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Designer Missile Defense

Dr. Theodore Postol of M.I.T. has an op/ed in the New York Times today arguing for an alternative to the missile defense shield planned for Poland and the Czech Republic.  It seems all fine and good, but Postol is making the assumption that Russian fears about the system are rational and so easily overcome – if that were the case, one would think they would have embraced the Obama offer (no threat from Iran = no missiles in Europe).

Fortunately, there is a “designer” missile defense that would answer President Obama’s hesitations and allay Russia’s fears. And unlike the Bush missile defense, it would actually be able to deal with the threat of ballistic missile attacks from North Korea and Iran if such a threat ever emerged.

This is a proposal I’ve developed and analyzed with a variety of American and Russian experts and the idea itself is simple. The defense system would shoot down Iranian or North Korean long-range missiles as they slowly accelerate from their launching sites. It would take advantage of the fact that long-range missiles built by Iran or North Korea would be large and cumbersome, have long powered flight times and could take off only from well-known launching sites.

The defense would have fast-accelerating interceptorsthat could home in on and destroy the large, slow and fragile ICBMs.The interceptors would weigh about a ton and could achieve a top speedof five kilometers per second in tens of seconds. They would be carriedby stealthy unmanned airborne vehicles that look like B-2 bombers, butare smaller and carry much smaller, though still substantial, payloads.Such vehicles already exist.

Only two of these armed drones,controlled by remote teams of operators, would be needed to patrolwithin several hundred kilometers of a launching site. At these ranges,it would be possible to shoot down an ICBM, with its nuclear warhead,so that the debris falls on the territory of the country that launchedit. Only five drones would be needed to maintain a continuous patrolfor extended periods. But the system would have to operate only whensatellites and reconnaissance aircraft indicate that an ICBM is beingprepared at the launching site.