Philosophical Society of Washington

Minutes of the 2157th Meeting

Speaker: Hank 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 Haapala was in the chair. President Haapala 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 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 in the Previous Bush I administration and was Ronald Reagan's chief negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks.

Mr. Cooper started missile work with the Nike Zuse program. Shortly after this the U. S. and Russia signed a treaty to make research into missile defense illegal. Mr. Cooper strongly disapproved of the treaty that has now has been abrogated by the current Bush II administration. Mr. Cooper indicated that he suspected that the Russians may have selectively disregarded the treaty and conducted some research. He claimed that the nation is currently defenseless against an intercontinental ballistic missile attack. Previous research programs were stopped in the U.S. and talented people went on to other things leading to a collective amnesia in the SDI arena. Now that the treaty has been removed as an obstacle avenues are open to a more cost effective sea based or space based anti missile defense system. Mr. Cooper noted that the current Bush II administration has not yet offered to invest in these initiatives. On December 17, 2002, President Bush II announced a test and deployment of a ground based system in Alaska which would be in the flight path of an ICBM launched from North Korea. Mr. Cooper indicated that the pursuit of land based systems over sea or spaced systems was driven by Pentagon bureaucratic inertia and lack of understanding. Land based systems are not as cost effective as sea based systems and they are not as mobile. However space based orbiting systems offer the best opportunity for interception in the speakers opinion.

As an illustration of research creatively avoiding treaty restrictions was the use of the Wallops Island missile facilities to launch 2 vehicles on one rocket. After separation of the booster the 2 vehicles followed different trajectories with the higher trajectory vehicle acting as a “space based” platform to attempt to track and intercept the lower trajectory vehicle. This provided valuable information on the concept of tracking ballistic objects from space. There is no indication that Bush II plans to implement a serious program to follow up on this. Mr Cooper has testified before Congress on the vulnerabilities of ICBMs to interception. The best time is the boost phase when the object has not reached terminal velocity, the engines are producing maximum trackable signals and a destroyed object will fall back into enemy territory. During the boost phase an ICBM is unable to launch decoys. The second best phase is the reentry phase when the target is slowing and atmospheric heating generates a trackable signal. Decoys may be deployed in this phase making the job of target discrimination more difficult. The most difficult phase to intercept is the suborbital transit phase while the vehicle is not subject to atmospheric slowing and decoys may be most effectively deployed.

The speaker noted that there were also more cost effective, low tech ways to deliver war heads to coastal cities through shipping containers most of which are not inspected before arrival at U.S. ports, but this is a problem that other agencies have to deal with. Two areas where the treaty inhibited testing of interception technologies was upward looking ship borne radar and using ship borne radar in tandem with aerial radars to track long-range missiles. The kill vehicle proposed is a kinetic energy projectile. Interceptor missile 4.5 Km/ sec were slowed down under the Clinton Administration. The use of lighter weight front ends on existing engines could produce approximately 7 Km/sec intercept vehicle velocities. Mr. Cooper noted that Japan now has 4 Aegis guided missile cruisers and is interested in improving their missile defense. Using an Aegis based seaborne system would cost 10% of what the Alaska Based program being advocated by President Bush. The speaker reminded the audience of the 15 SCUD missiles shipped from North Korea to Yemen which were intercepted by the Spanish Navy based on U.S. intelligence. Mr. Cooper also reminded the audience that Yemen backed Iraq in the last Golf War and that the missiles were delivered to Yemen after they protested the interception on the high seas.

There are no plans for missile defense deployment or even tests of one on the Atlantic Coast, only in Alaska. The current testing from Vandenberg AFB would be shifted to Alaska. An Aegis based system based in Norfolk could be operational by 2005 if the government provided the right funding. Looking to expand jobs in the Norfolk area the Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution requesting an Atlantic Test Range be built using existing money.

Space based systems would provide intercept opportunities against either short or long-range missiles. Congress killed the program and may resist restarting it under the current administration given the escalating budget deficits. However Mr. Cooper asserts that the Brilliant Pebbles project could be in place for just 11 Billion dollars. The technologies for Brilliant Pebbles is mature. It was tested in the Clementine program, which used the gravity of a lunar orbit to sling shot into deep space where it is lost and gone forever, just as its name sake. The command and control system for Brilliant Pebbles could be handled by the Iridium system, a failed commercial global communications system, which the Pentagon purchased for pennies on the dollar. With global communications capability, remote controlled drone aircraft could do boost phase interception of ICBMs through high endurance lurking over hostile territory for only 1 Billion dollars per year. Of course, this will all have to be integrated with the new Department of Homeland Security, which will require additional funding. The Brilliant Pebbles system is a network of orbiting autonomous interceptors, which could identify a launch, track the ICBM and intercept it with a kinetic energy weapon from space. The speaker noted that they were called brilliant because they carried enough computer power to operate autonomously, a CRAY 1 the size of a palm pilot.

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- ABM defense can be produced for about 1 Billion dollars while the ICBMs cost more to build so we can stay ahead.

Q- What is the time frame from detection to intercept during the launch phase?

A- The decision to intercept must be made in 1 minute of less. There would be no time for authorization. The Brilliant Pebbles would communicate with other to prevent multiple kill vehicles homing in on any one launch vehicle. This has not been tested. Every Missile launch is pre-announced to the UN. The Brilliant Pebbles would be notified not to shoot down announced launches and would shoot down any launches which were not pre-announced.

Q- What is the main opposition to restarting SDI?

A- First of course is money, second is getting the right, bright people to work on the project. Third is a religion prevalent in the Congress that space should not be militarized.

Q- What was the result of the Patriot technology?

A- The Patriot was designed to intercept missiles aimed directly at itself, not to intercept missiles aimed an nearby cities. It was a brilliant psychological weapon and a bad military one. It did not hit a single SCUD. Neither were the aircraft launched missiles able to hit any mobile SCUD launchers during the Gulf war. But people believed in them and felt protected so they went about their daily lives.

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 to the social hour.

Attendance: 33
Temperature: 2.2°C
Weather: clearing after snow

Respectfully submitted,
David Bliel
Recording Secretary

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