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home : opinions : editorials January 25, 2015

3/26/2013 10:00:00 PM
Editorial: Missile defense is money well spent
The Daily Courier

Decades ago, in the scariest days of the nuclear arms race with Russia, American schoolchildren learned to "duck and cover" under their desks in case an atomic bomb was dropped nearby. This obviously was not a realistic solution, given what we now know about nuclear bombs.

Thankfully, since the end of the Cold War, kids have grown up free of the fear of nuclear attack. But those days may be coming to an end, according to even a cursory glance at international news headlines.

New threats clearly have emerged, as evidenced in two letters to the editor from Prescott eighth-graders the Courier published earlier this month concerning the risks of nuclear bombs and the need to destroy them.

The first emerging international highlight is North Korea, which is believed to have as many as 10 nuclear warheads and recently carried out another nuclear test, the Associated Press reports. The Pyongyang regime, according to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., has missiles "that can reach U.S. shores."

Missile defense is an attempt to buttress the power to retaliate with the ability to fend off incoming warheads before they arrive. Earlier this month, the Defense Department said it would spend $1 billion to deploy more missile interceptors along the West Coast to shoot down a North Korean missile, increasing the total number from 30 to 44 in the next four years.

As the Chicago Tribune stated recently, it's a reasonable and useful step, at a cost that would seem trivial if the system were ever called on to deflect an attack.

With regard to Iran - another country pursuing nuclear capabilities - the administration took a different step, scrapping the last phase of a missile defense system that has elicited vigorous objections from the government of Russia, which regarded the program as a threat to neutralize its nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon insisted the U.S. decision was based on technical problems, which may be true. But it also may serve to pave the way to better relations and even arms reductions with Moscow.

The danger still exists, of course, but President Obama has made it clear he will take military action if necessary to keep Iran from getting the bomb. If he succeeds in deterring Tehran from that course - or in forcibly preventing it - the European missile shield will not be needed quite so soon.

American missile defense still has a lot of hurdles to surmount before it can offer a reliable safeguard against attack. But even an imperfect system is better than nothing.

No one can doubt the need to keep pursuing it, because hiding under desks - or heads in sand - is not sensible.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, April 01, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Huggs

You wrote "A bunch of Defense Department and Homeland Security folks are working on the exact premise that I have outlined below.", Prove it. I checked all your links, none of them discuss the premise you outline.

Posted: Monday, April 01, 2013
Article comment by: Huggs Boson

Like I said Dear.

A bunch of Defense Department and Homeland Security folks are working on the exact premise that I have outlined below.

Think tanks view this as a definite possibility! It is essential to consider this scenario first before spending hundreds of billions of dollars on anti-missile missiles!

I know that the AMM are much sexier / flasher, they make the military - industrial complex wet their pants with delight.

But box cutters brought down the twin towers. Cargo containers could bring down the USA!

Enough Said

Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Huggs

This whole conversation started with a discussion of North Korea and Iran making a missile shield necessary. I said that is silly, those countries will not attack us. I stand by that, are there bad guys who would like to destroy us yes, are there terrorists who would love to sneak a nuclear bomb into the U.S., yes. I support continuing to defend against this. But, that is an assymetrical attack from independent bad guys. Iran or North Korea will not attack us symmetrically.

Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2013
Article comment by: Huggs Boson

Please Dear, remember when, lets say, 100 of these things go off at once, one in each of our largest 100 cities, they destroy a lot of record keeping, a lot of infrastructure / computer data!

Then, of course, there is the tiny problem of which one of the ten thousand containers at the warehouses contained the "device"? Remember they will be turned into radioactive vapor at the instant of detonation!

As far as small devices with big punch the MIRVed, W88 a small but very powerful device, a meter and a half, by a half meter, MINUS the re-entry shielding is getting pretty small! Again almost half M-ton yield is nothing to sneeze at!

Sure the spooks are all over this stuff, just like they were all over the purchase of box cutters 12 years ago!

Finally, if this were not a serious threat why are a large number of researchers at various universities (UC Berkeley, Duke, Princeton etc.), frantically scrambling to win the Department of Homeland Security's Grand Challenge Competition? Why are they working very hard to devise solutions to this? Why does the DHS think is a serious threat? UC Berkeley, where I used to work, is using high energy neutrons to bombard fissionable material and then searching for the beta decays of fission fragments, mainly 3MEV gamma rays. It seems to work pretty well.

I am glad Dear, that you are not running things, poo pooing this out side of the box possibility.


Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Huggs

O.K. it could never happen, but if it will make you happy. Every ship has a manifest, every cargo container is tracked Even if the offending country was real tricky, basic detective work would be able to follow the trail. But, we would only be looking at a couple of potential attackers, it would be easy. Also, our spooks have a pretty good idea of who has what right now. Also, no such devices exist as a portable device. Let me ask you something, how many of these would it take to destroy america?

Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013
Article comment by: Huggs Boson

Dear Dear

I would be very interested in your shared understanding about how we would know who attacked us using containers. Please share with us your knowledge.

You evidently know things others don't.

Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Huggs

It would be very easy to determine the attacking country. Think about it. Again I say there is no incentive to attack us. North Korea will never attack us.

Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013
Article comment by: Huggs Boson

Exactly which country would the ships at sea attack?

The devices that I mentioned (W88) are suitcase size when all the ablation and atmospheric reentry hardware is stripped off. They would produce ~475 Kilotons of explosive power! Remember the primitive Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were in the 16-20 Kiloton range!

How would the stone age wreck that we once knew as the United States of America, even with those wonderful ballistic missile / cruse missile submarines, and nuclear tipped cruse missile bearing surface ships still operational, know which target would they attack?

They would have to possibly analyze the isotope ratios to determine who delivered the "packages". If the packers were clever they might even modify those ratios to match those of one of their other enemy's?

If the beloved leader uses sexy rockets, he is doomed and dumb. However, remember the twin towers plus were brought down by box cutters! Look to the simple, cheap rather than the sophisticated, very, very expensive (think money in the military-industrial's pockets)!

So to spend hundreds of billions on anti missile, missiles and then allow easy cheap access to each of our city's center warehouses makes little sense to me.

Want to see what 475 Kilotons can do? Check out this very interesting site and then target your favorite place!


Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Huggs

I asked Wasted what the kilotonage of the suitcase sized bombs he/she suggested could destroy the U.S., because the delivery model would require much more destructive power than suitcase sized bombs could deliver. The bomb mentioned by Huggs is much larger than that. Also, even if that scenario took place, the attacking country would be destroyed by our ships at sea. So, there is no incentive to attack using Cargo containers.

Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013
Article comment by: Coyote Contraire™


At the crucially-important First International Hague Peace Conference in 1899 there was nearly universal agreement that with recent advancements in weaponry (perfection of the machine gun) and potential tactical battleground developments (adaptation of the U.S. cattle ranchers' barbed-wire fencing to prevent movement over flat ground), the advent of another European war -- one even more serious than the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 -- would likely result in historically high new casualty figures, maybe into the hundreds of thousands.

Many brilliant and influential people of good will were convinced humanity had advanced to the point that such a war was unthinkable and therefore would not, COULD not happen: "That's too awful. We wouldn't let it."

That first worldwide war, stumbled into with the inadvertency of a slip in the shower, wasn't foreseen as a real possibility by any but the most cynical -- those few with acute vision.

And when it did happen 10-or-so million bodies lie in the cities, the muddy wastescape and icy bogs of France, Belgium, Holland, Russia, on the mountains in Italy and beaches of the Mediterranean.

Having studied tactical nuclear weaponry in the army (smallish (.5 Kton) nuke cannon shells), it became clear to me how an international nuclear engagement could easily mushroom from a border skirmish. When I tried to talk to people about that possibility, their response was always: "Oh, that's too awful. They wouldn't let that happen."

But this was when the Cold War had cooled a bit in the '70s, and they were probably just wanting relief from the "Duck and Cover" childhoods they had survived through the '50s and '60s.

The Hague conference ended in July of '99 and the prevailing Pollyanna perspective was proven valid for fifteen years -- until the German army stomped through Belgium en route to Paris in August of '14. The Kaiser, it turned out, had thought he was just rattling his sabre until his generals pointed out the troop trains, in fact, were already rolling and couldn't be stopped. Oops.

JFK, an assiduous student of history, deeply feared the '62 Cuban Missile Crisis was the beginning of a similar stumble. After all, it had happened repeatedly for centuries, including two world wars snuffing between 60 and 90 million. But the bullet got dodged that time.

A greed- and ego-driven stumble into annihilation eternally avails itself to our species and we're always catching our shoes on the edge of the carpet.

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2013
Article comment by: Huggs Boson

The U.S. W88 nuclear warhead, a small MIRVed warhead used on the Trident II the W88, produces 475 kilotons of explosive energy, it is 175 centimeters (69 in) long, with a maximum diameter of 55 cm. (22 in). This is a MIRV weapon with all the reentry stuff around it. The blowie-up part, or "device", as we like to call it, can be considerably smaller! As you can see.It would very easily fit within a small shielded container, and be very difficult to detect!

