Monday, January 03, 2005

Scott Ritter rides again

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter is making dire statements about the futility of the US ballistic missile defense program:
On Christmas Eve 2004, the Russian Strategic Missile Force test fired an advanced SS-27 Topol-M road-mobile intercontinental ballistic Missile (ICBM). This test probably invalidated the entire premise and technology used in the National Missile Defense (NMD) system currently being developed and deployed by the Bush administration, and at the same time called into question the validity of the administration's entire approach to arms control and disarmament. [...]

The NMD system being fielded to counter the SS-25, and any similar or less sophisticated threats that may emerge from China, Iran, North Korea, and elsewhere, will probably have cumulative costs between $800 billion and $1.2 trillion by the time it reaches completion in 2015.

However, the Bush administration's dream of a viable NMD has been rendered fantasy by the Russian test of the SS-27 Topol-M. According to the Russians, the Topol-M has high-speed solid-fuel boosters that rapidly lift the missile into the atmosphere, making boost-phase interception impossible unless one is located practically next door to the launcher. The SS-27 has been hardened against laser weapons and has a highly maneuverable post-boost vehicle that can defeat any intercept capability as it dispenses up to three warheads and four sophisticated decoys.

To counter the SS-27 threat, the US will need to start from scratch. And even if a viable defense could be mustered, by that time the Russians may have fielded an even more sophisticated missile, remaining one step ahead of any US countermeasures. The US cannot afford to spend billions of dollars on a missile-defense system that will never achieve the level of defense envisioned. The Bush administration's embrace of technology, and rejection of diplomacy, when it comes to arms control has failed.

Ritter seems to be stuck in a Cold War reality, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Russians aren't the most pressing threat for the US right now: rather, the North Koreans and Iranians are much more likely to shoot first. And Russia is in much closer proximity to those two nations than the US is. You can read more about the SS-27 here.

Even if the US decides that it needs to be able to counter the SS-27, that hardly means that the efforts to date to counter the "less sophisticated threats" are worthless. Check out the MDA homepage for recent press releases and background reading on the US National Missile Defense program.