BMD Focus: SM-3s are 'mature'

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  Nov. 8, 2007 at 11:32 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- By any standards, the Aegis Weapons System and its Raytheon Standard Missile 3s that carried out outstandingly successful double exoatmospheric kills off Kauai in the Pacific Ocean Tuesday is a mature ballistic missile defense technology.

Lockheed Martin noted in a statement that the Aegis Weapon System “is currently deployed on 83 ships around the globe with more than 20 additional ships planned or under contract. In addition to the U.S., and Japan, Aegis is the maritime weapon system of choice for South Korea, Norway, Spain and Australia. Japan began installation of Aegis BMD in its Kongo-class Aegis destroyers in 2006.”

Riki Ellison, president of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, spelled out in a statement the significance of Tuesday‘s test, which was carried out by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Navy.

“These intercepts mark the 4th different missile defense intercept in 39 days from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, a remarkable feat both technically and logistically,” Ellison said.

“This type of increased continued success, matched now with the initial proven ability to defeat salvo or multiple firings of ballistic missiles, sends a serious and credible message to Iran, North Korea and those that seek to exploit proliferation. Both North Korea and Iran have launched multiple short range ballistic missiles in their previous and documented testing and both of these countries border international waters,” he said.

Ellison further noted that the Aegis Sea-Based missile defense system was currently deployed on three U.S. Cruisers and six U.S. Destroyers. Each of these ships has a missile load capability of up to 90 (SM-3s) for destroyers and up to 122 for cruisers.”

Further, he added, “This Sea-Based Intercept marked the 10th and 11th successful missile intercepts tests for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. These tests mark the 32nd and 33rd successful "hit-to-kill" intercepts since December of 1999, when President Bill Clinton enacted into law that the United States deploy missile defense as soon as it is technically feasible.”

The implications of these figures and that record are startling, though some of them are not immediately apparent.

They make clear that BMD systems are indeed a mature technology with a probable major rate of anticipated success against short-range and probably intermediate-range ballistic missiles, though two caveats have to be added.

The first is that however well even mature technologies perform in tests, reality is always different. The inevitable laws of entropy and chaos apply in war, as the great 19th century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz pointed out.

Clausewitz, significantly, came to this conclusion decades before the Northern Irish physicist Lord Kelvin defined the nature of the universe to slide towards chaos, or entropy, in his Second Law of Thermodynamics. During World War II, U.S. GIs fighting around the world more informally codified it as Murphy‘s Law -- anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

However, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is an equally opportunity employer: It plays no favorites. Things can go wrong for the other side as easily as they can for us. And the more intermediate range BMD programs such as the Aegis system and its Standard Missile-3s are tested, the more statistical likelihood there will be that they will work well in practice, too.

The same consideration applies to the far more difficult but even more strategically vitally Ground-based Mid-course Interceptor program to defend the United States from the threat of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles fired by some rogue state.

The second caveat is that the very impressive results already achieved by the SM-3, the Patriot PAC-3, the Israeli Arrow and other BMD systems to protect against short and intermediate range ballistic missiles do not translate into increased capability or reliability for the GBI program against ICBMs.

The GBI program is indeed back on track -- an especial testament to the efforts of Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering III, the head of the MDA, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, and the main U.S. defense contractors, to return to the engineering basics that hard-charging but reckless political Pentagon bosses abandoned in the weary years of the Bush administration.

BMD against ICBMs is possible and achievable, too. And it too has also already been achieved in successful tests. But it is a far higher and more difficult technical mountain to climb. That caution needs to be remembered as Tuesday‘s very real achievements are celebrated.

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