Faith-based Defense

Les AuCoin

When Steven Colbert declared George W. Bush to be no "brainiac" or a "factinista," he likely likely wasn't thinking of Dubya's mania on national missile "defense." But Colbert would have been on target if he had been.

As I note on my blog today, the Czech Republic has agreed--at what price in foreign and military aid we don't yet know--to base elements of Bush's missile "defense" on its soil. Make no mistake, the move is against Iran, not Russia, although Moscow is throwing a shit fit over a system that works best as an offense being based so near its border. Apart of the short term military moves Bush is making against Iran, this is a deadly, longer term attempt to stop the Iran "bomb." Ironically--and the mainstream media is mostly silent about this--the Islamic bomb to worry most about is in Pakistan, not Iran, yet the administration hyperventilates about Tehran, not Islamabad. In Pakistan, the Musharraf regime already has the bomb, and is barely staying one step ahead of increasingly powerful opponents in the streets (who are enraged about the American invasion of Iraq and would inherit the "Islamic Bomb" if Musharraf should fall).

But the double irony is that US the anti-missile-missile system would be similar to the one the administration deployed in Alaska where tests still have not proved its viability, despite an initial cost of $122 billion.

To improve the systems chances of success, the folks in charge of the Alaska-based system lowered the bar to success in tests recently: only one interceptor went up against a target that employed countermeasures. In other words, it's an anti-missile-missile that depends on an enemy who would cooperate with us by eschewing decoys and countermoves. The administration will not, cannot estimate the cost of our own anti-missile program, much less the proposed new one.

That's not the half of it.

Even if the Pentagon could deploy an anti-missile missile that was 80 percent effective-a better success rate than any in history-the system would be unlikely to prevent a successful enemy attack. The explanation lies in probability theory:

Let's assume an 80 percent success rate for a U.S. missile interceptor matched against an incoming warhead (the equivalent of trying to hit a gnat with a b-b gun). Let's further assume an enemy has launched eight ICBM warheads against us.

Probability theory teaches that the U.S. missile interceptor attacking the first warhead takes an 80 percent bite out of its (the interceptor's) probability of success, leaving a 20 percent probability that the attack will succeed and the defense will fail.

The Pentagon's second interceptor takes an 80 percent bite out of the second warhead's probability of success.

But in terms of totally defeating the attack, 20 percent of the attack is now beyond the ability of the second interceptor to change. That is, there's a 20 percent probability that the attack has already succeeded with the first warhead, and the defense has failed in its mission of total protection.

Therefore, the second interceptor can only take an 80 percent bite out of the remaining 80 percent, which means the best you can do with two interceptors against two warheads is 80 percent of 80 percent, or 64 percent.

Run through the declining success rates to the eighth incoming warhead, and you'll discover that U.S. interceptors boasting "80 percent reliability" will collectively achieve only a 17 percent probability of success against the eight-missile attack.

If the enemy launched 20 missiles instead of eight (more likely), the national missile defense system's probability of success falls to 1 percent - meaning there is a 99 percent chance that the attack will succeed.

Bush's anti-missile missile system gives new meaning to a "faith based initiative."

Les AuCoin Blog

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    Les, don't you know that (as Will Ferrell as George W. once said) "math is part of the axis of evil"?

  • Phil Jones (unverified)

    Something tells me Bush hasn't gone to the expense to send three huge aircraft carrier battle groups to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea for giggles. And the lack of this Russian intelligence info in our MSM is very troubling to me, too.

    Can Bush legally authorize our military forces to attack Iran without a vote from Congress?

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    Can Bush legally authorize our military forces to attack Iran without a vote from Congress?

    "Legally" is part of the axis of evil as well.

    What's Congress going to do, send an angry note to Bush's mother? Non-binding, of course.

    Or maybe we can get Gonzalez right on it, if he does?

    What's scary is there will be, no doubt, some "precipitous event" that will force the president's hand. Whether it will be real or not is besides the point, not that the Iranian leadership isn't dumb enough to order the kidnapping of American sailors or some such thing.

  • Dave Porter (unverified)

    I share Les AuCoin's skepticism that such a missile system would provide any real protection to anyone. But even the public rationale for the project seems wobbly. An International Herald Tribune article quotes the US general in charge as saying "We can cover the U.S. without this." So why should we be developing and paying for a system to defend parts of Europe? NATO has a different system under consideration, and probably would not support our plan, if we asked them. But we are not asking NATO. What are we doing? How could we have "already spent $180 billion on the shield program for Eastern Europe"? For that amount the US could have sent 45 million US high school students to study in China for month, (a project of mine) something that might actually contribute to future peace.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    The Czechs have made a deal with Bush on this? Oh, those wild and craaaaaazy guys.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Les noted the declining probability, let me note the problem with probability at less than 100%, at 80% not one thing says that the first 20 of 100 won't make it. In point of fact, probability may not work to that 80% until it's 800 of 1,0000 that haven't hit. Meanwhile, you've eaten a pretty big one. Think I'm kidding, do a coin flip, 2 sides, 50/50, do 10 keeping track, do it (10) several times, you may find a distressing thing happens, sometimes you get "heads" 6 times in a row, or even 10 times.

  • Mike Austin (unverified)

    Has anyone here considered that "missile defense" is just a marketing ploy and that the real purpose of "Star Wars" is to be a space-based offensive weapon?

    The US will never be attacked with nuclear missiles. Period. What country or organization is going to identify itself to our military if it doesn't have to? Our borders and ports are so porous that smuggling in a nuke would be child's play. And, besides, it's much more cost effective to build "suitcase nukes" than ballistic or cruise missiles. If China wanted to attack us, they could smuggle in a dozen suitcase nukes and totally decapitate our government and cripple our economy and we wouldn't be able to conclusively prove they did it for quite a while, if ever.

    As far as the testing being a total failure, I think you are all missing the point. The military is not concerned about our (current) inability to intercept a missile because the whole point of the project is to be able to hit stationary targets (such as missile silos), slow-moving ships, and relatively slow-moving aircraft from space. The military could use "brilliant pebbles", lasers, or JDAM bombs against these targets, or perhaps even space-based torpedoes against submarines. The "high ground" has always given the owner of it a military advantage, and space is the next "high ground".

    The biggest threats to US world hegemony are China, Russia, and India. The areas of conflict are likely to be Siberia, the nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union (the "stans"), and Australia. All of these areas would be extremely difficult to defend with our current military. However, if we can take out supply depots, ships, transport aircraft, government buildings, military bases, and other targets from space, then safeguarding these regions for exploitation by US corporations is more likely to be successful, and affordable.

    I'm not arguing for this, by the way. I'm merely suggesting that most of you are falling for the "psy op" that the military is using against the civilian population. Who could be against defending our country? However, there has always been a very fine line between offensive and defensive military technology, and "missile defense" is no exception.


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