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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

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by Trent Telenko

"MISSILE DEFENSE: WHAT ABOUT THE GAPS? Critics of the pending US missile defense system have noted several flaws in the system design that have yet to be addressed:

1) “There are no significant defenses against cruise missiles. An enemy who finds his ballistic missile systems obsolete might build or buy cruise missiles. Shorter-ranged missiles could be launched from a cargo ship."

The reason for the lack of American cruise missile defenses is the lack of a cruise missile threat. Russia is the only U.S. adversary with long-range cruise missiles and the means to position them. The collapse of the Russian submarine fleet is a fact. It is doubtful that even a handful of Russian bombers and aerial tankers will be operational 10 years from now given the state of the Russian economy and the corruption of its government (see below).

There are no intercontinental range cruise missiles, be they subsonic, supersonic or hypersonic. Those have to be created and tested first, as they require guidance systems, which function for from hours rather than minutes. Such testing is difficult to hide from US intelligence unless an adversary is willing to accept a high proportion of operational failures in use, with consequent loss of scarce and expensive nuclear warheads.

The USAF attempted to build a subsonic long-range (possibly intercontinental) cruise missile called the "Snark" in the early 1960's, with comical results. So many failed that the testing staff called the Caribbean Sea, the "Snark infested waters." One of the lost Snarks turned up in a northern Brazilian jungle during a search for a downed light plane in the 1980's.

The only present means of consistently guiding an intercontinental cruise missile, the Global Positioning System (GPS), is controlled by the US military. The need to flight test missiles with an alternative guidance system will warn us in time to develop and deploy defenses for such long-range cruise missiles. Such testing is difficult to hide from US intelligence unless an adversary is willing to accept a high proportion of operational failures in used, with consequent loss of scarce and expensive nuclear warheads. The latter is unlikely.

This leaves short and medium-range cruise missiles launched from planes and ships by other than Russia. First, there are no other nations with bombers able to reach America. Our distance from other nations protects us now as it has in the past.

As for surface warships, the U.S. Navy regularly tracks those near American waters. In times of tension a P-3 Orion patrol plane will be maintain positive contact on such ships. During conflicts they will sink them. Covert cargo ships and possibly conventional submarines armed with short range, WMD armed, cruise missiles are the last possibility, but on closer examination, those are more of a Tom Clancy "techno-romantic fantasy" than practical threat. The concept falls flat in three respects: technical execution, security and nuclear control issues.

Steven Zaloga, a noted defense analyst, pointed out recently that converting an anti-ship cruise missile to a short-range land attack missile costs roughly the same as building a new land attack missile, for an inferior and chancy product given Third World technical personnel. And that is without the problem of "weaponization" of a nuclear device to fit in one.

The most likely land attack cruise missile candidates are converted target drones because of their range and endurance. There are a much smaller number of drone designs and airframes available to modify than fielded anti-ship missiles. However, target drones are not designed for either nuclear delivery or sea launch, let alone launch by covert freighters or submarines.

Typical 3rd world militaries are meant to look good rather than be good. Buying target drones is an indicator they are preparing to fight because they hardly ever, if ever, do so now. Their purchase of drones large enough to carry nuclear warheads would be an intelligence tipoff to the US, especially if those are not expended in practice.

The proliferation of the Russian "Tomahawkski" cruise missile design to China, or a Chinese copy of a Serb or Afghan-captured Tomahawk, is the only possible significant mid-to-long term threat. Those would be so expensive to maintain as to be limited to a few nation-state players, and could be monitored via the usual national-technical means.

Whatever missile is available; the Cuban Missile Crisis exemplifies the biggest risk for such a system - what if American surveillance catches the launch ships before they have achieved launch position? Or before you have made the decision to strike?

And even if American surveillance systems could be evaded, how long, in the information age, could security be maintained on such a covert force? That is a major question for potential adversaries given the human and electronic surveillance systems that the drug trade and illegal immigration have spawned along the American coasts.

Then there is the nuclear control issue. Does anyone think North Korea's "Dear Leader" or Saddam Hussein would trust anyone with a shipload of his nukes not under the guns of regime security forces?

In the final analysis the "covert cruise missile freighter", or a freighter which carries or even is itself a nuclear weapon, are only terrorist weapons, are not instruments of state policy. Terrorism presents different problems.

If you are going to use a terrorist nuke, then you put it in a freighter as a radiological weapon (see both editions of Philip Wylie's _Triumph_), giving the suicide bomber a radio or cell phone to listen to for instructions on when to ignite the trigger. This would be lethal to a small state like Israel, but not to the US because of its vast geographic size. It would only terminally infuriate the American people if used on us.

