Strategic Weapons: U.S. Plugs Israel Into BMEWS

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April 17,2008: The United States has agreed to provide Israel with access to its BMEWS (ballistic missile early warning system). The half century old system uses radars and satellites to monitor the planet for ballistic missile launchers (specifically ICBMs, but any large missile launch is detected.) Twice before, in 1991 and 2003, the U.S. allowed Israel to plug into BMEWS (to get warning of Iraqi missile launches). This time around, BMEWS will give Israel warning about any Iranian ballistic missiles headed west.

Early on, BMEWS consisted of long range radars that could spot warheads coming over the north pole (from Russia). When SSBNs (ballistic missile carrying nuclear subs) entered the Russian arsenal in the 1970s, BMEWS had been augmented by satellites equipped with heat sensors that could detect the enormous amount of heat generated by a ballistic missile launch (or any large explosion, like an above-ground nuclear weapons test). These satellites cover the entire planet, while the radars only cover part of the Middle East. In all, 23 of these DSP (Defense Support Program) satellites have been launched (the latest last Fall). The 2.3 ton DSP birds are being replaced by SBIRS (Space-Based Infrared System), a network of four stationary orbit (like DSP) and 24 low orbit, heat sensing (infrared) satellites that will provide more detail than the DSP birds. SBIRS should be fully operational in another five years.

 


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