The latest American missile defense test may be spun as a failure,
but the failure is not the end of the world. In fact, this failure will help
the United States make its missile defense system more reliable in the future.
How is this so? It helps if one remembers that the system is still in
development - and to remember the purpose of the development phase. In this
case, an incorrect setting on the USS Lake Erie, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser,
caused the test to fail.
purpose of the development phase is to work out all the bugs. In the case of a
new missile like the SM-3s, the Navy's contribution to missile defense, some
test launches will be used for different purposes. One might have been geared
towards perfecting the guidance systems. Others might be making sure that the
engines work. Others may be used to see how well ground radars track the
targets and the missiles sent to intercept it. Still others will make sure that
crews know the procedures.
the problems in the development phase is important, particularly in an era where
nuclear missiles are in the mix. In the 1960s, Polaris missiles had some
problems with their W47 warheads, that were not discovered until they were
deployed. The problems were bad enough that they rendered most of the warheads
useless, until they were fixed.. Prior to World War II, the prototypes
and development of the B-17 and P-38 also encountered problems that had to be
overcome before those planes were ready to help win World War II.
even though these tests have been meant to find bugs, seven out of nine tests
have resulted in the missiles hitting their targets. That is a 78 percent
success rate. These test, however, only involve firing one missile at the
incoming target. Usually, more than one missile is aimed at a target. One
procedure is known as shoot-shoot-look, in which two missiles are targeted at
an incoming threat. This will increase the chances of a hit.
the end of 2009, the United States will have at least 55 SM-3 missiles
operating on three Ticonderoga-class cruisers and fifteen destroyers. The tests
will ensure that when the real attack comes in, that there will be a very good
chance that the missile will be intercepted before it can cause harm to anyone
on the ground. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)