You may wonder why the Russians continue to protest the proposed
system, even though it has failed three times in a row to destroy an incoming dummy nuke.
Most likely it is because the Russians realize that the only way to make the Clinton non-nuke “apogee” system work — one that hits the nuke at its peak — is to scrap the “non” from “non-nuke.” Because the inert non-nuke “bullet” that is supposed to home-in on “hot” things out in space is probably not going to work — despite tests deceptively “rigged” for success — the Russians realize that a non-nuke ABM system may get converted to a nuke ABM system, which probably will work.
How were the tests “deceptively” rigged? Well, in all three instances there was to be deployed alongside the dummy incoming nuke a six-foot diameter aluminized Mylar balloon. The deception was that the balloon was “hyped” as a “decoy,” as something that would make successful interception of the dummy nuke more difficult. In fact, the limited success, thus far, has been dependent upon that huge inflated balloon being alongside the dummy nuke. In all three tests they were essentially attempting to intercept the “decoy,” not the incoming warhead.
The Clinton-Gore system depends upon a powerful ground based radar to “paint” the target so that the second stage of the Clinton-Gore interceptor can find the target from the radar reflection and then point the inert non-nuke heat-seeking bullet in the general direction in space of the target. When the second stage has got the radar target lined up pretty well, the inert non-nuke bullet is “shot,” which is then supposed to home-in on the hottest thing in its path.
But apparently the guidance system in the second stage of the missile is not good enough to find and point to a radar reflection from a real or dummy warhead. So the humongous Mylar balloon — a big fat radar target for the second stage to home-in on — was added, but not to make the test more difficult. It was added to make it possible for the heat-seeking bullet to be pointed by the second stage in approximately the right region of space to “seek” the dummy warhead.
Now there is nothing wrong with rigging, somewhat, the initial tests of a system. But the Clinton-Gore tests could have been rigged less deceptively. The problem confronting Clinton-Gore is not to intercept a rather cold incoming nuke in the vicinity of a big fat radar target. The Clinton-Gore problem is to intercept a rather cold incoming nuke with a very small radar cross-section. A less deceptive way to rig the initial tests would have been to make the dummy incoming warhead hot-hot-hot but still have a realistic small radar cross-section.
If those tests with a hot-hot dummy warhead, but with a realistically low radar cross-section, had been successful, then colder and colder dummy warheads could have been used in subsequent tests. On the other hand, as the Russians realize, if the hot-hot tests were not successful, then we would have had to give up on the inert heat-seeking bullet and go with a nuke. You know the old saying: ” Close don’t count — except in horseshoes and nukes.”
As it is, because they rigged the radar cross-section rather than the temperature, we don’t even know whether we could have even gotten a nuke close enough to the dummy warhead to destroy it.
True, we now know that if the Russians or the Chinese or the North Koreans are stupid enough to deploy a big fat radar target decoy alongside each of their low radar cross-section nukes, then we can get one of our nukes close enough to wipe both decoy and nuke. But is that knowledge worth $300 million?
The ABM treaty prohibited us from building more than one ABM site. The violation of the ABM treaty is not what Clinton proposes to do, technically. It is merely that he wants to do it in Alaska, rather than in North Dakota. (We were allowed only two sites under the treaty, one to protect Washington, D.C. — which we didn’t construct — and the other we chose to construct in the Dakotas.) Had the U.S. announced four years ago its intention to upgrade the ABM site in North Dakota that used exo-atmospheric nukes as the kill mechanism, that would not have been a violation of the ABM treaty.
But what if it had?
The ABM treaty was between the Soviet Union and the United States and the Soviet Union no longer exists. The only thing keeping us from proceeding as Congress has mandated with an effective ABM system has been the Clinton-Gore unconstitutional commitment to abide by the defunct U.S.-Soviet ABM treaty, while perversely proposing to build that system in Alaska, which the Russians consider to be a violation of that treaty.
Proposing the use of an inert non-nuke heat-seeking “bullet” as a kill mechanism is the way Clinton-Gore attempted to get around the proposed Alaska site being considered a violation of the U.S.-Soviet ABM treaty. The idea apparently being that the Russians would readily see that the Alaskan system could never be effective against the thousand or so nukes the Russians could throw at us, and the Russians would not, therefore, object. But now, even though the whole world knows that the non-nuke apogee system is not going to work, even against one-zies and two-zies, the whole world — except Democrat members of Congress — has objected.
Why not the Democrat Members of Congress? It is obvious that the next president will have to use nukes to make the Clinton-Gore apogee ABM system work. Now if, for some reason, the next president wishes to continue to abide by the defunct U.S.-Soviet ABM treaty, he could just upgrade the North Dakota site. That would not be a violation of the ABM treaty. So the Clinton administration — with the support of Democrat Members of Congress — has been in a great hurry to demolish the Dakota site and begin construction in Alaska to get the next president committed to the Alaskan apogee ABM system. That is, the Clinton administration has been setting up possible-President Gore to deep-six the Alaskan ABM system as a violation of the ABM treaty while setting up possible-President Bush to be in violation of the ABM treaty, no matter what he does.
But all is not lost. We now know we have the technology necessary to kill big fat targets that are hot-hot-hot — like, for example, an ICBM while it is still in its boost phase, still over the tinpot dictator’s head. Maybe the next U.S. president could take up the Russians on their offer to cooperatively field such a system. That would not be a violation of the ABM treaty, if you care about such things.