To­ward a cost-ef­fec­tive bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fense Why the price is right for space-based mis­sile de­fenses

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Henry F. Cooper and Roland H. Wor­rell

With North Korea’s and Iran’s nu­clear mis­siles and Rus­sia-China col­lu­sion, the United States needs a cred­i­ble, prac­ti­cal, cost-ef­fec­tive bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fense (BMD). A space-based in­ter­cep­tor (SBI) sys­tem would best achieve this ob­jec­tive, though oth­ers say it is too ex­pen­sive. The Pen­tagon’s top en­gi­neer Michael Grif­fin says he doesn’t un­der­stand why, since 1,000 SBIs would cost less than $20 bil­lion — for a global de­fense ca­pa­bil­ity.

Es­ti­mates by mem­bers of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences, the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists and the Arms Con­trol Com­mu­nity are much higher than the most valid, com­pre­hen­sive cost es­ti­mates from Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan’s Strate­gic De­fense Ini­tia­tive (SDI), with which we — like Mike Grif­fin — wit­nessed be­ing made.

Henry Cooper and the first SDI di­rec­tor, re­tired USAF Lt. Gen. James A. Abra­ham­son, in a July 21, 2017, let­ter to the edi­tor dis­puted a June 26, 2017, Wall Street Jour­nal ed­i­to­rial ar­gu­ing that needed, more ad­vanced BMD sys­tems would be “no doubt ex­pen­sive” and that “it’s dif­fi­cult to score tech­nolo­gies still un­der de­vel­op­ment.”

SDI proved oth­er­wise be­fore Bril­liant Peb­bles (BP) was scut­tled in 1993 for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, even though it promised more than 90 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity of killing all of up to 200 at­tack­ing re-en­try ve­hi­cles — the num­ber then con­trolled by a Rus­sian sub­ma­rine com­man­der. Its fully val­i­dated cost es­ti­mate was $10 bil­lion in 1988 dol­lars (about $20 bil­lion in 2018 dol­lars) for con­cept def­i­ni­tion and val­i­da­tion, de­vel­op­ment, de­ploy­ment and 20 years op­er­a­tion of 1,000 Bril­liant Peb­bles — con­sis­tent with Mr. Grif­fin’s as­ser­tion.

BP was de­signed to in­ter­cept bal­lis­tic mis­siles in their boost phase while their rock­ets still burn, be­fore they can re­lease their de­coys and other coun­ter­mea­sures — and through­out their flight, in­clud­ing when re-en­ter­ing the at­mos­phere. That’s bet­ter than any­thing we have to­day and could have been built for much less than we have spent on all bas­ing modes other than in space.

USAF Lt. Gen. Ge­orge Mon­a­han, the sec­ond SDI di­rec­tor, led 1989-90 re­views en­abling BP to be­come the first SDI sys­tem for­mally ap­proved by the Pen­tagon’s ac­qui­si­tion au­thor­i­ties for con­cept def­i­ni­tion and val­i­da­tion. In 1989, Roland Wor­rell, the BP Task Force pro­gram man­ager, shep­herded BP through those tech­ni­cal and cost­ing re­views.

The fol­low­ing sum­mary is adapted from SDI his­to­rian Don­ald Bau­com’s “The Rise and Fall of Bril­liant Peb­bles” in The Jour­nal of So­cial, Po­lit­i­cal and Eco­nomic Stud­ies, Vol­ume 29, Num­ber 2, Sum­mer 2004, pp 143-190. His 1988-89 “sea­son of stud­ies” re­viewed BP con­cepts and sys­tem com­po­nents that Lawrence Liver­more Na­tional Lab­o­ra­to­ries (LLNL) physi­cists and en­gi­neers in­vented to ex­ploit 1988-90 tech­nol­ogy.Con­sider:

• Gen. Abra­ham­son’s 1989 end-of-tour re­port en­dorsed LNLL’s BP model as key to an ef­fec­tive, af­ford­able SBI ar­chi­tec­ture. He con­cluded, “This con­cept should be tested within the next two years and, if ag­gres­sively pur­sued, could be ready for ini­tial de­ploy­ment within 5 years.”

• Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s June 1989 Na­tional Se­cu­rity Direc­tive 14 con­cluded SDI goals re­mained “sound” and em­pha­sized “promis­ing con­cepts for ef­fec­tive boost-phase de­fenses, for ex­am­ple, ‘Bril­liant Peb­bles.’” De­fense Sec­re­tary Dick Cheney com­mis­sioned Mr. Cooper to lead an in­de­pen­dent re­view to as­sure NSD-14 goals were met — with in­put from sev­eral tech­ni­cal fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies, Red/Blue Team eval­u­a­tions to judge how BP would deal with po­ten­tial of­fen­sive coun­ter­mea­sures, and “bot­tom-up” cost es­ti­mates.

• A 1989 study by JA­SON, in­clud­ing Amer­ica’s top sci­en­tists ad­vis­ing govern­ment agen­cies, con­cluded BP had no tech­no­log­i­cal “show­stop­pers” or fa­tal flaws; it could be pro­duced us­ing then cur­rent tech­nol­ogy; its con­cept of au­ton­o­mous in­ter­cep­tor op­er­a­tion might re­quire no ad­di­tional space sen­sors since “the ex­tra con­stel­la­tion size needed … is likely to be less costly than the cen­tral bat­tle man­ager” and avoids re­liance on a few hard-to-de­fend es­sen­tial com­po­nents.

• A De­fense Sci­ence Board Task Force met six times to re­view BP with var­i­ous other groups, in­clud­ing JA­SON, iden­ti­fied ar­eas for pos­si­ble im­prove­ment, and found no fun­da­men­tal flaws.

• Two Red-Blue Team in­ter­ac­tive coun­ter­mea­sures ex­er­cises con­cluded BP faced no spe­cial prob­lems. (BP sen­sors as­sur­ing ad­di­tional sur­viv­abil­ity were “space-qual­i­fied” by the 1994 award-win­ning Cle­men­tine mis­sion to theMoon, pro­vid­ing 1.8 mil­lion frames of data — more than the Apollo pro­gram — and dis­cov­er­ing wa­ter in the po­lar re­gions.)

• Fol­low­ing De­fense Ac­qui­si­tion Board re­views, the top De­fense Ac­qui­si­tion ex­ec­u­tive ap­proved the in­te­grated SDI con­cept in­clud­ing BP. Pres­i­dent Bush’s Jan. 29, 1991, State of the Union ad­dress noted SDI was re­fo­cused on pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion from lim­ited bal­lis­tic mis­sile strikes — what­ever their source, a to deal with “any fu­ture threat to the United States, to our forces over­seas, and to our friends and al­lies.”

On Feb. 12, 1991, As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of De­fense Steve Hadley and Henry Cooper briefed the press that BP was ex­pected to cost $10 bil­lion in 1988 dol­lars, in­clud­ing 20 years op­er­a­tions — about $20 bil­lion to­day — as Mike Grif­fin said.

It promised more than 90 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity of killing all of up to 200 at­tack­ing re-en­try ve­hi­cles — the num­ber then con­trolled by a Rus­sian sub­ma­rine com­man­der.

Henry F. Cooper was the U.S. am­bas­sador to the De­fense and Space Talks dur­ing the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion and di­rec­tor of the Strate­gic De­fense Ini­tia­tive dur­ing the Ge­orge H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. Row­land H. Wor­rell, a re­tired Air Force colonel, was Bril­liant Peb­bles Task Force di­rec­tor, Na­tional Test Fa­cil­ity di­rec­tor and USAF Space War­fare Cen­ter vice com­man­der.

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