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Missile Defense Really Does Take Rocket Science

"The old heavy engineering virtues of endless testing, patience and careful, methodical thoroughness with long checklists to be laboriously tested and ticked off time and time again remain as essential as ever in the bright and bold new world of 21st century high tech BMD. Contrary to what Rumsfeld and his Whiz Kids thought when they took over the Pentagon in January 2001, there is no cheap or magic short-cut to avoid the delays caused by careful, methodical testing of component parts. And ballistic missiles and BMD systems have thousands of them. It is rocket science. And rocket science still isn't easy."
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington DC (UPI) Jan 11, 2007
The year 2006 was the year when the U.S. ballistic missile defense program remembered the Forgotten Man in BMD, and other nations forgot him. That man is the engineer. In the age of high-tech software, new wireless technology miracles churned out by the day, and captains of American industry long since replaced in the public esteem by the captains of American software, it is easy to forget the continued crucial importance of the old fashioned heavy industrial hard-hat engineer.

But he remains as crucial as ever to military technology in general and to any effective BMD system in particular.

The year 2006 was The Year of the Engineer in American BMD because it was the year when the long-troubled Ground-based Midcourse Interceptor program, the backbone of all plans to realistically defend the continental United States against attack by nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles fired by some rogue state, got back on track.

On Sept. 1, a Ground-based Midcourse Interceptor, or GBI, fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California successfully intercepted and destroyed a target incoming ICBM fired from Kodiak, Alaska. The achievement followed years of delays and unsuccessful tests that were caused not by the failures of ambitious cutting-edge electronics, but usually by some simple, nuts-and-bolts engineering omission or error of the most basic kind.

In a failed GBI test in February 2005, sea water seeped into the firing silo of an interceptor on Kwajalein atoll in the Pacific and corroded the hinge mechanism of a support arm for the interceptor. In the December 2004 test, an interceptor capable of flying more than seven times faster than a speeding bullet never launched because a single line of software code had excessively low tolerances built into it, preventing the ignition command from being transmitted to the missile. For years, the BMD program seemed stymied not by the most ambitious technological challenges that were being tackled and overcome, but because the U.S. armed forces and defense contractors seemed to have lost the basic ability to launch large rocket into space that they had had ever since the first successful launch of a U.S. space satellite on a U.S. Army Redstone missile in 1958, or since Gens. Bernard Schriever and Otto J. Glasser triumphantly masterminded the Minuteman and Atlas ICBM programs in the 1950s.

However, there was nothing wrong with the engineers and designers at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and in the armed forces of the United States. The underlying reason for these problems was spelled out in an outspoken Government Accountability Office report released in March 2006 that, apart from its coverage in these columns and in a Los Angeles Times report, was largely ignored in the mainstream U.S. media. It noted that the basic engineering protocols and careful checking and quality control systems that the U.S. Department of Defense had meticulously implemented for more than four-and-a-half decades had been deliberately set aside by Donald Rumsfeld during his six-year tenure as U.S. Defense Secretary and by his top aides.

The revival of the GBI program was a triumph for the renewed emphasis on engineering fundamentals that U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering and his project director, Brig. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, insisted upon. As we noted lasted week, following the success of the test, Gen. O'Reilly, who has been selected for promotion to major-general, was chosen to be the next deputy director of the MDA, making him the frontrunner to be Gen. Obering's successor. The emphasis on good engineering fundamentals therefore seems in same hands at the MDA for the foreseeable future between them.

But while the American BMD program was relearning the basic building blocs of missile-building and testing technology, other countries looked as if they were forgetting them, or were going to have to learn them from scratch all over again.

On Nov. 27, India scored a historic first when it successfully hit a target rocket over the Bay of Bengal with a Prithvi missile upgraded to become an ABM interceptor. However, on July 16 the ambitious Indian strategic ICBM and space programs had received a major set back when a new Agni III ICBM with the potential range to hit any target in China blew up only minutes after being launched.

North Korea too found it was not as easy to enter the ICBM club as its leaders had thought. On July 4, a Taepodong-2 ICBM with the theoretical range to hit Hawaii, Alaska, or other parts of the United States exploded not long after take off. Half a dozen shorter range North Korean missiles capable of hitting South Korea or Japan that were tested the same day performed just fine.

Even Russia, the nation that more than any other has epitomized quality control and reliability in ICBMs and satellite-launching rockets, suffered three unsuccessful test launches of the Bulava, the nuclear submarine launched version of its Topol-M ICBM.

The cumulative lessons to be drawn from these experiences are very clear ones. The old heavy engineering virtues of endless testing, patience and careful, methodical thoroughness with long checklists to be laboriously tested and ticked off time and time again remain as essential as ever in the bright and bold new world of 21st century high tech BMD.

Contrary to what Rumsfeld and his Whiz Kids thought when they took over the Pentagon in January 2001, there is no cheap or magic short-cut to avoid the delays caused by careful, methodical testing of component parts. And ballistic missiles and BMD systems have thousands of them. It is rocket science. And rocket science still isn't easy.

Source: United Press International

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Banner Year For US Missile Defense Plans
Washington (UPI) Jan 03, 2007
The year 2006 was a banner one for ballistic missile defense, both in the United States and for U.S. allies around the world. It was a year when demanding tests worked, when major engineering challenges were met and when more major nations than ever before signed on to serious commitments to develop BMD defenses.







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