I would be very interested in a few of your objections to the efficacy of this simple method of delivery.

The plans for this device have been leaked to China.

Remmember the box cutters!

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Wasted

I really don't know where to start. I have no problem with more security of shipping containers. However, your theory about attack from shipping containers has so many problems I don't have time to deal with them all. Can you tell us how many kilotons these weapons would be?

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Article comment by: Kat Dreamweaver

I have been writing about N.Korea for along time ! Ever since I was stationed in Okinawa in the 1980's I have been concerned with the N Korean lunatic govt! They are saying Kim Jung Ung is possibly worse then his father was! He has more to prove to his people and that he is the supreme leader of all time! He will do anything to prove this! Are all of the naysayers aware that N. Korea gets their weapons and materials mostly from China! They go hand in hand!N.Korea is China's puppet! It can do things that China doesn't want to be associated with so they can rake in the riches from their cheap manufacturing that's sold at Wal-Marts world wide! So respect those missiles interceptors that will be deployed to the west coast you never know when those missiles flying towards us have China's backing both financial and scientific knowledge!

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Article comment by: Wasted Treasure

Dear Editor, you must be kidding. It is a hundred plus billion dollar boondoggle. Think about this. A rocket takes off from North Korea. It is tracked from the very second that the engines ignite. The U. S. retaliates with a hundred times that and North Korea is completely vaporized. Bad planning by that funny round little dear leader. Think the same guy CLEVERLY placing heavily shielded hydrogen bombs (no bigger than a suitcase) within shipping containers and/or in the bowels of cargo ships. They steam into ports, the containers are delivered to all the critical / major cities in the U.S., the cargo ships are in harbors within the major port cities of the U.S. and at a single electronic signal all are ignited at the same moment. The United States of America is destroyed in an instant of thermonuclear devastation! No one has a clue what happened to the United States of America, it has been instantly been sent back to the stone age. No one has a clue as to who did it!

Editor. It would be much better to greatly enhance our ability to access and detect what's in those millions and millions of boxes coming from all over the world into our ports, roadways and cities than to spend vast treasure to knock out a few incoming missiles.

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Rev

I am not sure, I am more inclined to believe that the Editor, really doesn't understand these threats or the missile defense shield. I have zero problem with the missile defense shield, although D Montgomery is correct in stating "American missile defense still has a lot of hurdles to surmount before it can offer a reliable safeguard against attack". Our missile defense system is constantly evolving. Have a great day.

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Article comment by: Ride The Wind

Yes, they were called "air raids" and we had them often in grade school. Children should be taught that they don't live in a bubble and anything can happen.

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Article comment by: Dear @ Dear Editor

1. As I wrote, North Korea will never attack us. It would be the end of their country. Also, although China is more formidable than North Korea, winning a war with China would be well within our capabilities. In addition, China has little regard for North Korea, to them, it is just a buffer from South Korea. They would not end their country in defense of North Korea.
2. I did not predict 9/11, but that was a terrorist attack from individuals, not a country.

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Article comment by: D Montgomery

"American missile defense still has a lot of hurdles to surmount before it can offer a reliable safeguard against attack. But even an imperfect system is better than nothing."

Well, this one is little better than nothing.
And the Koreans know it. So far it has only intercepted what we send up therefore knew where to aim. And with multiple missiles coming in together... Massive retaliation - the repeated assurance that we will employ it - remains our only defense.

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Article comment by: @Dear Editor

I bet never predicted 9/11, did you? Did you figure that attack was going to happen

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Article comment by: Correction Needed

First sentence, replace Russia with Soviet Union.

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Article comment by: Dennis the Menace

What about drones replacing billion dollar missile defense systems that may or may not work. Surely our high altitude eyes in the sky can see what N. Korea is doing minute by minute and the armed drones can neutralize any launch determined to be a threat to the territorial integrity of the U.S.

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Article comment by: The Rev

@Dear Editor

What do you believe their (The Editor's) motives are?

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Article comment by: @ Dear Editor

Think about your statement/ Why did the editor mention Iran and North Korea?

Think of their allies, mostly North Korea. If they attacked us and we retaliated, China would certainly become involved, followed by most of Europe and Russia. It could escalate pretty damn quickly.

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Editor

Just so you know, North Korea and Iran will never attack us, Why, you ask, because even if they could, it would be a minor wound to us, and they would suffer total annihilation. The mere fact that you choose to mention those two countries make me question, your knowledge and your motives.

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Editor

Most people go to the Prescott Daily Courier for international geopolitical insight, don't they?

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