The Philosophical Society of Washington
Minutes of the 2157th Meeting
Speaker: Henry F. Cooper, Chairman, High Frontier
Topic SDI – Missile Defense
The 2157th meeting of the Philosophical Society of Washington was held on
Friday the 7th of February 2003 in the Powell Auditorium of the Cosmos Club.
President Haapla was in the chair. President Haapla called the meeting to
order at 8:19 PM. The recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2156th
meeting and after a question concerning the number of digits in the lower
limit of the internationally sanctioned temperature scale (which the speaker
had proofed) the minutes were accepted as read.
The president noted that the Society was continuing its long tradition of
discussing topics of interest even when controversial. He noted that a previous
speaker had questioned the wisdom of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)
and that tonight we had a speaker who was an advocate for the missile defense
program. Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper is Chairman of the Board of High
Frontier, a nonprofit educational corporation to examine the defense of America
against a missile attack. He served as SDI Director in the previous Bush
I administration, and was Ronald Reagan's chief negotiator at the Geneva
Defense and Space Talks.
Mr. Cooper noted he started his missile defense work at Bell Telephone Laboratories
with the Nike Zeus program in the early 1960s. In 1972, the U. S. and Russia
signed the ABM Treaty to make even testing of effective ballistic missile
defenses illegal. Mr. Cooper strongly disapproved of the Treaty, from
which the current Bush II administration has withdrawn. Mr. Cooper
indicated that the Russians selectively violated the Treaty from the day
it was signed. He claimed that the U.S. is currently defenseless against
attack by even a single ballistic missile; and that viable SDI technology
demonstration programs were stopped in 1993 by the Clinton administration
and talented people were dispersed. Now that the Treaty has been removed
as an obstacle, testing of more cost-effective defenses can proceed, including
on sea-based and space-based anti-missile systems. However, Mr. Cooper
noted that the Bush II administration had not yet invested significantly
in reviving programs to exploit these key technologies.
On December 17, 2002, President Bush announced a program to field, by 2005,
20 ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, in the flight path
of an ICBM launched from North Korea, and 20 sea-based interceptors on three
ships. Mr. Cooper indicated that the heavy investment in land-based
systems over sea-based or space-based systems was driven by Pentagon bureaucratic
inertia from a decade of focusing only on what could be tested under the
ABM Treaty, and by collective amnesia of key technology demonstrated under
the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Land-based systems are not as
cost-effective as sea-based systems because they are not as mobile and generally
can only intercept attacking missiles late in their flight. For example,
forward-based ships can intercept attacking missiles in their ascent phase
of flight – and ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California cannot.
And the Aegis system already exists and is deployed around the world; so
little new infrastructure must be purchased while the existing air defense
system is upgraded. In the speaker’s opinion, space-based systems are
the most cost-effective defense options.
As an illustration of 1992 vintage testing that creatively avoided Treaty
restrictions, the speaker described how the Wallops Island test facilities
were used to launch 2 probes from a single ground-based rocket, which could
be tested under the terms of the Treaty. After separation from the booster,
the 2 probes followed different trajectories – the first in a “lofted” trajectory
simulating a “space-based” platform to track and intercept from outside the
Earth’s atmosphere the lower trajectory second probe while it boosted upward,
simulating a boosting target rocket. This kind of test provided valuable
information on the concept of tracking and intercepting ballistic missiles
from space, but it was a contrived demonstration to satisfy Treaty lawyers.
No serious engineer would ever conduct such tests – he would put an interceptor
in orbit, launch a target rocket and intercept it. Such contrived experiments
added significant cost, complexity and risk to important SDI demonstrations.
With the Treaty constraints removed, simpler lower risk experiments now can
be done, but there is no indication that Bush II plans to implement such
a serious program.
Mr. Cooper discussed the vulnerabilities of ballistic missiles to interception.
The most effective time to intercept is the boost-phase, when the target
rocket has not reached terminal velocity, the engines are producing maximum
trackable signals, the rocket is extremely vulnerable and has not released
its payload weapons and decoys, and a destroyed object could, if attacked
soon enough, fall back into enemy territory. The second best time is the
reentry phase when light-weight decoys are stripped away by atmospheric drag,
leaving the warhead exposed. The most difficult phase to intercept is the
sub-orbital exo-atmospheric phase, while the space objects are not subject
to atmospheric slowing and decoys are most effectively deployed – and the
Pentagon is spending most of its money on this most difficult problem.
Two important areas where the Treaty inhibited testing of important Navy
technology were the limits on upward looking ship-based radar and using ship-based
radar in tandem with other sensors to track long-range missiles. Furthermore,
exploitation of the inherent capability of the Navy’s deployed air defense
system was precluded by the Treaty. The kill vehicle now being tested by
the Navy is a kinetic energy projectile, which was slowed down under the
Clinton Administration from the 4.5 Km/sec Bush I design to ~3 Km/sec – significantly
reducing the area that can be defended. Still, if Bush I technology were
revived, lighter weight front ends on the interceptor being tested could
produce ~7 Km/sec intercept vehicle velocities.
This interceptor could provide a very good capability for Aegis cruisers
in the Sea of Japan to shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles in their
ascent phase. Mr. Cooper noted that Japan now has 4 Aegis cruisers
and is interested in upgrading them to defend against ballistic missiles.
Giving the Navy’s Aegis system a forward-based defense capability against
North Korean ICBMs would cost 10% of the Alaska ground-based system now being
tested – and be able to shoot to shoot down attacking missiles in their ascent
phase as the first layer of a layered defense.
