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back to article Son of Star Wars test aborted

The latest test of the Pentagon's controversial space ICBM interceptors has been aborted after the target failed to work. The target rocket took off from the launch site in Alaska on Friday, but according to the head of the Missile Defence Agency, it "did not reach sufficient altitude to be deemed a threat, and so the ballistic …

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Silver badge

American Design

So let's get this right......

If it's windy, raining or snowing, they can't test.

If the missle doesn't enter high orbit, they can't test...

Mmmm...I'm thinking I may know how to launch a missle attack against the Good ol' USofA...

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Anonymous Coward

Ask the russian to send one over

Obviously.

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How many bites of the apple?

If Rick thinks that the act of shooting down an ICBM could trigger the warhead, then no wonder he wants to be shooting at the them over Europe!

Or maybe both Ricks realise how unreliable this system will be and they want as many pops at a target as they can squeeze in.

But why couldn't they have ship (or sub) launched interceptors and completely avoid the hot potato of European missile sites? Also, the failure of the Maginot line was that it immobile and the Gremans simply drove through Belgium and went around it - what will happen if the (perceived) threat moves from the Middle East?

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Rob
Bronze badge

Missile Defence means...

... larger collatorial damage in a friendly fire incident, personally I think I'd rather take my chances of surviving the enemy nuke that strayed than have the US attempt to shoot it down.

Does this mean the enemy will now devise a weather machine to defeat the missile defence allowing their missile to get through?

(I've already got my coat on)

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why test in good weather?

Stu - You can launch an interceptor in bad weather, because it hits its target in space, above the weather. But you can't test it in bad weather. You want to film the test to see how well you succeeded or how you failed. You don't learn much from a test you can't see, and tests are expensive, since they completely use up both an interceptor and a target.

All - The politics of getting U.S. military bases into Poland are quite independent of any specific need to shoot down missiles. I'm sure they were hoping you wouldn't notice.

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Silver badge

Slip in under the wire then?

Genius, the missile was too low to be a threat so it didn't engage it. Does that just mean that someone needs to fire a missile that slips in under the wire?

Another successful failure anyway. There is an awesome West Wing episode that makes reference to something similar, with the President rather underwhelmed by it, likening it to Charlie Brown always having the football taken away from him. To coin Jed Barlett "the words you're looking for are 'oh darn'"

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Anonymous Coward

but don't they have

that boeing airborne laser going live next year?

throwing a megawatt of power at an ICBM already under immense physical stresses will seriously mess things up...

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JJ

But would it work?

The current system seems designed to target the missile in flight, and probably assumes going up against a delivery system with one warhead per vehicle.

The first problem is that an interceptor is likely to disrupt the missile itself, but not the warhead on top of it. Obviously breaking up fissile material in-flight isn't ideal at the best of times, but even if this isn't being avoided it seems likely that the warhead would still survive the intercept relatively intact.

Historically weapons accidents have shown that even the sophisticated multi-stage triggers can get driven close to causing detonation by a crash involving a warhead (e.g 8 of 9 arming stages going active). And given that the 'el cheapo' systems used by countries this is supposed to be used against are likely to be built to go off (ie. be reliable on delivery), rather than assume fail safe, it seems likely that an interception would cause a headache to someone under the intercept. Though only for a millisecond or so...

Given a more sophisticated MIRV system, it seems even more likely that the re-entry vehicles would survive (being pretty robust objects) and would hit something, and again the combination of the fall plus the impact(s) could conceivably lead to some sort of detonation, even if only partial. Though the kinetic energy alone would be enough to ruin the day of anyone near the impact site.

The other problem is that the system probably assumes a relatively dumb target, and it's increasing possible to counter the interceptor systems. And once you get the re-entry vehicles released you really have a problem, as they aren't hard to track (massive IR signature for one) but interception is incredible difficult given the small target and high speeds involved.

Maybe they should have just asked to share the RS-24 test the Russians just did, after all a missile defence system test vs. an ICBM designed to counter a missile defence system would probably have been fairer than trying to kill an old Polaris.

