yet more missile defense

Les Schaffer godzilla at
Thu Jun 8 21:33:59 MDT 2000

ThisNYTimes post is interesting considering the source: Ted Postol,
who worked on anti-missile defense for Raygun but also was one to
challenge the Pentagon's claim of success with the Patriot
anti-missile system during Gulf War. In addition are critical comments
from now-retired engineers who once worked on various aspects of
ballistic missile defense (BMD).

Of course, none of these people, probably, are against anti-missile
defenses in general. and for all we know they would favor more rather
than less research into ballistic missile defense.

The core of Postol's objection centers around his discovery of a
change in decoys used by the military in detection tests. Decoys which
wobbled around in orientation during flight like real warheads
produced infrared signals too similar in appearance to allow
discrimination. According to docs released by Postol, spherical and
uniform decoys have been, and are planned to be, used for the next
round of interception tests.

Recall from a post several weeks ago that the Union for Concerned
Scientists' objection to BMD centered around the ease with which
decoys could be deployed to overwhelm any defenses.

here is a choice quote from the report below:

>>>Asked how a smooth balloon could be more difficult to track than a
rigid decoy shaped to look like a warhead, he [General Kadish]
replied, "That's a valid technical argument," but he added that just
because a decoy seemed effective "doesn't mean its credible."<<<

les schaffer

======================== full report ====================

June 9, 2000

Pentagon Has Been Rigging Antimissile Tests, Critics Maintain


Citing the Pentagon's own plan, critics of the proposed antimissile
defense and even some military experts say all flight tests of the $60
billion weapon have been rigged to hide a fundamental flaw: The system
cannot distinguish between enemy warheads and decoys.

In interviews, they said that after the system failed to achieve this
crucial discrimination goal against mock targets in its first two
flight tests, the Pentagon substituted simpler and fewer decoys that
would be easier for the antimissile weapon to recognize.

The Pentagon's plan was obtained by Theodore A.  Postol, an arms
expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who opposes the
weapon. It covers the four tests that have taken place as well as
future tests up to the system's projected deployment in 2005.

Other technical experts who have seen it, including both antimissile
and decoy designers, concurred with his criticism, as did a senior
government official who has examined the Pentagon's testing plan.

"It is clear to me," said the official, who spoke on condition of
anonymity, "that none of the tests address the reasonable range of
countermeasures," or decoys that an enemy would use to try to outwit
an antimissile weapon.

While acknowledging the plan Dr. Postal obtained as authentic,
Pentagon officials strongly defended the testing
program. Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish of the Air Force, director of the
Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, denied that his
program had engaged in any deception or dumbing down.  General Kadish
said the testing program would be extremely useful and the resulting
weapon would defeat crude warheads launched by inexperienced nuclear
powers that might emerge in the future, like Iran, Iraq or North

Though unclassified, the plan is considered sensitive.  Dr. Postol
said he obtained it from a Pentagon source he would not identify.

Dr. Postol, who is preparing a report for the White House on what he
sees as the plan's flaws, made his argument on Monday at a meeting of
the State Department's advisory board on arms control, along with
another antimissile critic, Nira Schwartz. Dr.  Schwartz, a former
senior engineer at the military contractor TRW, lost her job after
after challenging the claims the company made about the weapon's
ability to distinguish warheads from decoys.

Dr. Postol, who worked in the Reagan Administration on such issues as
antimissile defense, says that the Pentagon has ignored earlier
criticism like Dr. Schwartz's and instead put flawed testing methods
at the heart of all its plans to develop and build a weapon. The
upshot, he says, is that any real attacker -- no matter how
inexperienced -- would be able to easily outwit the weapon.

Pentagon officials "are systematically lying about the performance of
a weapon system that is supposed to defend the people of the United
States from nuclear attack," Dr. Postol said in an interview.

General Kadish conceded that "this technology is difficult." As a
result, he said, his organization's approach "is to walk before we
run, with increasingly stressful decoys to match what we expect" by
way of enemy threats. "When we get to that end point," he said, "we'll
have the confidence to put this on alert."

But far from increasing the complexity of future tests, the Pentagon
has made them easier, military experts who examined the testing plan

Two rigorous experiments, in 1997 and 1998, to have the weapon simply
observe the targets, they said, have been followed by interception
tests designed to make discriminating between decoys and mock warheads
as easy as possible.

"They did a good fox trot for the first couple of tests and then
slowed down to a crawl," said Bob Dietz, a retired former designer of
warhead decoys for American missiles. "You have to ask why they don't
build better decoys. They've always said they'd get better with time."

Michael W. Munn, a retired scientist for the military contractor
Lockheed and a pioneer in designing and testing antimissile weapons,
said: "The only way to make it work is to dumb it down. There's no
other way to do it. Discrimination has always been the No.  1 problem,
and it will always remain that way."

He said manipulation of antimissile flight tests was nothing new.

"It's always been a wicked game," Mr. Munn said.

The Pentagon itself is sharply divided on the testing issue. In
February, Philip E. Coyle III, the Defense Department's director of
testing and evaluation, faulted the antimissile tests as
insufficiently realistic to make decisions about moving from research
to building the weapon.

The 16 interception test flights called for in the development program
would cost at least $1.6 billion, Pentagon experts say. So far, the
two observation tests have been followed by two interception attempts,
the first successful, the second a failure. Another test is scheduled
in July.