Missile defenses cannot stop terrorism any more than they can stop abortion or the common cold. People saying that they cannot, therefore missile defenses are useless, are not to be taken seriously.

2) "Any SDI system would rely on satellites for launch detection and target tracking. This may simply encourage potential attackers to find a way to attack the satellites, perhaps with lasers."

Saying that missile defense is hobbled by space dependence is beside the point. It does not matter whether missile defenses exist or not. American opponents are going to attack U.S. space assets, if they can, given American conventional military reliance on space.

In short, the problem of American military space asset vulnerability is _independent_ of missile defense. It exists regardless of other factors. The answer to that weakness is having robust and quickly replaceable space assets. Getting there requires a fleet of high flight rate, reusable, spaceplanes supporting a networked "light satellite" constellation.

What is going on here is "Reality Check 101." For different reasons, the Clinton Administration and USAF senior leadership are as much against a solution to this problem as they are to missile defense. These issues are forcing both Democratic political elites and senior USAF leadership to face a number of unpleasant truths.

Missile defense forces Democratic elites to deal with several phobias simultaneously: its rampant anti-nuclearism, its hate for Ronald Reagan and its 1960's anti-militarism.

The first is due to Ronald Reagan's use of SDI to destroy popular support for the Democrat's 1980 era nuclear-freeze movement. The Democratic nuclear phobia extends to weapons in space. Their systematic and spiteful persecution of first SDI, then the DC-X Delta Clipper, and then the military spaceplane in DOD budgets was an outgrowth of this need to denigrate Reagan's legacy.

Second, deploying missile defenses with proper space support will enable decades more of overwhelming American military power as the nation which controls the high ground of space controls the future destiny of the planet. The cognitive dissonance this causes former 1960's peace activists sends them into irrational hysterics.

As for the USAF, it takes an act of both God and Congress to force senior USAF generals to fund anything that isn't the F-22. (See this URL: They have a pathological attachment to the F-22 that rivals the commitment of US Army's Cavalry Branch to the horse in 1939-41. They view spaceplanes as much of a threat to the F-22 as the tank was for the horse. It is my opinion that an independent military space service will be required to deal with this need as "Fighter Pilot Generals" are the "Battleship Admirals" of the 21st century.

But that still begs the question: who is going to do this? Russia? North Korea and the list of usual suspects? China?

Russia has a fatal corruption problem. Theft and misuse of state property have been its national pastime for generations. Reports from MSNBC and the NY TIMES show the full range of the problem - from the Russian military using Il-76 to fly guns and drugs for Colombian drug lords to local thieves stealing live power lines for their metal content. (See Russia is becoming a kleptocratic state consisting of decaying 20th century city-states surrounded by a 19th century, electrically powerless, countryside.

Russia won't be able to field 1,000 nukes in 10 years, let alone make the major investment in space control technology to threaten American strategic space assets.

None of the "usual suspects" have the means to vie for space control.

This leaves China, for which see below.

3) "The proposed missile bases in Alaska and North Dakota could not protect the U.S. from missiles launched from the Southern Hemisphere. This might encourage a rogue nation to launch an attack from a ship at sea or from a temporary land base in the south."

Trying to hide a clandestine cruise or ballistic missile operation in an area of the world riddled with some of the most numerous and effective U.S. (AKA D.E.A.) human intelligence networks busy tracking the drug trade is a bad idea. Especially as those networks are also supported by much of American signal intelligence apparatus trying to justify their existence.

American or American-lead paramilitary forces routinely raid or board suspicious facilities and ships near American waters to search for illegal drugs. It gets even worse when you factor in the impending arrival of commercial spy satellites being used by major media to track US military forces for news ratings. The kind of furtive, large scale and capital-intensive preparations necessary to establish such a clandestine cruise or ballistic missile operation fits the overall profile of a major drug operation. The differences would stick out, attracting the wrong kind of U.S. intelligence attention.

4) "China has announced plans to build enough missiles to overwhelm the US defense system. That larger arsenal is seriously threatening India and other Asian nations. --Stephen V Cole."

The question here isn't whether the Chinese will want to build such an arsenal. It wants to build one.

The two questions that need answering are (1) does the Chinese central government have enough cohesion to force the various factions to pay for it and, (2) can they get their military procurement system to produce missiles that work.

The answers are "No" and "No."