It shouldn't be assumed that you'd only even have to target (relatively) low tech systems from unfriendly states - after all, espionage or plain old money can get almost anyone the weapons they want, and it also isn't inconceivable that those developing the latest systems might actually want to use them one day.

So if you can't kill the latest and greatest, it doesn't seem worth the effort.

And personally, I feel more at risk from the side effects of the defence system than I do from any ICBM. After all, the idea is to protect the good ol' US - as long as the missile doesn't hit the target it doesn't matter what happens to all the foreigners who get hit by the debris.

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A few points being consistently missed here....

First, Kurt is partially right. The clear weather is partly for the fact that they want to be able to record the test in as many ways as possible. The second part of the need for clear weather is that the target vehicle, the ICBM mock-up, needs clearer weather for launch- even retrofitted, it's pretty damned old. The weapons system, however, does not require clear weather for it to do what it is designed to do.

Second, the Boeing Airborne laser is coming online soon- but it is a Theatre weapon. Yes, it will likely be very damned effective at knocking down any ICBM it can hit during boost phase. The thing is, it needs to be actually nearby to hit the damn thing. That means that one of those airplanes flying around, say, just off the coast of California, won't be able to do anything about a missile launched from anywhere on the other side of the Pacific, no matter where it is targetted. The ICBM could fly literally directly over the Boeing during the exo-atmosphere stage, and the plane won't be able to intervene at all. This system, however, may be able to.

Third, the system may not be the most reliable. Or the system may have to deal with an extremely large number of targets. Layered defense is the best option, which means that the US wants hardened emplacements out in every friendly country it can, as well as ship-based weapon systems, because that way you DO get a lot of shots off. As for whether or not this is a good way to set up said layered defense, that is open to debate.

Which would you rather trust: One missile battery, with, say, a 90% kill ratio against a single target, (which is phenomenal given the task involved) or a hundred of those missile batteries, each with a 90% kill ratio, giving a few millionths of a percent chance that the target will make it through? So, one chance in 10 that you get nuked, or one chance in a few billion?

Yes, the system will have flaws. That's the point of multiple systems- you have one that will take out ICBMs, which go out of the atmosphere, one that takes down theatre threats, such as SCUDs, which do not leave the atmosphere, etc, etc. It's like building a house: You don't try to use a hammer for everything. You use the hammer to drive nails, you use a saw to cut wood, etc, etc.

Build a single tool to do a single job, and you can specialize that tool to be incredibly effective at it. Build a single tool to do 10 semi-related jobs, and that tool, while capable of doing a lot, isn't as good at one thing as the tool that specializes in doing that one thing.

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Silver badge

Charlie Brown...

Ross: Just a minor correction, the words were "Good Grief!" ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

two remarks

"that boeing airborne laser going live next year? throwing a megawatt of power at an ICBM already under immense physical stresses will seriously mess things up..."

The russian countermesure uses smokescreen around the missile so the laser only heats up the smoke what gets left behind. Adding heat tiles to the surface would also work.

"If Rick thinks that the act of shooting down an ICBM could trigger the warhead, then no wonder he wants to be shooting at the them over Europe!"

And the other thing being that any russian icbm-s could be caught during the ascent stage as long as you deploy near enough to the launch sites and use the right kind of anti icbm missile. The us tries to do both, this is why the russians are angry because the system could not target an iranian icbm, but can shoot down all russian ones launched from the european part of russia or from the north sea. (in short the us is lieing, they build this system against the russians)

"Does that just mean that someone needs to fire a missile that slips in under the wire?"

Yes, but putting it into a chinese container and shipping it as cheap consumer goods would also work. Nobody would notice it until it blows up in a us city. If the us can't keep illegal emigrants and smuggled drogs out of their country, how do they think they can keep out a lone person with a single bomb?

