Dang it, missed again

Just like the real Star Wars -- the movie, that is -- the make-believe one keeps coming up with new episodes, long after you thought it was over.

It won't work.

But you can't prove a negative, not even with 3 failed trials, and billions of dollars poured down the drain. The Gipper's dream is coming back to life with his side-kick's boy, a son of privelege who never needed to know the difference between reality and fantasy.

"I remain confident that given the right leadership, America can develop an effective missile defense system," W. says.

Of course, we're supposed to infer that if he leads us, we'll have that Magic Shield, and no one will be able to harm us. Not the boogie men in North Korea, nor those in Libya, nor those in Iraq.

Somehow, Mutual Assured Destruction is no longer madness enough, now we must be directly protected from the genie we've let out of the bottle.

Defense is such a holy cause; not like having intercontinental ballistic missiles we can launch from submarines, and from land, and nuclear bombs that we can drop from supersonic aircraft capable of annihilation half-way around the world and bringing the crew home to Missouri for supper. Not like being able to wipe out human life on the planet several times over.

We're still uneasy, and we want some one to reassure us. "Given the right leadership," never mind the undeniable fallibility of engineering, never mind the failures in imagination that led us to sow the seeds of our own destruction.

Gen. Kadish explains what went wrong.
The Pentagon explains what went wrong.

"This is rocket science," quipped Lt. Gen. Kadish, turning the cliché around for some laughter to freshen the smell of failure. Ironically, the target missile's decoy failed, too. But it didn't matter; the interceptor didn't intercept not because the state of the art technology it carried wasn't good enough. It failed because of technology that's been working -- most of the time -- in rockets for decades.

It was a funny line, revealing truth as humor always does. Rocketry involves science, engineering, and a colossal attempt to overcome our capacity for error. If we're very careful, if we design redundant systems, if we use multiple checklists and inspect each assembly, and subassembly, and component, in hardware, firmware and software, we can reach into space. Most of the time.

"We need more flight tests," the undersecretary of Defense said, and the General echoed him. We need more data. We need to be more careful. We need more time. We'll need a lot more money, of course. We'll need the continued strength of our military-industrial complex.

We'll need to abrogate a treaty we signed, and to ignore the concerns of our allies, our former enemies and sometime trading partners.

Given the right leadership, America will recognize that it doesn't need a technological missile defense if it supports liberty and justice for all. Maybe we should pledge allegiance to that.

I first wrote "2 of 3 failed trials," with the mistaken impression that the first was a success. James Glanz, in a New York Times story I read in the July 15, 2000 San Jose Mercury News writes:

"...the Pentagon described the system's first intercept test a complete success, but later was forced to concede that the kill vehicle had drivted off course and locked onto a decoy balloon.... (T)he kill vehicle's navigation system had been loaded with an incorrect star chart...."


Clinton tables the rapid development of a missle defense; it must be really obvious that this isn't ready for prime time, since it's such a feel-good political issue to give up. Now W. and Gore can battle over who supports it more strongly.

2.Sept 2000 NYT article.

The NY Times' in-depth coverage.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org


Friday, 01-Sep-2000 20:25:00 MDT