Thursday, July 13, 2006

THAAD test yesterday

A reported by Las Cruces Sun-News, THAAD test was a success.

THAAD (terminal phase defence) is important because it compliments the existing midcourse phase defense system, deployed at Alaska and Vanderberg. Many scientists criticised the MD system for not being reliable. Indeed, testing for it is extremely expensive and low-rate. It needs testing ranges which span a quarter of Earth's circumference, because the intercept occurs in space. With low testing rate comes high probability of failure. Also, not only testing is expensive, but everything else is too: radars, interceptors, silos, and the whole army of personel needed to service the equipment.

So, why bother with a midcourse system? One reason is because high-altitude terminal phase system was not feasible two decades ago at all. It became useful because of a revolution in rocket performance which happened in front of our eyes in recent years.

When I was an air defence 2nd Lt. in 80s in Soviet PVO/PKO forces, we still used hypergolic-fueled rockets, which were only good for targets such as an American bomber B-52. Basically, it was the same thing as American Nike. In the 90s, faster accelerating solid-fueled S-300 rockets were deployed which could hit cruise missiles. And now, American rocket scientists came up with solid rocket fuels which make rockets speed up at 8G or more. This way, they can meet Iranian warheads falling down at orbital speeds. This is a stunning level of performance.

Another reason for the midcourse system to exist is that it works better against sophisticated missiles with separating warheads. So when NK or Iran figure out that trick, we'll be ready.

Still the whole THAAD program was only about 4.5 Billion Dollars (including the 48M overrun in 2006). It's the amount of money which could keep the Space Shuttle program operating for only about 6 months. And don't get me started on Department of Education. Oh well, at least some public money get spent in a useful way.


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