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The perfect defense as long as they attack on a sunny tuesday afternoon

There are geiger counters and they do scan incoming cargo at major ports. But frankly, an attack doesn't even need to get that involved. I don't think it'd matter much if the bomb is at the heart of a city, or simply near it, undocked, were it strong enough, or held high enough up to spread the cloud far. And considering that it's natural for important sites to be by bodies of water.

The only way to win is not to play. Gunboat diplomacy only goes so far. The best defense is to not to be such an offense.

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Oh no , more low earth orbital space junk

Oh no , more low earth orbit space junk, and the yankees had the gall to complain about Chinese a-sat tests!

But then again , all solid fuel rockets are but big fire crackers if the solid propellant is poorly assembled and/or deteriorates in long term storage, as Morton Thiokol demonstrated once , with a refurbished Minuteman used to launch a spy satellite , self destructed on the launch pad and totally destroyed the pad!

Actually , Polaris 1's first went active duty on August 2nd 1963 , with the commisioning of the USSN Lafayette SSBN616(aka George Washington Class SSBN's) , prior to that US navy used a somewhat more primitive design firing Regulus Short range remote controlled missiles fired on the surface! , on the USS Grayback/Growler(conventional) and Halibut(nuclear powered) ,retired from service in 1964

And even Revel were able to publically sell a scale model of the same submarine!

The Polaris had a lot of bugs in it's launch systems to iron out , and the remains of the land based launcher were for a long time on public view at Patrick AFB Fa!

Oh how soon we forget the crazy sixties , so well described in the Barry McGuire song the "eve of destruction"!

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Is it just me?

Is it just me or is this all a lesson futility? Me personally being an American really don't find N. Korea or Iran to be a threat. First between them they MAY/MAY NOT have but more then maybe a dozen nukes if that? Second They have no reliable delivery system other then short range aka Japan or S. Korea. I don't see the Chinese or Japanese stacking nukes up on the border between themselves and N. Korea. What's lost in all of this is India and Pakistan. They are at war, both have demonstrated they have the nukes and they capability to deliver them. Why aren't arming ourselves against them? Between the W and DoD it just a bunch of crap they spew out to create some sort of fear and siphon off needed money for these Kits that will never work. What good is having the Kit if the people it was designed to save are all sick and dieing cause well the health care system went to crap. If this is the Son of Star Wars then the DoD must be the Stith and the W must be Darth Mal...

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Title

By Blain Hamon "The best defense is to not to be such an offense."

Bingo! America is the largest threat to international security today. They've already demonstrated there willingness to charge into situations guns blazing before a diplomatic resolution can be found. N.Korea and Iran are no threat to anyone, if this changes you can bet its because of threats of military action against them. Son of Star Wars is like poking a dog with a stick and then wondering why the hell it savaged your arm off shortly after.

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a monumental waste of resources

Remember how in Gulf War 1, there was much crowing about the Patriot anti-missile system's effectiveness? Only it turned out to be all lies. That's exactly what will happen again if such a system is made operational, and if it will have to respond to an actual attack.

There was an article in Scientific American already back in the mid-1980s, after Reagan made the "Star Wars" programme public. The article demolished all credibility of the program, and nothing has changed since then to make its conclusions invalid.

Hitting even a single target is phenomenally difficult, which is why most of the missile defence system's tests have so far been abject failures, even when the practice target has been _broadcasting its location_. At one time, they weren't even able to get the interceptor out of the silo. In a real-life situation, there would be multiple incoming objects, some or most of which could be decoys, with no way to distinguish between them and the real missiles. The decision time would be a minute or two at most, and if the launches were from submarines, much less. Countermeasures, such as the gas mentioned above, plus using decoys, would be vastly less expensive than the putative defence system.

Furthermore, the software system used to control the whole thing would be one of the most complex ever devised, and it would have to work perfectly the first time it would be realistically tested -- that is, under attack. Knowing what we do about bug rates in complex software, this alone would be enough to doom the system.

The whole idea is a monumental exercise in futility. If security is the aim, the money poured down this particular rathole would be far better spent in some more intelligent way. But I suppose if the only tool you know is a hammer....

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