The Clinton administration plans to make a decision later this year on
whether to start building the antimissile system, which is to shield
the United States from limited missile attacks by so-called rogue

Dr. Postol, a professor of science and national security studies at
M.I.T. and the author of many private and federal weapon reports, was
a top Navy science adviser in the Reagan Administration and for
decades has studied enemy countermeasures to antimissile weapons.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf war, he challenged the Army's claims of
success for its Patriot antimissile system, saying it had, in fact,
destroyed no Iraqi missiles at all. Though the Pentagon at first
denied his assertion, it later conceded that initial reports of the
Patriot success had been exaggerated.

The current scientific fray centers on the interceptor's 120-pound
homing device, known as a kill vehicle. Fired on a rocket, it is
designed to use a telescopic sensor, a computer and jet thrusters to
steer itself through space toward a warhead, destroying it by force of

Dr. Postol's critique involves its hardest job, distinguishing between
actual enemy warheads and the cloud of decoys considered sure to be
launched to disguise them. If unable to tell decoys from warheads, a
defender would be forced to fire interceptors at every threatening
object, quickly exhausting a defensive force.

Dr. Postol began digging into the first antimissile flight test, in
June 1997, after reviewing Pentagon data gathered by Dr. Schwartz.

The sensors at issue are cooled to more than 300 degrees below zero
and work in the icy void of space to track faint heat emissions from
warm targets, just as ordinary telescopes track light. They see
warheads and decoys as twinkling points of light, like stars.

The June 1997 flight test, Dr. Postol asserted, showed that the
infrared twinkles were random and insufficiently different from one
another to let the interceptor distinguish among them, and that the
Pentagon had conspired to hide this surprising discovery.

The Pentagon, he said, has altered future tests to artificially
heighten any differences that could be detected between warheads and

His accusation is based mainly on a detailed chart from the Pentagon's
Ballistic Missile Defense Organization that gives an overview of its
program for Integrated Flight Tests of the kill vehicle. Entitled
"I.F.T. Targets Selections," the chart is dated May 5, 2000, and at
the top is labeled "For Planning Purposes." The chart's bottom warns,
"Configuration controlled by N.M.D. J.P.O.," or the National Missile
Defense Joint Program Office. "Do not alter this document."

The chart starts with the June 1997 test, lists another sensor flight
and then goes through the 16 intercept tests scheduled for the kill
vehicle's entire development. The last flight is listed as June 2004,
right before the antimissile weapon is to begin operating in 2005. In
each case, the chart spells out the exact type and number of test
decoys and warheads and depicts them in small pictures.

Dr. Postol said the chart shows how the initial suite of challenging
decoys, the ones that twinkled a lot, making them hard to distinguish
from a warhead, had been replaced by fewer and simpler decoys that
twinkled as little as possible, accentuating their differences from
warheads that fluctuate a lot in infrared intensity.

Long and conelike, pointy at one end, flat at the other, the warheads
can wobble and shift in complex ways while moving through space,
presenting differing heat emissions to a distant sensor. By contrast,
the spherical decoy balloons have more uniform signatures.

The removed decoys, Dr. Postol said in his report, all had infrared
signatures similar to the warheads.  Abandoned were spherical balloons
whose stripes made their infrared emissions fluctuate, rigid decoys
that looked like warheads and balloons that inflated to conelike

"These decoys," he wrote, "have brightness and time-dependent
oscillating signals that can be quite similar to the signals from
either warheads that are spinning around their axis of symmetry, or
tumbling end over end."

The only retained decoys, he said, were spherical, uniform in
materials and substantially brighter or dimmer than warheads. Their
signatures, he said, "will have very uniform and controlled

All the program's interception tests, Dr. Postol said in the draft
report to the White House, "have been carefully orchestrated to avoid
encountering the discrimination problems." In an interview, he said he
hoped to get the report, a draft of which runs to 20 pages, to the
White House next week.

General Kadish, while saying the planning chart was authentic, if
tentative, strongly denied that the testing program had been
structured to become increasingly easy. To the contrary, he said, the
decoys were selected to make the evolving tests increasingly hard.

"Complexity is increasing," he said.

Asked how a smooth balloon could be more difficult to track than a
rigid decoy shaped to look like a warhead, he replied, "That's a valid
technical argument," but he added that just because a decoy seemed
effective "doesn't mean its credible."

The test program, he said, was structured to make the weapon flexible
and robust. Testing it against decoy shapes that were too specific
might allow an enemy to fool the weapon by changing them "a little
bit," General Kadish said. "What we're after is a basic physics

Previously, Pentagon officials have said they reduced the complexity
of some antimissile testing when the government cut the program's goal
from trying to knock out advanced warheads from countries like Russia
and China to more primitive ones from rogue states.

Lt. Col. Richard Lehner of the Air Force, an antimissile spokesman,
said the current testing diagram depicts provisional goals rather than
a hard-and-fast plan. The only decoy configuration set in concrete, he
added, was the next test flight, which has been delayed repeatedly and
is now scheduled for the first week of July.

Yesterday, Dr. Postol belittled the Pentagon's retorts, saying they
were misrepresenting the program's logic. "They've been caught in one
outright lie after another," he said.

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