back to article Pentagon anti-missile-on-missile test actually WORKS, for once

The United States' long series of attempts to shoot down missiles in flight have delivered failures-a-plenty, but last week the Friday the Missile Defense Agency was able to reveal a successful test. Conducted in conjunction with Japan's Ministry of Defense and US Navy ship the USS John Paul Jones, the successful test flight …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @realDonaldTrump will shortly take credit for the turnaround

    I should plan a picnic for 14th June, to benefit from his birthday Führerwetter.

  2. Schultz

    Good news or bad news?

    Arguably, the mutually assured destruction with nuclear missiles brought some extra safety to the world: The countries with nuclear weapons could relax their military readiness because there would be enough time for later retaliation, even if only few nuclear missiles would remain operative.

    Even with a country like North Korea, one might imagine that the existence of nuclear weapons raises the stakes sufficiently that a future war becomes improbable.

    When the US manages to change the game with missile defenses, they might set the world back to a state where countries keep a large nuclear arsenal on a hair trigger -- just to ensure that they can launch in time to get some missiles through the defense shield.

    Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: Good news or bad news?

      Being able to stop one or two ICBMs from North Korea will definitely please a few constituencies, yes? Letting NK know that they are impotent and have no bargaining power except how many of their people they can starve this year ... is useful, and for everybody.

      One can only imagine the polite language exchanged between China and US if in a fit of pique NK tries out their new stick. "Would you like to be the first through the door labelled 'Juche' or should we?" Somehow I think the closer bordering power would be pretty damned quick through that door.

      How strange a situation: that China has fostered Kim's Bunion for all these years, forcing everyone to work towards relieving the induced anxiety, including work on interceptors, and now that same poxy stepchild is reason enough for *China* to need missile interceptors.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good news or bad news?

      It was always possible to shoot down a limited number of incoming ballistic warheads: just look up the Soviet/Russian A-135 system. Definitely not as technologically sleek or ambitious as the current US ABM efforts, and certainly taking the classic Russian "hit it harder until it stops wriggling" approach, but very effective and quite cost-efficient.

      This is exactly why all the major players have already adapted to defeat these limited-capability systems. As an example, take a look at what is known of the (now nearly obsolete) Soviet/Russian R36M family of heavy missiles. Up to 40 decoys (massive, and so indistinguishable by the trajectory or the radar return) included in the package - so now you need to shoot down 50 targets instead of 10, which would have been hard enough already. The more recent Russian designs also reportedly include mid- and terminal-phase active course changes for the invidual warheads, making things harder to hit, as well as the use of sub-orbital and polar delivery trajectories, making the intended target harder to predict. So ballistic missile defence or not, both the USA and Russia will be able to drive the boot in pterry hard if they choose.

      Nonetheless, the anti-ballistic missile technology is highly destabilizing for the major players as well. A more realistic use of these missiles is to shoot down satellites, which move on more predictable orbits, and do not take evasive and defensive action (well, most of them). Because both Russians and Americans do rely heavily on satellites for early warning and command-and-control functions, they now have to consider the possibility that a satellite failure is a result of the enemy action, rather than an accident. Multiple simultanenous failures will almost certainly be interpreted as a deliberate attach - even if it may in fact be due to an extreme solar flare or an orbital cascade.

      The second destabilizing effect applies more to the smaller, independent nuclear powers (mostly China): even a limited missile defence may be enough to render their capability ineffectual, removing the value of their deterrent.

      Overall, the more bmd capability any of the players develop, the worse are the chances for nuclear disarmament, and higher the chances of an accident leading to a full-scale nuclear exchange.

      1. toughluck

        Re: Shooting down satellites

        Shooting down satellites has been a possibility for over 30 years now (ASM-135 ASAT), so not much changes in that regard.

        1. robin48gx

          Re: Shooting down satellites

          Maybe since 1962 when the US proved it by detonating a nuke in LEO, the resulting X-ray show killing every satellite in the vicinity.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Shooting down satellites

            The thing is, nobody is going to launch an ICBM against another country because it's stupid.

            Any country doing that is going to leave a trail from the launch site that's recorded by a lot of very paranoid nations around the world, and then get their country nuked into a lifeless, glowing radioactive crater in response. Since everybody armed with nukes knows that using them is a really, really bad idea ICBM's aren't much of a problem.

