Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Hypersonic Missiles- ‘we program weapons that don’t work to meet threats that don’t exist.’

Like a Ball of Fire, London Review of Books, Andrew Cockburn on hypersonic weaponry, Vol. 42 No. 5 · 5 March 2020 “……….   Putin’s bellicose claim – two weeks before the presidential election in which he was running for a fourth term – and the more recent official announcement that Avangard had now entered service, drew alarmed and unquestioning attention in the West. ‘Russia Deploys Hypersonic Weapon, Potentially Renewing Arms Race’ the New York Times blared. ‘The new Russian weapon system flies at superfast speeds and can evade traditional missile defence systems. The United States is trying to catch up.’

Across the military-industrial complex, the money trees were shaken, showering dollars on eager recipients. A complaisant Congress poured money into programmes to develop all-new missile defences against the new threat, as well as programmes to build offensive hypersonic weapons to close the ‘technology gap’. The sums allocated for defensive initiatives alone exceeded $10 billion in the 2020 Pentagon budget, including $108 million in seed money for a ‘Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor’ – an as-yet undesigned array of low-orbit satellites that would detect and track Russia’s weapons.
Last September, Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms manufacturer, hefted a golden shovel to break ground in Courtland, Alabama, on new facilities to develop, test and produce a variety of hypersonic weapons. By then Lockheed already had more than $3.5 billion of hypersonic contracts in hand. Excitement was running high. ‘You can’t walk more than ten feet in the Pentagon without hearing the word “hypersonics”,’ one official remarked to an industry sponsored conference. Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defence for research and engineering, a hypersonics enthusiast, has spoken of the need for ‘maybe thousands’ of hypersonic weapons. ‘This takes us back to the Cold War,’ he announced cheerfully, ‘where at one point we had thirty thousand nuclear warheads and missiles to launch them’.
Welcome to the world of strategic analysis, where we program weapons that don’t work to meet threats that don’t exist.’ This was what Ivan Selin, a senior Pentagon official, used to tell subordinates in the Defence Department in the 1960s. Such irreverence regarding high-tech modern weaponry is rare: the norm is uncritical acceptance of reality as the arms industry and its uniformed customers choose to define it.
This credulity persists partly because of the secrecy rules deployed to cloak the realities of shoddy performance and unfulfilled promises. More important, complex weapons programmes, however problematic, benefit from a widespread and unquestioning faith – not least among journalists – in the power of technology to challenge the laws of physics.
…….. the funds continue to flow smoothly, accompanied by breathless headlines such as the Washington Post’s declaration that ‘the Pentagon’s newest weapons look like something out of Star Wars.’ …….
in 2014 the Russian programme was nearly cancelled when the designers reported that they couldn’t make the system manoeuvre – the essential selling point for any hypersonic weapon.
Hypersonic endeavours in the US have an even longer history, having originated in the imaginations of German scientists during the Second World War. Walter Dornberger, a favourite of Hitler who oversaw the V2 rocket programme and its extensive slave labour workforce, emigrated to the US after the war and soon found employment in the arms industry. In the 1950s he presented the US air force with a proposal for a ‘boost-glide’ weapon, first conceived by his former colleagues in Germany. …….
the dream never died, lingering on in obscure budgetary allocations over ensuing decades, none of them yielding anything of practical use. Despite the bombast on both sides of what we have to call the New Cold War, current efforts will almost certainly be no more successful than their predecessors – except in improving arms corporations’ balance sheets – for reasons that bear some scrutiny………..
 True to form, the UK Ministry of Defence is still investing heavily in this problematic technology…………
[This article outlines the technical problems in implementing hypersonic missiles]
….  At least $200 billion has been showered on missile defence since Reagan unveiled the Star Wars programme in 1983, and yet as Tom Christie – the Pentagon’s director of Operational Test and Evaluation under George W. Bush – puts it, ‘here we are, almost forty years on, and what have we got to show for it?’ Very little, it seems. As he told me recently, ‘We’ve tested against very rudimentary threats, and even then [the defence systems] haven’t worked with any degree of confidence.’ An apparently insoluble problem is that no defensive system is able to distinguish reliably between incoming warheads and decoys, such as balloon reflectors that mimic missiles on radar and can be deployed by the hundred at little cost. ‘There’s a very simple technical reason there’s essentially no chance – and, I mean, really essentially, no chance – that these missile defences will work,’ Ted Postol of MIT, a long-term critic of Star Wars, told me……….
 the US is lavishing large amounts of money on anti-hypersonic programmes. Given the gross deficiencies of both hypersonics and current missile defence systems, this indicates that the US and Russia have both taken Selin’s axiom a step further: they mean to deploy a weapon that doesn’t work against a threat that doesn’t exist that was in turn developed to counter an equally non-existent threat.
The notion that the Cold War was a nuclear ‘arms race’ with each side developing systems to counter the other’s increasingly deadly initiatives is generally taken as a given. Today, hypersonic weapons are depicted as products of a similar competitive impulse. But when you look more closely at the history of the Cold War and its post-Soviet resurgence, you see that a very different process is at work, in which the arms lobby on each side has self-interestedly sought capital and bureaucratic advantage while enlisting its counterpart on the other side as a justification for its own ambition.   In other words, they enjoy a mutually profitable partnership. …..

The ease with which the chimerical menace of hypersonic weapons has been launched into the budgetary stratosphere by the arms lobby suggests that their luck will hold for a long time yet. https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/andrew-cockburn/like-a-ball-of-fire

December 1, 2020 - Posted by | General News

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