Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 04:29 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 04:29 | SYDNEY

Droning on about BMD


Sam Roggeveen


15 February 2010 16:40

As Nick says in his post, ballistic missile defence has actually had a funding boost in the Pentagon's latest budget, which might surprise some, given that missile defence was last in the news after Obama cancelled the Bush Administration's proposed Europe-based missile defence system.

The other cut Obama made to missile defences was the program to put a laser in the nose of a 747, so that ballistic missiles could be destroyed in their 'boost phase' (as they are ascending from the launch pad or silo). The idea was for the laser to burn a hole in the skin of the missile, which would lead to it breaking up in flight — handily, the debris then falls on the country that launched the missile.

Obama didn't dump the airborne laser (ABL), but he made it a purely experimental project, meaning that the recently announced successful test of the system won't have any real world implications for many years.

Operationally, ABL never made sense. It would have required perhaps dozens such aircraft, each wildly expensive, to provide a comprehensive defence. These 747s would have had to patrol over the skies of an adversary, leaving the aircraft highly vulnerable.

The idea proposed by missile defence expert Theodore Postol seems much cheaper and more sensible — that is, to arm stealthy unmanned planes with interceptor missiles that can shoot down the ascending ballistic missiles. This wouldn't require huge technological breakthroughs; in fact, most of the technology already exists.

The Obama Administration has shown a willingness to fund missile defence programs that are practical and have a record of success. Postol's idea doesn't seem to have much traction in the Pentagon yet, but it may be an idea whose time has come.