            Ok, we now have a perfect nuclear shield. uh, somebody just stuck nukes in passenger holds and shipping crates of a bunch of aircraft and ships and half of our major ports and a couple of major cities just went up in nuclear fireballs.

            Now who do you target? Half an hour before the detonation the "Very Free Democratic, Socialist and Really Free People's Republic of Dictatorstania" announced at a press conference that a weapons transfer of warheads was hijacked with the brutal murder of dozens of loyal guards etc, etc etc and they are shocked, SHOCKED I tell you that a dastardly plan to steal their weapons has succeeded in an attack that bears all the hallmarks of an attack by, uh. Yes.

            Of course, they blame their lax security on the fact that in order to stand any chance of getting through your defense system they have to fire ten times as many warheads, meaning that their deployed stock went up from two hundred warheads to two thousand, which are of course spread out as much as possible to stop your nation from dropping one nuke and wiping out the lot which makes it harder to defend them all...

            Now, we nuke them, yes? Uh, by the way there's major protests from your citizens and allies about destroying the peace loving nation of the Very Free Democratic, Socialist and Really Free People's Republic of Dictatorstania who are puttinc crying mothers and children on international TV begging for mercy...

            So yeah, large publicly announced ballistic missile shields are a stupid idea that are likely to cause nothing but own goals. If you were implementing one then you'd do it on the quiet so that people only noticed when they discovered that they couldn't get their weapons through said shield.

            1. Colin Millar

              Re: Shooting down satellites @ Pter2

              "Really Free People's Republic of Dictatorstania"

              John Otway has his own country now?

    3. robin48gx

      Re: Good news or bad news?

      Read the book "Preventing the unthinkable" by James Martin.

      Its not some namby pamby pacifist script.

      Its full of physics and strategy; probably written for senior civil servants and intended

      military staff of rank colonel and above.

      A large scale nuclear war is quite complicated. One major physics factor in nuclear war is

      most of the initial energy from a nuclear explosion is X-rays. In air these form a large fireball in the sky. In space they fly unimpeded.

      Ballistic missiles (those flying in space) are very vulnerable to x-rays from space detonated

      atomic weapons i.e. if you keep dropping H bombs above the country you are attacking all the missiles they launch are destroyed in flight. This has a technical term called "X-ray" lock down.

      But it does not take care of cruise missiles effectively hiding from the x-rays by being in earths atmosphere.

      So thats why anti ballistic missile shields (ABM) can be viewed as first strike weapons. They kind of enable a first strike as well as protecting from the odd stray north Korean missile.

      Also Putin, because of ABMs, has simply increased the number of cruise and stealth nuclear delivery systems. my pennies worth. But anyone really interested should read the James Martin book

      1. Diodelogic

        Re: Good news or bad news?

        This dredged-up an old memory of mine: Back in the late '70s I was seated at a private dinner with a guest who a missile officer on a US ballistic-missile submarine. I tried to question him about nukes, the ONLY thing he would confirm for me was that the Little Boy bomb functioned by jamming two masses of uranium-235 together. I was disappointed (physics major in college) but I understood that he was sworn to secrecy. Imagine my surprise when, in reply to someone else's question about politics and nukes, he said, "We all know that maybe one in ten H-bombs will go off." I have no reason to think that he made a deliberate mis-statment, because there would be no point in doing so. He said no further word that evening concerning anything other than sports. He did take me to one side as he was leaving and said, sotto vocce, "We never had that conversation. Right?"

        1. toughluck

          Re: One in ten H-bombs will go off

          I find that likely in late 70s. Part of the reason why there were so many warheads back then.

          The only reason that massive disarmament was possible is because the reliability went up dramatically.

  3. Brian Miller

    Hair-trigger destruction

    How fast can a missile be destroyed, so as not to set off the payload? If I were confident that my missiles would be going through a "shield," I would put in a mechanism to detect a catastrophic event, and set off the payload for grins and giggles. You don't need to flatten a city to unleash hell, you just need to get the EMP to wipe out as much of the grid and electronics as possible. Two small nukes can wipe out the entire US electrical grid. Pentagon estimates are for 90% of the population dead within a year, without electricity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hair-trigger destruction

      That's the number one reason why you use a kinetic kill rather than a proximity kill. Nuclear warheads are extremely finicky in all aspects, particularly around detonation. Best case, you get a fizzle and that's still pretty damn unlikely, and the odds the Sun going instantly nova tonight is about the same order of likelihood.

