Re: SDI was Re: Expanding the "United States of America"

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Fri Jul 20 2001 - 11:19:34 MDT

Chris Hibbert wrote:
> I argued that while not frivolous, it doesn't remove its value as a threat.
> Mike Lorrey responded:
> > Yes it does. Terrorist groups and the rogue nations that support them
> > operate on limited resources. All they get from an attack that fails so
> > miserably is a local rally of support from fellow extremists who only
> > respect the fact that they tried an attack. They surely won't stick
> > around for round two, when we decide to strike back.
> I'll try again. If they have twenty missiles and we have a 90%
> effective system, they get two nuclear missiles through. They didn't
> intend to defeat us in a war, they intended to inflict heavy casualties.
> They did so. I don't think you would say "we stopped most of their
> missiles, so they failed miserably." The point of having twenty
> missiles wasn't to do twenty times the damage of a single missile, it
> was to make it more likely that at least one would get through. They
> don't care about round two.

Anybody with 20 missiles that can reach the US is not some underworld
terrorist group. This requires resources of a rather large degree, in
fixed locations, with a fixed logistical infrastructure, and tens of
thousands of employees, with hundreds of thousands of dependents and
extraneous economic actors. Anyone with responsibility for such a large
entity is not going to behave so madly as to blindly strike out with
such a low success rate, nor is going to put their entire infrastructure
at risk of reprisal. If they can only afford 20 missiles, they certainly
cannot afford Anti-Ballistic systems of their own to protect their
entire infrastructure against attack.

You have not considered the cost of a reprisal attack on the initiator
of such a first strike in your calculations.

> > Chris, what makes you think even a country like Russia, which went broke
> > once before trying to outspend us, could possibly succeed at the same
> > game?
> We aren't playing that game anymore. The current game has several
> players who have nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and no players
> who have effective defensive systems. One of the players announces that
> it intends to start to develop and deploy defensive systems that will
> start out not very effective against some currently possible attacks and
> get better over time. If any of the other players are worried about the
> intentions of the player developing defenses, they can invest in more
> and better offensive tools and stay ahead of the other player's
> defenses. They don't have to be able to win a war in order for it to be
> valuable in some cases to be able to inflict losses.

This would only work if all actors had similar force capability levels.
They do not. China is still a minor player, just getting into the game,
while Russia is in such bad shape they can field less than 80 of the
hundreds of nuclear submarines they once operated with impunity, and
they can afford to build no new subs. Their missiles are poorly
maintained by poorly paid or unpaid workers. Inteligence estimates are
that Russia has a total mission capability rate of between 10-20% of
their total force, most of which is being absorbed by the Chechnya
debacle and other minor internal matters... The dissolution of the
Soviet Union has multiplied the number of targets they need to aim their
missiles at (in the form of former Republics), and increased the fronts
from which attacks may come.

> There are many countries in the world that hate us or are afraid of us.
> I understand why you want to be safe from some missiles. My claim is
> that trying to get there gives some of the countries that are afraid of
> us or that hate us a reason and an excuse for arming. We can reduce
> some threats, but making that move may increase others.

Those who hate and fear us most can least afford to arm to the levels
needed to overcome such a system.
> I think it's possible that the threats that will be reduced are unlikely
> to be exercised (a suitcase nuke is easier than a single missile.) I
> think the threats that may be increased in response to our actions are
> more worth avoiding. I also think it's a lot of money that doesn't
> benefit us.

As I've said, any country with a suitcase nuke capability which also
hates us enough to use them is already under heavy customs scrutiny as
well as heavy sigint dedication by the NSA et al.

> Spike wrote:
> > Regarding the billions to deploy a partially effective system, most
> > of that money has already been spent. The research and development
> > of *current* EKV, THAAD and PAC3 has already been spent.
> > Building a few thousands of these and parking them somewhere is
> > the cheap part. I dont see why not go ahead and do it.
> The money that's been spent is sunk costs. It's water under the bridge.
> How much do you think building a few thousand will cost? How much to
> operate them over time? How much to develop the next layer of systems?
> (I thought we had agreed that the current technology is not very
> effective, and we have to continue to spend money in order to keep up
> with the obvious counters to our first move.)

No, we have not agreed this. The biggest obstacle, and expense, has been
development of the core systems to reliable rates of effectiveness. This
is achieved or is very near completion. Actually mass producing and
deploying them is actually rather cheap because of the high degree of
automation built into the system.

Lets say we build and deploy 40 SBLs once they've been perfected. Do you
think that each SBL would exceed $1 billion in cost? I don't, and I'll
bet Spike thinks the same way, considering the biggest chunk, R&D, is
already spent. So, $40 billion to build and deploy the SBL system alone.
They we institute the PAC-3 Aegis and THAAD systems, and the THEL ground
based laser system as well. This would provide a layered system for less
than a few hundred billion that would protect at a 90-100% effectiveness
level for attacks of 300-500 missiles. Assuming that other countries
institute MIRV systems again, this could be effective against attacks
involving 900-5,000 warheads (given MIRVs run from 3-10 warheads per

The problem with decoy warheads is that in order for them to effectively
simulate actual warheads, they need to be of similar mass, shape, and
COG as actual warheads, in which case, you might as well use actual
warheads, and this limits the number of decoys carried by a missile to
whatever percentage of MIRVs the attacker wishes to install. In the
final analysis, decoys are dumb.

> Spike continued:
> > If we do not defeat nukes, they will eventually defeat us.
> Why do you believe this? And what do you mean by "defeat"? I thought
> we were talking about a system that for the next twenty years will only
> let a few nuclear missiles through. If we don't deploy SDI, then worst
> case, a few missiles hit us. (Why would anyone invest to build more if
> the first few are likely to get through?)

If we deploy, we raise the barrier to entry cost for agressors who wish
to attack us by a factor of ten to 100. Such increased cost commutes to
a significantly enhanced deterrence.

> If we do deploy, then worst
> case someone delivers a few suitcase nukes. Or (their choice, not ours)
> we get into a arms race and have to spend lots of money trying to defend
> against more and more sophisticated missiles. How did we benefit from
> starting the race?

Just as we benefitted from starting the whole SDI thing: we force
agressors to try to outspend us while maintaining oppressive
political/economic systems, which I think everybody will agree has been
proven to not be possible by the example of the USSR. War is about
spending the least amount to do the most damage to the other guys
ability to spend money on their own ability to do damage to you. SDI
vastly increases the barrier to entry cost in a world where ballistic
missile and nuclear technology costs have dropped. Countries practice
the diplomacy they can afford. Making nuclear brinksmanship
prohibitively expensive keeps countries calculating by factors that
benefit our security. Given that our aims are for a peaceful world, our
security is the world's security.

> I'm more willing to believe that most of the people that might decide to
> join us in an arms race (if we start one) would also be willing to join
> us in a world wide market for developing and delivering high tech toys.
> I'd rather be in a commercial race than an arms race.

So would I. Reak your Locke before you decide.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:39:50 MDT