Strategic Weapons: Killing Successful Interceptors


October 1, 2007: In yet another successful American test, a GBI (ground-based interceptor) from Vandenberg Air Force Base has destroyed a target missile launched from Kodiak, Alaska. This latest test not only shows that the American missile defense system will work, it is also going to create a problem for opponents. How? Because killing a defense program that is working is going to require a lot of explaining, since the Democratic majority in Congress has long been skeptical of the Administration's push for a national missile defense.

The successful test, though, poses a problem for them. It is easy to kill a program that is not going well, like the A-12 naval fighter, or one that clearly no longer has relevance to the world situation (see the Crusader self-propelled howitzer). Missile defense suffers from neither of these problems.

The successful test shows missile defense can work. The system as it now stands, with 13 operational ground-based interceptors, and plans to increase to a total of 18 by the end of 2007, is already sufficient to have neutralized China's force of 24 DF-5 ICBMs. How is this so, considering that China has 24 DF-5 ICBMs? Simple subtraction would seem to indicate that at least six ICBMs would get through to their targets in an attempted strike. Add in the fact that the total of ground-based interceptors will increase to 38 by the end of 2009, and that's enough to kill all of the Chinese ICBMs with some GBIs left over. This does not count Navy SM-3 missiles on three Ticonderoga-class cruisers and fifteen Arleigh-Burke class destroyers (a total of 55 by the end of 2009).

And the world situation is also leaving the impression that it may be a good idea to have the ability to take out an inbound missile. As of 2006, 25 countries had ballistic missiles ­ and some are not exactly stable or their leadership is arguably not rational. Deterrence can only work against a rational opponent. Congress may not want to fund it, but they do not have the votes to override a veto, and by the time a new Administration takes over, the program will already have a lot of assets in place. Furthermore, the system is described as a counter to North Korea, which has, in the past, launched missiles over Japan. Iran is another country often sited, and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements since assuming office raise the question of what he might do with ballistic missiles as well.

Ultimately, the reasons missile defense systems will not be easy to kill, dismantle, and put away are both their progress, and there are very good reasons to develop them. As such, the missile defense system is probably not going to stop until the United States has completed it, rendering the ICBM obsolete. ­ Harold C. Hutchison (


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