Garwin Comments on National Academies’ Missile Defense Report

October 1, 2012
David Wright
Former contributor

As we discussed in an earlier post, the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academies released a report on September 11, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives.”

The report has garnered a lot of criticism, much of it at a technical level. For example, MostlyMissileDefense has posted several analyses of the X-band radars that the report discusses. These posts argue (convincingly) that the radars are far too small to provide the midcourse discrimination that the report acknowledges is necessary for the defense to be effective.

Now Dick Garwin has weighed in with criticisms of the report in several key areas. Like MostlyMissileDefense, he also discusses the radar problem. He also questions the report’s assertions about boost-phase defense, noting that the report conflicts with several  other technical studies on boost phase defense but that it does not explain why its conclusions differ. In addition, he notes that the report calls for midcourse defenses, but that:

“… the Committee acknowledges that its proposed system for mid-course intercept of ICBM-delivered nuclear warheads is totally dependent on midcourse discrimination, for which it provides no technical approach to counter the countermeasures already judged feasible by the 1999 NIE—for instance, spherical aluminized balloons with anti-simulation. It acknowledges that its proposed system has zero capability against bomblet-delivered BW [biological weapons]. Furthermore, the Committee-proposed “stacked AN/TPY-2” radar is inadequate to the task of discriminating oriented conical warheads even in the absence of other countermeasures.”

Dick Garwin has a long and distinguished history of working on these issues. He once told me that he first worked on ballistic missile defense issues in 1954—so he has been thinking about these issues for nearly 60 years. In 1968 he and Hans Bethe wrote an influential paper in Scientific American that discussed the vulnerability of the missile defense systems proposed at that time to “penetration aids” that the attacker could add to its missiles. In 2000, he was part of a panel that assessed the vulnerability of the current generation of midcourse missile defenses to penetration aids, now more commonly called countermeasures. Garwin is also the person whom Edward Teller chose to build the first hydrogen bomb, so he knows something about nuclear weapons, too.