[FoRK] Death by terrorism

J. Andrew Rogers andrew
Sat Aug 13 15:34:40 PDT 2005

On 8/12/05 2:09 PM, "Ian Andrew Bell (FoRK)" <fork at ianbell.com> wrote:
> Heh.  I guess if I were a terrorist I would have to ask myself why
> I'd need to use a SCUD vs. just stuffing a ship full of explosives
> and sailing up the Hudson River... what's the incremental benefit?

Yup.  A lot of the proposed countermeasures are absurd and reek of pork.
There are several cases of high price tag countermeasures with no realistic
utility.  An old shipping vessel can be purchased for less than US$1M, and
packing it to the gills with Chinese bulk explosive (the Chinese export
thousands of tons of explosives around the world) would be cheap and
completely legal.

Another fine example of this is the proposed man-portable surface-to-air
missile countermeasures they've talked about installing on all commercial
passenger jets for some crazy amount of money.  Old and readily available
MANPADs like the SA-7 are nearly useless against commercial passenger jets
(way outside the design spec for a weapon that was marginal even in its
day), rendering countermeasures largely pointless.  Modern and very
difficult to come by MANPADs are nearly impervious to the types of
countermeasures they are discussing, but they are not going to be installing
state-of-the-art classified SAM counter-battery and active intercept
technology on commercial jets, again rendering such proposals pointless.

They would be better off using that money for direct intelligence

> And just because I did a standoff attack doesn't mean I'm going to
> get away with it.  Obviously someone will figure out where it came
> from before I can steam away, and there will be launch rails, fueling
> tools, and all kinds of other evidence.

They would probably have point-of-origin pegged within seconds of launch and
before it lands.  There is a legion of satellites orbiting for precisely
this purpose, never mind ground-based radar.  Like you, I find the notion

> And Patriots might be good at knocking down missiles, but not so good
> at destroying them.  The rain of SCUD debris on Tel Aviv after a
> successful Patriot intercept was exactly as dangerous as the
> successful impact and detonation of a SCUD itself.  And the Patriot
> had a pretty awful success rate in the Gulf War (I) to boot.

The Patriot was an anti-aircraft system, but by good fortune of being
over-engineered for its intended use, had modest capability at intercepting
ballistic missiles.  As you point out, it proved to be almost worthless
because ballistic missiles are harder targets than aircraft and will happily
continue on their course even if jostled a bit by a SAM.

After that war, they re-did the software and warhead to have much more
efficacy against ballistic missiles, but it is still just an over-engineered
anti-aircraft system.

> This will hopefully die on the vine, just as the whole National
> Missile Defense pipe dream appears to be withering slowly.

Missile Defense is completely viable, but they have had a lot of teething
problems with one of the fundamentally new technology platforms they were
counting on that has delayed deployment by quite some time.  Since many
unrelated weapon systems are relying on this same technology and they have
made a lot of progress in getting it working reliably, it is just a matter
of time before they deploy comprehensive anti-missile systems that range
from tactical all the way up to strategic.  We've been hearing less about it
because it has been working better.  In the near future, there will be no
distinction between surface anti-aircraft and ABM weapon systems; they will
all be hyperkinetic "hit a bullet with a bullet" technologies -- technology

I do not think many people understand what is currently unreliable about ABM
technology.  It is NOT the ability to "hit a bullet with a bullet", as the
discrimination and guidance system works almost flawlessly and has been
deployed in other weapon systems for a number of years now -- guidance and
discrimination packages are heavily re-used once perfected.  Contrary to
some speculation to the contrary, this particular package is almost
impervious to countermeasures, decoys, and spoofing.  Very capable weapons
like the new generation AIM-9X Sidewinder use a cut-down variation on the
same guidance and discrimination package.

The technology problem has been a brand new rocket platform, that is
supposed to eventually replace most existing rocket motors platforms in use
by the US military.  The Army was the first to bite the bullet and commit to
these new rocket motors for all their new systems, and have had a number of
problems as a result.  The Navy was more conservative and has deployed the
same ABM guidance package on their old proven rocket platform and it has
worked perfectly for them, though without the advantages the new rocket
motors offer.

The specific problem is that the new hyperkinetic motor platform generates
extremely high acceleration and peak velocity that is pushing the
engineering envelope right up against the limits of materials science and
requiring the use of the most advanced exotic fabrication and materials the
US knows how to produce.  It has spectacular range, closing speed, and
terminal performance if you can keep the bloody thing together in flight,
and because it moves so fast, you can count on a kinetic energy kill.  All
in a very compact package.  There is footage on the web of small
hyperkinetic rocket based weapon tests being used against armor at a couple
miles range.  They make normal missiles look like they are standing still --
it is something to see.

Most of the other missile defense deployments that have been going on are
stopgaps until they can get the rocket motor platform to function reliably
under all environments.  Once they figure out the engineering loose-ends,
ABM capable weapons will become prolific in the US arsenal.  It might not be
a national missile defense as originally envisioned, but that technology
will create a de facto national missile defense.  Once they get the bugs
worked out.


J. Andrew Rogers

More information about the FoRK mailing list