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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Missiles, Missiles Everywhere

Andrei Kislyakov, RIA Novosti
Nov 28, 2006 - 7:09:54 AM

Moscow, Russia: Looking at things from a broad perspective is often very useful. For example, consider the following: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov tells us that the country's armed forces will buy 17 intercontinental ballistic missiles next year; a reporter peers intently into a hole made in the pavement of an Israeli town by a rocket fired from a neighboring quarter; or two former U.S. defense secretaries say Tridents can be fired with non-nuclear warheads.

All three examples share one common theme: rocket weapons.

Anticipating possible objections, I will remark that today, from a practical point of view, there is little difference between strategic and tactical missiles. A military man seeks to make the most of jet propulsion in armed conflicts, but one must pay a high price for that. Also, unlike other weapon systems, such as armor or artillery, missile systems, regardless of their type, give rise to countermeasures that are themselves in effect unpredictable strategic weapons.

Already dozens of countries with different levels of development and political orientations have a large stock of ballistic missiles purchased elsewhere or the capability to manufacture them. Meanwhile, the world abounds in regions with smoldering military conflicts. Today we constantly see warring sides use their rocket weapons without hesitation.

Over the past 30 years or so, this has happened with alarming frequency, starting, say, from Egypt in 1973 and ending with the massive launches of Qassam projectiles on the Promised Land this fall.

It therefore emerges that fighting in the air and in space is becoming one of the key components of military confrontation at all levels. So, in today's armed struggles, not to mention tomorrow's possible clashes, one cannot do without developing and deploying either a strategic (or mostly non-strategic) missile defense or a theater missile defense system.

Yet one should not expect the latter to be safer or better than its strategic cousin. The last war in Iraq has shown how difficult it is to intercept short-range missiles because of their short approach time and maddening speed of about three kilometers a second. In the case of BM-21 rockets, which are plentiful in the Middle East and which local artisans have been able to configure into mini-missile systems, countering them in military-technical terms is impossible without resorting to high-precision weapons on a massive scale, moreover in real time.

High-precision weapons are above all space-based reconnaissance and target-designation facilities - in other words, command and control. It is likely that any day now general staffs meetings will recommend destroying short-range missiles directly from orbit. In view of the possible scale of use of such missiles, it is easy to imagine how densely near-Earth space will be packed with killer weapons.

And even this is not all the trouble. Supposedly peaceful reconnaissance, weather and other support systems, which must exist in large numbers and which are vital to a country's survival, need to be protected. In this connection, the launch of ground- and space-based anti-satellite programs is only a matter of time.

The above suggests that developing an anti-intercontinental ballistic missile system is no more challenging than building a more ramified network to counteract tactical and shorter-range missiles. In any case, regardless of what the weapons are called, it means deploying them in the Earth's orbit.

Russian Air Force Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Mikhailov bluntly said in mid-November that "given modern large-scale anti-missile defense models, the best way to make them more effective would be a space-based echelon capable of engaging most of the missiles in their boost and post-boost phases regardless of where they are launched ... "

The general's next comment was that there must be a control regime for weapons in space. This is hard to deny. It would be good to devise at least the general outline of such a regime that could break the vicious circle. So far there are only good intentions. But a nuclear missile club is open next door around the clock and does not charge admission fees.
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