The laser jet is on the skids... The missile test at sea was even better than you thought... The satellites still aren't working... And there's a complete wack-job sitting on the Defense Science Board.I picked up more juicy tidbits about the missile defense program in the last three posts over at Arms Control Wonk than I had seen anywhere else in the last three months.First off, the laser jet. That'd be the Airborne Laser, the modified 747 that's supposed to use a chemical-powered ray gun to zap enemy missiles before they get too far off of the ground. Begun in 1996, the Airborne Laser's $1 billion budget has grown to $7.3 billion. Flight tests, originally planned for 2002, then for 2005, are now scheduled for 2008. And then there's growing consensus in the military community that SUV-sized vats of toxic chemicals aren't really the best way to produce laser light. So, finally, some White House budget analysts are suggested that the program get axed, Arms Control Wonk guest-blogger Victoria Samson notes.Another chronically late, ever-more-bloated program, the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, may also be heading for cuts, Victoria says.
Thats an incredibly important part of the missile defense infrastructure, as the decades-old Defense Support Program satellites, originally designed to see a swarm of Soviet ICBMs coming over the horizon, are nowhere near sensitive enough to provide an adequate early warning of missile launches...So how serious is this administration at getting missile defense to work if its willing to take out the needed eyes in the sky for it to function at all? And how credible are assertions that missile defense has, at this very moment, achieved any sort of operational status if this major hole in its infrastructure exists today, tomorrow, and forever more?But never mind all that, says Defense Science Board chair William Schneider, who became (in)famous in arms control circles a few years back for his suggestion that missile interceptors go nuclear. He's now asserting that, despite the, um, uneven test record, "that members of Congress need to include missile defense programs in their tactical planning when determining defense budgets," Victoria writes.
This would imply that missile defense programs have done such a stellar job in their developmental and operational testing that you can just order up, say, 100 PAC-3 interceptors and be certain that theyll show up, be ready for deployment, and earn your complete and utter trust in their efficacy. Just like an aircraft carrier or any other regular cog in the American fighting machine.And this guy is on the science board? Sheesh!Anyway, there is some good news, ACW guest-blogger Michael Katz-Hyman notes. The Sea-Based Midcourse Intercept program -- by far the most succesful part of the whole missile defense effort -- continues to improve. Usually, in these tests, the interceptor just tries to hit an incoming missile. Which isn't fully realistic, because a warhead will usually separate off from the missile's main booster. But in its last test, on November 17th, the Sea-Based system hit a separating missile. And that's progress.