Outside View: BMD facts of life-2

By YURY ZAITSEV, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   March 14, 2007 at 11:01 AM

MOSCOW, March 14 (UPI) -- Second of two parts

The success of a nuclear ballistic missile counter-strike depends on the sophistication of an intelligence-gathering system, whose objective is to fix the moment of launch, second-guess the flight path and guide an interceptor to its target. The earlier the launch is detected, the better the chances of a successful hit.

Well before pulling out of the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty, the United States took concrete steps to deploy, along the Russian border, radars capable of spotting missile launches and sending targeting data to interceptors.

The first such radar, code-named HAVE STARE, was stationed in Norway. If the radars scheduled to be positioned in the Czech Republic have roughly the same characteristics as the HAVE STARE, they will cover practically all of European Russia, which extends as far as the Urals.

Experts from an authoritative organization, the American Physical Society, have reached some very interesting conclusions. These are contained in a report issued by its working group and dealing with intercept systems for national missile defense. The authors of the paper draw attention to the fact that a successful intercept in the boost phase will prevent a strike against planned targets, but the surviving warheads will fall on populated areas along the flight trajectory and inflict a heavy death toll.

So in the event of a nuclear conflict, the first strike will hit countries which host elements of an American missile defense system. The experts note that the remaining submunitions will under no circumstances fall on the territory of a launching country. Their calculations show that if a missile is hit when traveling at a speed of 2.34 miles per second, its warheads may travel for another 1,200 miles, and at 3.3 miles per per second, they will go a further 3,000 miles.

What counter-measures can be taken to reduce, if not neutralize, the effectiveness of a future American missile interception system?

Shortening the boost phase is considered to be the most radical way of countering interception. That can be achieved by converting liquid-fueled missiles to solid-propellant ones. Future plans envision cutting the boost phase to one minute and ending it at an altitude of 48 miles to 60 miles.

A missile's maneuvering in the track-out phase will also make interception more difficult. Yury Solomonov, who designed Russia's newest missile, the Topol-M, said that it can maneuver both in the vertical and horizontal plane, which has been demonstrated in tests. Another trick is to use a depressed trajectory that practically never rises above the dense layers of the atmosphere.

On balance, while recognizing that the United States' withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was a mistake -- one which, however, does not threaten Russian security -- it is still necessary to closely monitor developments in the United States in this field and work out methods of disabling its anti-missile systems.

Another point to bear in mind is that with cuts in strategic offensive weapons, the role of missile defense will grow considerably because its combat effectiveness is inversely proportional to the number of attacking missiles and warheads. So maintaining a sufficient potential for nuclear deterrence over the next decades is one of Russia's key military and political goals.

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(Yury Zaitsev is an expert at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences. This article is reprinted by permission of the RIA Novosti news agency. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. )

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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