I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones
-Albert Einstein (contemplating nuclear devastation)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The X-band: an icon we DON'T need!


Seattle has a new, albeit temporary, icon that quite rivals the Space Needle.  Can you guess?  What is 240 feet wide and 390 feet long, towers more than 280 feet from its keel to the top of the its huge white dome, displaces nearly 50,000 tons, and cost $900 million to build???

The sea based X-band radar about to eclipse the Space Needle on its way to Elliott Bay
Have you guessed??? It's the Sea-Based X-band Radar, just one of many components of the U.S. Defense Department's Ballistic Missile Defense System.  This $900 million extremely photogenic and technological marvel is said to be able, according to the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), "to track an object the size of a baseball over San Francisco in California from the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, approximately 2,900 miles (4,700 km) away."

As if that wouldn't be enough to impress people, the X-band is supposed to provide extremely accurate and precise data in order for other elements of the nation's missile defense system, such as ground-base interceptor missiles, to destroy enemy missiles fired by another country.  Sound complicated?  It is!

It is so complicated, in fact, that the folks responsible for this project have had their share of failures trying to get this system to function at 100 percent which, if it is ever going to defend the United States (or any of its allies) against nuclear-armed missiles, is the only acceptable level of reliability.  One nuclear missile hitting our shores is one too many, is it not?  Of course, if we really try to make the system even 99.9999%, our current economic mess will pale in comparison.  Star Wars is BIG BUCKS!!!

In one failed test (February 2010) the target missile successfully launched from the Marshall Islands, and the interceptor missile successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  However, the $900 million X-band "did not perform as expected," according to the MDA.  In other words, IT FAILED.  And this was a test in which everything was well choreographed.  What happens if a real nuclear-armed missile is headed toward the good old US of A and the X-band fails???  You don't want to know!!! 

One of the questions almost no one seems to ask is, will the X-band radar work against a bunch of missiles all coming at the same time (a realistic probability). At least one person has spoken out. "Philip Coyle, a former Pentagon weapons testing specialist who has been critical of missile defense testing, said... one problem with the [Sea Based X-band] radar is that its resolution is so fine it needs to be “cued,” or directed where to look."  Wait a minute!!!  This thing can spot a baseball 3000 miles away, but it won't be able to find it unless it's pointed in the right direction!?!?!? Oh, great!!!

The U.S. missile defense system has an unheavenly host of hardware including land and ship based missiles, "exoatmospheric kill vehicles" (now there's a mouthful), the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser, space tracking and surveillance satellites, a Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) system, and land and sea-based radars.  Ever since President Ronald Reagan raised the Star Wars battle cry it has been a fast and furious (and extraordinarily costly) push to deploy a missile defense system.

The companies making a fortune off missile defense read like a who's who of the weapons industry, and include Boeing (prime contractor), Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Bechtel.  Boeing currently has the $27.1 million contract for "maintenance and upgrades" for the Sea-Based X-band.  Judging by its past performance, it sorely needs some work. Philip Coyle, now with the Center for Defense Information, said that "both the [Government Accountability Office] and my former office have questioned whether this radar can survive the maritime environment."

It is time to face the fact the Star Wars was one of Ronald Reagan's pipe dreams that allowed the Military-Industrial Complex to go full throttle in a sky's-the-limit push to develop a self-perpetuating system that Rube Goldberg would have loved.  Rather than feeding our paranoia about North Korea and Iran, and starting a new missile race with Russia, we should be working to reduce global tensions and eliminate the factors that cause other nations to build missiles and nuclear weapons.  That would logically begin with the U.S. ditching a futile missile defense program and putting even a fraction of that human and financial capital into positive diplomatic measures.

The Sea-Based X-band Radar is just another poster child for the hubris and waste that we euphemistically call "defense." If you live in Seattle take a trip down to Harbor Island where the X-band is currently at Vigor Shipyards (formerly Todd Shipyards).  See it for yourself, and then ask your Senators and Representative why we are wasting so much money on this program while cutting so many social programs???  The X-band is an icon we simply don't need and can't afford. 



For much more on this issue (and other related issues) check out the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space

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