Friday, October 15, 2010

Strategic Defense, as Conceptualized by a Learning Disabled 9 Year Old

John Raese is the Republican nominee for Senator from West Virginia.  He has not demonstrated a profound understanding of public policy in general, but the level of understanding he demonstrated in remarks to the League of American Voters on Wednesday was nothing short of appalling.  On the topic of missile defense, he said:

"If there is a rogue missile aimed at our country, we have 33 minutes to figure out what we're going to do, We are sitting with the only technology in the world that works and it's laser technology. We need 1000 laser systems put in the sky and we need it right now. That is [of] paramount importance."

Now, the number of things that are wrong with this statement approaches infinity, but let's just consider three of them.  First, missile defense is hard.  The rule of thumb is every billion dollars of R&D you put into defense requires only a million dollars of R&D on countermeasures.  Second, directed energy weapons do not exist, and are a long way from existing.  If you assume you need a gigawatt-class laser to effectively destroy a hypersonic target from hundreds of miles away, the only way we know how to do that is using chemical lasers.  These are HUGE, heavy and expensive, requiring entire buildings and ongoing, careful maintenance.  There is a semiconductor laser technology being researched today called DPAL (Diode Pumped Alkali Laser) that may turn out to scale to the gigawatt range, but we're years from knowing if it will actually work.  And, of course, once we have a working prototype of a gigawatt defensive laser weapon, we'll be able to discover whether or not it works, at what range, and how vulnerable it will be to countermeasures.  Atmospheric attenuation, diffusion in clouds and particulate pollution, water vapor and other factors will reduce the effective range - there is no certainty that early generation directed energy weapons will even be effective from earth orbit.  Third, there's the small matter of diplomacy.  Although most Americans would be shocked to discover this, the fact is America does not own space.  Other nations have just as much interest in earth orbit as we do, and most of them would prefer not to see it militarized.  So far, any space-based weapons are limited in number and scope to secretive research projects (see X-37B), and any large-scale deployment would have to include negotiated international agreements and treaties.

Later in his remarks, Raese suggested his thousand space-based gigawatt lasers would cost $20 Billion dollars.  Now I don't know if his 1000 space-based lasers are each aboard their own dedicated platform, or if a satellite can support multiple lasers (neither does he, but that shouldn't come as any surprise at this point), but even if you assume 10 lasers per orbiter, you still need to build and launch 100 large, complex, heavy craft into earth orbit.  Anyone who thinks you can do this for $20 billion dollars should be automatically disqualified from holding elected office.

1 comment:

  1. In an escalating residency controversy between West Virginia's Senate contenders, the wife of Republican businessman John Raese is being purged from the state's voter rolls because she is also registered to vote in Florida.
    John Raese's insistence that his Florida ties are minimal may also have been hurt by a famous supporter Thursday.

    Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who lives in Florida, endorsed Raese on his show this week. "He is a part-time resident here in Palm Beach, and he has a locker right across the, right across the bench from me at a prominent local club. I've never played golf with him, but I've met him," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted Limbaugh as saying.

    To quote Nelson Muntz, "HA Hah!"