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BMD Dreams And Realities

by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Mar 31, 2006
The Israelite slaves in the Book of Exodus were commanded to do the impossible -- make bricks without straw. The challenge of creating the world's most advanced ballistic missile defense systems without enough scientists and engineers to make and maintain them could make that challenge look easy.

A new report by the Pentagon's own top scientific assessment body this month issued a warning that the United States is now not even producing enough scientists and engineers to maintain even its current strategic ballistic weapons systems reliably operational in the decades to come. The implications of this conclusion for the vastly more complex and demanding anti-ballistic missile systems now being developed are therefore sobering in the extreme.

The report, issued last week by the Defense Science Board, was the subject of a comprehensive report in USA Today on March 24. And it pulled no punches.

The five independent missile experts who carried out the two-year study that led to it warned bluntly that not only will the U.S. Air Force and Navy soon lack sufficient scientists and engineers to produce the new state-of-the-art wonder weapons on which the Bush administration's National Security Strategy depends, they will even be unable to maintain much of the 1960s era ballistic nuclear missile systems in reliable.

Each year, about 70,000 Americans receive undergraduate and graduate science and engineering degrees that are defense related, compared with a combined 200,000 in China and India, the report said.

As if that is not enough, the report documented and confirmed trends we have previously reported in UPI's BMD Focus and BMD Watch columns that China -- and now also India -- are outstripping the United States in the numbers of hard science and engineering graduates they are producing each year.

Last August, UPI reported the warning of Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea of the U.S. Marine Corps, who was then J-6 and Director of Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems for the Joint Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces, said that China was already out-producing the United States in scientists by 10 to one.

In 2004, universities and colleges in the United States produced only 60,000 hard science graduates. But in the same year, China produced 600,000 of them, Shea told the AFCEA Technology Showcase conference in Fort Lauderdale.

The Defense Science Board report came to similar conclusions. Currently, only 20,000 research and development scientists work in the entire U.S. aerospace industry, it said. That is only one seventh the 140,000 who worked in it 25 years ago, it said. And the figure of 20,000 is only one-thirtieth, or little more than 3 percent of the number of science graduates that China now produces every year.

India too was outstripping the United States in the number of its software engineers, Gen. Shea warned last August. "There are more software engineers in Bangalore than Silicon Valley," he said.

The DSB report confirmed that the Pentagon was aware of the danger that America's crucial strategic lead over the rest of the world in the military applications of Information Technology was already being eroded or neutralized by the dramatic increase in human resources in that field in other countries, especially China.

Chinese military publications in recent years have devoted much attention to so-called asymmetrical warfare concepts whereby the huge U.S. superiority in IT and space-based weapons could be neutralized.

The United States is falling behind in producing computer scientists. The number of computer scientists graduating per year has now been falling for nine years, Michael Capellas, president and CEO of MCI told the AFCEA conference in August. "We are declining in science ... in the 5th and 6th grades," Capellas said. "Young ladies are not entering math and science -- and when they do, they go to medicine."

Yet because a majority of the teachers in U.S. schools were women, this imbalance had already led to a proportionately greater shortage of science and math teachers, he said.

"Not enough" is being done to combat the problem, Capellas said. "We simply haven't promoted math and science in the culture. This is a fundamental problem of educational reform. It (does not have) an easy answer"

As a result, Capellas said, the United States will be unable to maintain a wide high-tech lead over the rest of the world. "We no longer have a huge lead in applying (communications technology)," he said. "Technology is being rapidly developed around the world. Get used to it.

According to the DST report, the Pentagon, the Bush administration and the American people are going to have to start getting used to this state of affairs right away. For the report documented a whole list of key strategic programs that are already, or are going to be, unexpectedly delayed and limited in their effectiveness because there simply are no longer enough scientists and engineers to carry them out.

According to the USA Today report these problems already include:

-- A lack of industry and government expertise in long-range missile systems.

-- Lack of experience in the U.S. armed forces and industry in designing new long-range missile systems. It is now a quarter of a century since the last systems were designed and crucial experience and expertise has just been lost.

-- An "alarming" lack of missile expertise in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, where severe shortages of civilian experts exist in 124 of 163 critical skills areas, the DSB report says.

-- Even the Pentagon's new $500 million plan to replace nuclear warheads on the missiles in Trident nuclear submarines with conventional weapons is going to take far longer than planned because the entire Department of Defense lacks the necessary engineering skills to do it, the report said.

The USA Today report cited other experts as playing down the significance of the report because the DOD is concentrating on anti-terror, special forces strategies. But this argument appears specious.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top civilian lieutenants have given priority to space weaponization, ballistic missile defense, and high-tech weapons systems beyond the capability of any other power to match through all of the more than five years they have run the U.S. armed forces.

Critics like physicist Theodore Posel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have argued for years that the United States no longer has the technological-industrial base and resources to come near to making these dreams a reality, but the media, like Congress and the Bush administration, have swept their warnings and concerns inside. Now, Rumsfeld's own hand-picked advisory panel has come to the same conclusion. And one of the most widely read newspapers in the nation has given the report prominent coverage.

The DSB report and the USA Today account of it should have set off a high-profile national debate on what can and cannot realistically be done to address the shortcomings they have documented. So far, there is no sign of this happening. But one way or another, realities will have to be faced.

Source: United Press International

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