- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Never heard of countermeasures? Most people haven't. Countermeasures are things carried into space on a ballistic missile to confuse the defense. They might include coated balloons, chaff, electronic jamming, dummy warheads and other devices to cause an interceptor to miss the real warhead.

A major debate broke out in April when a group of arms controllers at the Union of Concerned Scientists and Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report claiming the planned national missile defense (NMD) cannot defend the country because it will be defeated by simple countermeasures. Supported by the New York Times and much of the national media, this view was accepted by many congressional Democrats. All 45 Senate Democrats voted last month to require testing the NMD interceptor against more stressful countermeasures.

That amendment was defeated because it was not necessary. The NMD program is conducting flight tests against countermeasures, and the plan always has been to make those tests increasingly difficult. But first, the NMD interceptor must be proven with thorough testing, and with 28 flight tests planned through 2007, it will be. Five of those tests already have been completed.

The first two were of competing models of the interceptor. First tested was a Boeing interceptor, and then the Raytheon model that later was chosen for the NMD program. Its sensors scanned nine objects: a dummy warhead, three warhead replicas and five balloons of different sizes. It quickly selected the dummy warhead from among the eight decoys, showing it could defeat the kind of countermeasures that might be used by a developing country.

This interceptor has three sensors operating in visible and infrared light and a high-performance telescope to identify and pick out the warhead. But the principal critic, Theodore Postol of the arms-control program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focused mainly on charges concerning the first flight test, which used an interceptor that no longer is part of the program. Using outdated and incomplete information, he accused Pentagon officials of fraud and later charged them with "systematically lying" about NMD flight tests.

Mr. Postol's nasty attacks are similar to but more objectionable than the charges he made in 1991, when he denigrated the performance of the Patriot interceptor in the Persian Gulf war. Reasonable criticism is one thing, but accusing dedicated professionals of deliberate fraud is over the line. These critics are practicing voodoo science, using the authority of MIT and the language of science to promote an arms-control agenda. There is neither intellectual rigor nor integrity in using such tactics to "prove" a political point of view.

Their claims have been refuted by Stanley Orman, co-author of this article and former manager of Britain's Chevaline program, which spent $2 billion and 13 years developing countermeasures for Britain's Polaris missiles against the Moscow missile defense, which depends solely on ground-based radar. Confidence in the British countermeasures was established only by repeated flight testing, showing how difficult it is even for advanced countries to perfect such devices.

But critics ignore the complexities and attribute theoretical countermeasures to countries that have never shown or tested such things, and then use them to claim NMD could not provide an effective defense. Missiles being built by developing countries have limited space for a payload, so adding anything becomes a trade-off against the size, weight and configuration of the warhead. In addition, the X-band radar to be built in the Aleutians, other ground-based radars and satellite-based sensors will all work together to help the interceptor select and hit the target. This "netting" of multiple sensors and use of different frequencies will greatly improve the defense and complicate the task of the offense.

Missile defense technology is not static, as the critics imply. It is constantly being improved with faster computers and new components. The Pentagon is well aware of the possible use of countermeasures and is working on some two dozen defenses against them. But that work of necessity is highly classified, making it difficult to defend against irresponsible charges.

It is ridiculous to suggest a developing country could design missiles more advanced than this country can design defenses. Besides, the primary goal of missile defense is deterrence to discourage adversaries from acquiring missiles and using them to threaten or blackmail. It is the absence of defenses that encourages missile proliferation and blackmail. The solution is not to dream up phony reasons why defenses may not work, but to do the hard engineering needed to make sure they do.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in San Diego. Stanley Orman is CEO of Orman Associates of Rockville.



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