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Hair-trigger destruction

      You do not set off a payload of a nuke by anything but the controlled detonation of the shaped charges which bring the Plutonium bits together.

      This is an often forgotten detail. The ability to produce high quality stable high explosives, machine them into shaped charges and detonate the charges in the correct pattern is as as important to building a nuke as centrifuges and heavy water. Any explosion out of sequence or mechanical damage to the structure and the result will be a fart - the equivalent of a few tons of TNT. Most weapons on station nowdays are thermonuclear, the fart will not be enough to start fusion in the LiD.

      As far as shooting down missiles, the equation has changed significantly already. When US withdrew from the ABM treaty, the Russians went their own way. Instead of building dedicated (and very expensive) anti-ICBM capabilty, they added it to their conventional AAA missiles. S300, S400 and the incoming S500 may not have the range and the capability of a USA Aegis, but there is LOTS of them. Follows their general approach - "why build a superweapon, when a large number of cheaper mass produced ones with sufficient capabilities will suffice". So here we are 15 years after Dubia withdrew from the treaty - USA has a few interceptors here and there. Russia compared to that can field 500+ at any given time as a part of their fleet deployment and has thousdands of them on land. Quite funny how it whines theatrically about the USA ones though :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hair-trigger destruction

        Given that the USA currently has about 200 SM-3 missiles deployed, and over 600 on order, I do not really see what you are unhappy about, Mr. Korov'yev. As you said, mass-produced Russian systems are less capable: good against medium-range missiles, but not really usable against ballistic warheads or satellites.

        Besides, it's not like the Russians did not warn what's going to happen at the time the ABM treaty was been torn up.

        Live by the sword, die by the sword - although I feel that the Russian version is considerably more specific: Кто на нас с мечом пойдёт, от меча и погибнет. "Who attacks us with a sword, will die from it".

        They really mean it, too.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Hair-trigger destruction

          @Anonymous Coward

          Touche... Almost... Mr. Korov'yev. Good guess (I guess someone reads the right books out there). You should have picked the other one though - I do have a sense of humor, something Коровьев does not.

          In either case, both of USA and Russia are rapidly approaching the threshold where they are likely to render the Chinese, France, United Kingdom, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea missile forces ineffective.

          This does not alter the mutual assured destruction argument for USA or Russia - they can literally overwhelm the other side's defenses. What it does change, however, is arguments about lesser powers having a nuclear deterrent. It is becoming rather pointless as all it would take will be for USA or Russia to deploy the fleet "protecting an ally". USA regularly rehearses this in the Far East. Russia rehearsed that during their deployment to Syria (that is what their fleet deployment was really about). Failing that, they can just sell or lease a couple of batteries to the "victim" - something both of them already do.

    3. 's water music

      Re: Hair-trigger destruction

      Two small nukes can wipe out the entire US electrical grid

      Tree branches and accidentals switch-offs can knock out the US grid (although, as usual, sqirrels are the real power terrorists).

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hair-trigger destruction

      Two small nukes can wipe out the entire US electrical grid.

      First of all: It will have to be recomputed and brought back online in segments after that. You are looking at up to 5-7 days national blackout. Not a year. Even 5th world countries in the 1980-es and 1990-es regularly did this computation and have the procedures to do so. In the 1990-es I helped my dad with the software side, he did the optimal control and math modeling bits and we made quite a bit of extra dosh on top of his professor salary.

      Second: You do not need to nuke. A trailer or two full of fertilizer or a small aircraft will do. You will need nation state resources to know exactly where and when. Just blowing up two substations will not do the trick.

      Third: If a key interconnect point on the grid is physically destroyed, the grid_WILL_ be brought back in a week or two, with some portions brought back as fast as hours (especially if you get assistance from neighboring countries like Canada in the case of USA and Eu countries using their interconnect). It will take logical interference with the load pattern to bring the grid down and keep it down. So from that perspective a smart metering hack is way more effective than a nuke. Just flip the load up and down in a region of your choice. Viva la smart cities!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I guess it takes a Chirgwin to turn a pure technical achievement into a strike against his personal political enemies. But then again he's aiming at a non-moving target, so how hard could it be?