China, like all Third World States, is a thin veneer of modernity stretched over a sea of abject poverty. It has to apply central government discipline to extract the resources and apply them in the right place. They've had trouble doing this for years.

The PLA has three competing military strategies vying for funds. Strategy one is to compete straight up the USA. Buying and license building ex-Soviet carriers (See, destroyers and jets typifies this approach. My friend Tom Holsinger wants to encourage the Chinese to try this by selling them the nuclear carrier Enterprise (demilitarized) as a technological Trojan Horse. Because he feels the Chinese have no chance of succeeding, while merely trying this strategy will so drain their resources as to marginalize all other potential threats.

PLA Strategy two is "asymmetric attacks', using current technology against American vulnerabilities. Computer viruses, sea mines, cruise or ballistic missiles and the Gerald Bull super-guns make up this approach.

Strategy three is "Leap-ahead", where Chinese researchers try to create military technologies that leapfrog American capabilities, such as ground-based laser weapons to attack American space assets. This assumes the Chinese economy develops to the point where they can afford such toys.

The Chinese are pursuing, and inadequately funding, all three strategies because NO ONE IS IN CHARGE. There is no "Paramount Leader" to enforce the Chinese national interest instead of the various factional interests, so each of the latter is going its own way at cross-purposes.

Even assuming a "Paramount Leader" could arise to control the factions in the near future, the Chinese still couldn't pull off any of these strategies. The PLA Air Force is known as the "Center of Corruption in the PLA," according to James Dunnigan. The independent budget and testing oversight that force test after test of American weapons is lacking in the PLAAF. Tests are expensive and an embarrassing lost of face if they uncover failure. Testing is kept unrealistic, and done as few times as possible, as a result. A good historical analog is the performance of both American torpedoes and the U.S. Naval Ordnance branch early in WW2.

Then there is the final threat to this scenario: the Chinese version of the "DOT COM" brain drain. The foreign joint venture companies are raiding the Chinese military industrial complex for talented engineers and managers.

The brain drain of the "Dot Com" economy is blamed for several recent U.S. space launch failures. Reports are that the same is happening to the Chinese military in a much more threadbare industrial economy, as its technological culture is "one deep." That is a major drag on any Chinese military buildup and ensures what they build cannot be maintained.

"Building missiles" does not mean, "building missiles that work." This is a fact the Chinese are well aware of in light of their reaction to the possibility of American strategic missile defenses.

The wonderful thing about building ballistic missiles rather than a large air force or navy is that you can parade junk and it looks threatening. That is why American ballistic missile defenses are so fundamentally unacceptable to the Chinese. They neutralize the implied political threat those missiles represent, and destroy Chinese illusions of power because they will believe our defenses work while their missiles won't. When you combine the brain drain problem with the rampant corruption loose in the Chinese PLAAF, and lack of direction above, the odds approach certainty that any long-range missile built by the Chinese, and launched by the regular military under combat conditions, will fail.

Remember that even in our checks and balance driven procurement system, the USA did not build reliable SLBM/ICBMs during the Cold War.

The Polaris missile had corroded safety interlocks that rendered its nukes inert until the mid-1960s. A Titan 2 missile blew up because someone dropped a tool on a fully fueled missile in the 1980s. Only 3 of 7 "combat ready" Minuteman were successfully launched from active silos in early 1980s realistic tests ordered by then Defense Secretary Casper Weinburger - realistic compared to the standard phony tests from Vanderberg AFB silos of carefully reworked Minuteman ICBM's. Our MX Peacekeeper ICBM's were rendered unusable for half a decade because of a defense contractor defrauding the government with faulty guidance gyros.

The kicker here was that the Soviets missile serviceability rates were half what American ballistic missiles were.

If we had such problems, and the Soviets' were far worse, how reliable will Chinese ICBM's be? How much of drain on China's economy will an attempt to build lots of land-based ICBM's be?

Overloading of an American SDI system should be considered in light of Chinese capabilities, not Chinese intentions.

My sense of the missile defense issue is this:

Missile defenses can and will protect America from missiles from China and other "rogue" nations, but their most valuable service will not be protecting America. It will be in providing political cover for our allies, like our Patriots did for Israel in the Gulf War, so those allies can't be threatened if America deploys conventional military forces in their jurisdiction.

China's fear is not that America will be protected from Chinese nuclear weapons. It’s that Japan will be. Allowing the U.S. to use it as a forward base for conventional forces to protect Taiwan.

This fear of American conventional military power _undeterred_ is what is really driving opposition to American missile deployment by the Chinese, the Russians and leftist elites in the U.S. and Europe.