Official Cites Flaws in Reports on Missile Defense Tests
By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May. 19, 2010 Reports that Defense Department officials deemed flawed missile defense tests to be successful are based on incomplete information, a Missile Defense Agency spokesman said yesterday in a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable.
Two analysts -- Theodore A. Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George N. Lewis of Cornell University -- based their claims on partial data and incomplete research, Richard Lehner said, adding that a New York Times article about their findings left out key information about Standard Missile 3, the weapon in question.
“But the bottom line is that the SM-3 test program is one of the most successful programs in probably the history of the Department of Defense,” Lehner said. “It has an excellent test record. It's done very well. It's hit exactly where it's supposed to, or missed by just a few inches.”
Postol and Lewis said tests Defense Department officials called “successful” were not successful, because the test missiles didn’t strike the warhead, but the body of the missile itself. The crux of the disagreement between the academics and military officials, Lehner said, is the idea of whether it’s enough to hit the missile itself, or whether the targeted missile’s warhead needs to be struck for a test to be deemed successful.
Lehner said that in the case of unitary targets, in which the missile and warhead still are attached, that doesn’t matter.
“One thing to consider is that when you hit a target, whether it's a unitary target or a separating target, at 6,000 to 8,000 miles per hour, the target is obliterated,” Lehner said.
“Contrary to what Doctors Postol and Lewis said, after being hit, the interceptor does not pass through the body of the target missile,” he added. “That's akin to Wile E. Coyote running through a glass or plate glass and leaving the exact outline of his body after he goes through. It hits it so hard and so fast that the energy that comes from that collision is just simply too great and causes a catastrophic failure of the missile.”
For cases when the targeted missile’s body and warhead are no longer attached, it’s best to hit the warhead, Lehner said, as it becomes the primary target. But until they separate, he added, it doesn’t matter whether the warhead itself is struck or not.
“When the SM-3 interceptor hits the target, whether it's a unitary target or a separating target, it completely obliterates the warhead and the missile and spreads a debris field along the path of the original trajectory,” Lehner said.
Another issue Postol and Lewis raised was that many of the test missiles had no warheads on them at all. Lehner said that while they’re correct, their analysis is flawed. Anti-missile weapons aren’t designed to detonate on impact, he explained, but rather to simply hit the target with enough force to destroy it in the air.
“None of the missile defense technologies that we use now have an exploding warhead,” Lehner said. “All of them are hit-to-kill technology, where you use only the energy that's generated by the direct collision between the interceptor and the target to destroy the target.”