The Case For Strategic Defense
Imagine a country in the Middle East. A ruthless dictator, say Saddam Hussein of Iraq, gains control of a nuclear [...]
December 1 1990 by Chief Executive
Imagine a country in the
In such a grim but not impossible contingency, when offensive threats are ineffective, would it not be ideal for the
Recently, scientists at the
Ever since President Reagan’s speech in March 1983 announcing the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) as a means to “make nuclear weapons obsolete,” the program has been surrounded by controversy. Critics charged that SDI was technologically impossible, and moreover, it would lead to a destabilizing arms race in space. Nobel laureate Hans Bethe and popular scientist Carl Sagan echoed these views. But despite Soviet and domestic dove opposition, the
The key to strategic defense is the tremendous vulnerability of the fast-moving ICBM. Missiles conjure up images of frightening force and speed. In reality, however, a small rock or even an ice cube placed in the path of an ICBM would destroy it on impact. The reason is that ICBMs are built much like aircrafts-they are thin and fragile, with outer coverings of anodized aluminum and carbon. The electronics are so complicated that the slightest disruption causes a breakdown in the set of reactions that produce explosion. Missiles are built with highly sensitive brains to reduce the risk of accidents as they are transported and lowered into their silos.
American scientists have made dramatic advances in the technology needed to shoot down missiles in all phases of their flight. The greatest progress is in the area of non-nuclear projectiles. These “smart rocks” carry sensors that detect the path of the incoming missile; then they are fired like pellets into the missile’s path. If even a single pellet punctures the outer skin of the missile it is disabled and falls like a lead balloon to earth. In the last couple of years, microcomputer technology has converted smart rocks into so-called brilliant pebbles. In short, it is now possible to fire much smaller projectiles, with much more sophisticated sensor equipment, to paralyze attacking missiles in a much shorter space of time.
Scientists have also registered impressive progress in laser technology, which is especially useful for the first or “boost” phase of a missile’s flight, when it is first launched from enemy silos. Advances in this area include the construction of space platforms for the lasers at lower cost, the development of optical systems to locate and target ICBMs, and various types of lasers and particle beams, which can be used to incinerate attacking missiles.
Perhaps SDI’s greatest obstacle is not technical but political. In an era of good feelings with the
As more than a dozen countries work assiduously to acquire nuclear bombs, proliferation becomes an increasing problem. The
Dinesh D’Souza is a research fellow in social policy at the American Enterprise Institute in