The speaker noted that the threat also included low tech ways to attack coastal
cities with warheads in any of numerous shipping containers, most of which
are not inspected before arrival at U.S. ports, and that other agencies are
addressing this important problem. The speaker reminded the audience
of the 15 SCUD missiles shipped from North Korea to Yemen this past December
– and intercepted by the Spanish Navy based on U.S. intelligence.
Mr. Cooper also reminded the audience that Yemen backed Iraq in the last
Gulf War; yet, the SCUDs went on to Yemen after they protested the interception
on the high seas – White House authorities said we had no authority to detain
the shipment. So in this case, even though we had the necessary intelligence,
we were unable to keep the SCUDs from reaching their intended destination.
If such SCUDs are erected and launched at sea – as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
has indicated is a known threat, they could threaten our coastal cities from
a hundred miles out. A defense against such threats is very desirable.
There are no plans for missile defense deployment or even tests of a ground-based
defense on the Atlantic Coast, only in Alaska and California. And the planned
sea-based system is being tested only in the Pacific – and cannot protect
the Eastern Seaboard from its test area. Mr. Cooper observed that the
Aegis system could instead be tested along the East Coast and begin defending
the Eastern Seaboard by 2005, if the government provided the right
funding. He noted that the Virginia House of Delegates recently passed a
resolution urging the Bush administration and U.S. congress to provide such
an East Coast Test Range and early defense.
Space-based systems can provide intercept opportunities against either short
or long-range missiles. The Clinton administration killed the Bush I program
demonstrating this capability, and Congress may resist restarting it under
Bush II. However, Mr. Cooper asserted that the Bush I Brilliant Pebbles project
could be quickly revived, deployed within 5-years, and operated for 20 years
for ~$10 billion. That the technology for Brilliant Pebbles is mature was
demonstrated on in the 1994 Clementine mission, which mapped the Moon’s surface
in 1.8 million frames of data in 15 spectral bands and discovered water at
the South Pole. It won awards from both the National Academy of Science and
NASA, while space qualifying all the basic technology required for an effective
space-based interceptor, except for miniature propulsion – and that was accomplished
on a 1994 ASTRID experiment.
The command and control system for Brilliant Pebbles was demonstrated by
Iridium, an operational 66-satellite global communications system that was
not a viable business venture but which the Pentagon purchased for pennies
on the dollar and now operates quite effectively with fewer that a half-dozen
personnel. Thus, all needed technology for a space-based interceptor
system has been space-qualified. The Brilliant Pebbles system is a
network of orbiting autonomous interceptors, which could identify a launch,
track the missile and intercept it with a kinetic energy weapon from space.
The speaker noted that they were called “brilliant” because, even in 1990,
each “pebble” carried enough computing power to operate autonomously, using
a CRAY 1 the size of a palm pilot. Today’s technology is smaller and
Light-weight interceptors based on Brilliant Pebbles technology could do
also boost-phase intercept from long-endurance high-flying drones lurking
over hostile territory – within 3-5 years for only a few hundred million
dollars per year. Such a program was in-being in 1993 and killed by
the Clinton administration – the ABM Treaty also blocked the testing of air-based
defenses if they could protect the United States. SDI-developed high-flying
high altitude drones were transferred to NASA in the early 1990s – and the
solar-powered one has been setting high-altitude records.
Of course, missile defense programs will have to be integrated with other
programs to protect the U.S. homeland under the new Department of Homeland
Security and the new Northern Command in Colorado Springs, which provides
homeland defense support from the Department of Defense.
The speaker kindly answered questions from the audience, including:
Q. How can defense keep ahead of threat when threat can be adapted quickly and cheaply to new modes of delivery?
A. Brilliant Pebbles interceptors can be mass-produced for about $1 million
each, which is much less than attacking warheads, so such a defense can stay
ahead. Other basing modes are less cost-effective.
Q. What is the time frame from detection to intercept during the boost-phase?
A. The decision to intercept must be made in ~1-minute after the attacking
missile is launched. There would be no time for seeking authorization from
higher authority. The Brilliant Pebbles, authorized in advance, would communicate
with each other to avoid multiple kill vehicles homing in on any one launch
vehicle. The associated algorithms have not been tested, but numerous
simulations in 1989-92 gave confidence this capability could be achieved.
Every appropriate missile launch is pre-announced, so Brilliant Pebbles could
be notified not to shoot down duly authorized launches – but would shoot
down any launches that were not pre-announced and authorized. This
protocol could be put in terms of an international agreement.
Q. What are the main obstacles to restarting space-based defenses?
A. First is getting the right, bright people to work on the project; second
is money. Most important is a religion of considerable note that space should
not be militarized.
Q. How capable is the Patriot technology?
A. The Patriot was designed to protect itself from attacking missiles,
it was not designed to intercept missiles aimed at nearby civilians.
It performed brilliantly as a psychological weapon during the 1991 Gulf War,
but not as an effective military one. The Israelis saw the effort to protect
them and went about their daily lives. But it is doubtful that Patriot
actually destroyed a single SCUD. It may have diverted the path of
incoming SCUDs, which the Army judged would protect Patriot – but not nearby
personnel. Also, it should be noted that none of the many aircraft launched
to find and destroy mobile SCUD launchers proved successful during the Gulf
The President thanked the speaker for the Society, presented him with a copy
of the lecture announcement and one year of free membership in the Society.
The President then made the usual announcements concerning parking and beverage
control. He then adjourned the 2157th meeting at 9:46 PM to the social hour.
(Attendance 33/Temperature 2.2o C/Weather: Clearing after snow/Respectfully
submitted, David F. Bleil Recording Secretary)