    1. frank ly

      It takes a really big John to be so sensitive. He's also aiming at a very large target, no sport there.

    2. Chris G

      It's impossible for a 'pure technical achievement' that impacts significantly on nuclear capabilities to be apolitical, so more a valid comment by Chirgwin than an attack.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > "It's impossible for a 'pure technical achievement' that impacts significantly on nuclear capabilities to be apolitical, so more a valid comment by Chirgwin than an attack."

        So, because the story has general political implications, that justifies Chirgwin getting all smarmy in the subheading about Bannon really being President and also being an idiot? Like there's a legit connection here? I don't think you really believe that. I think you and he will use any excuse at all to lash out at those who took your win away. It's become an emotional illness.

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      The last technical argument about nuclear weapons happened in the mid-30es. Before WW2. If memory serves me right Einstein, Niels Bohr and a few others were involved.

      All other arguments from there onwards were political first, then (if at all) technical.

  5. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    No worries. As long as it results in weapons, science is actually okay for him.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Accept the science, but NOT the PSEUDO-science

      "No worries. As long as it results in weapons, science is actually okay for him."

      that comment, and the not-so-subtle subtitle in the article regarding Trump's acceptance of science, are both examples of poor attempts at humor that use misconceptions as "fact" for the purpose of parody, and fail MISERABLY because of it.

      Good parody is based in fact and truth, and NOT popular misconceptions.

      FYI - I'm sure Trump is good with science. It's the PSEUDO-SCIENCE (aka man-made-global-climate-whatever) that he does NOT accept. And the same for *ME*.

      Here's an example of a good parody: "Trump today accepted 'science' and acknowledged that global climate change scientists were the primary cause of a small amount of man-made global warming, due to scaring the crap out of everyone, which causes an immense number of people to heat up, breathe hard, and exhale more CO2"

  6. 2StrokeRider

    Just a note for the author, it's President Donald Trump. Bannon is an influential friend, but no President. I know 'journalists' have issues with basic facts so wanted to help you out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So you're saying the guy who was surprised and angry to find he had added someone to the National Security Council because he didn't bother to read what he was signing is the one in charge, not the one who was added to the National Security Council against all precedent.

      It's a bold stance, but unlikely to stand up to the cold regard of history, if there are any historians in our future to look back on it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just a note for the author, it's President Donald Trump

      You are behind the times. It is the so-called President Donald Trump from now on.

    3. Colabroad

      Missing the joke

      They're implying that Bannon is the archetypal "Grand Vizier" ruling from the background through his puppet, the portly, simpleton "Sultan" that sits on the throne. Whispering horrible thoughts in his ear whilst avoiding the wrath of the populace.

      I do love when I can explain things with a metaphor based on Disney's Aladdin.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Missing the joke

        Yes, Aladdin is about their speed. Leftist need everything neatly categorized and boxed. Even their political attacks were scripted long ago and today they're just reading the lines by rote. Their only real task these days is to size up the opposition so they can turn to the correct page in their political manual of attacks and smears.

        "Lessee, Trump is a big blowhard, and has an outspoken advisor now. Hrmmm...almost have it... Ah! The 'Grand Vizier' tactic, my favorite!"

  7. The First Dave

    'Journalists'? At the Reg? You must be jesting...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why are we still using old tech?

    The laser system was better. More accurate, less expensive (in long run), and could be used on more than just missiles. Of course this means it got de-funded. Never heard a technical reason why.

    1. MT Field

      Re: Why are we still using old tech?

      It got de-funded because it was swallowing a lot of funds and will simply never work.

  9. JJKing

    FFS, just get over it.

    Some interesting posts here until some idiots comes along and ruins it with their imbecilic political tyrannic rants. Can these right wing cretins PLEASE leave their politics the other side of the keyboard when posting here. It really seems you are deliberately collecting downvotes but then I look at your narcissistic idol and realise you really are small minded idiots.

    Why don't you just get over your unpopular vote win.

  10. MT Field

    John Paul Jones

    Excellent bassist, crooked vulture and number one missile destroyer!! Banzai!!!!

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