - its cost, its weight and most importantly, the needed technology that remains out of reach.

"There is no way to get there from here without a huge breakthrough in technology," said the source, who is familiar with the panel's draft report.

The president also called for a reduction in the nation's nuclear stockpile, although he did not specify numbers.

Bush said he was sending three teams of top officials from the State Department, Defense Department and the National Security Council on a round-the-world diplomatic mission to sell his plan.

The speech left many questions unanswered, including timetable and cost.

The United States has already spent more than $100 billion to develop missile defense technologies, beginning with former President Ronald Reagan's SDI. Some think Bush's National Missile Defense could cost $200 billion or more.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said much of Bush's speech sounded appealing, but he stressed that the president left much unsaid.

"The devil is in the details," said Biden, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It makes a great deal of difference."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle was more negative. "We fear the president may be buying a lemon here.

"There has not been a shred of evidence that this works. We've got to ask some very tough questions," Daschle said.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Bush called for a new framework for national defense and said a 30-year-old Anti-ballistic Missile treaty with Moscow should be scrapped. No treaty that prevents us from addressing today's threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend...
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Tuesday, 01 May 2001 12:00 AM
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