Re: Media ignores Ballistic Missile Defense

From: Eugene Leitl (
Date: Fri Aug 24 2001 - 14:49:22 MDT

On Fri, 24 Aug 2001, Brian D Williams wrote:

> As to if any of the other delivery systems will prove effective,
> only time will tell.

Do you have doubts that a Cessna or a lorry will be unable to deliver a
200 kg object? I'm pretty certain you can ship a piece of slightly
subcritical Pu239 with UPS, and no one would give a damn. If it needs be,
I'll just use a cartwheel.

> Gee, if it's so easy why hasn't it happened yet. More sarcasm by

Why are there no instances of properly done WOMD terrorism, yet? Well, you
have to be evil, irrational, wealthy and reasonably competent, and
marginally lucky. Such traits are more or less independently distributed,
though some of them are correlated. There's a probability of such an event
occuring, and with every passing year it is getting easier. So, this
hasn't happened, yet. Will this happen, eventually? It sure seems so.

> the way, you can't defend against every possible scenario.

But I don't have to burn gigabucks on improbable scenarios, hein?
Would seem rather wasteful, if not entirely pointless.

> Biological warfare is considerably more difficult than most people
> believe.

Well, given a choice between aerosoling VX in the subway, or dumping MDR
anthrax spores into air ducts of said subway, or doing airburst during a
large sports game, or obtaining fissibles and building a few kTon nuke I'd
probably choose anthrax. VX would come a close second, nukes I wouldn't
even consider, until someone helpful would supply me with more or less
useful Pu, and even then I would have a hard time. I would be a lot more
comfortable with vacuuming off anthrax in a suit than trying to make a few
100 kg of VX with heavy protection in the desert somewhere. Have you ever
worn heavy protection for prolonged periods of time? It's not fun.

> You continue to argue this point while continuing to ignore the
> reasons why this is unlikely. Besides as I indicated it is not

Why would a terrorist want to use ICBMs? Tell me why this is likely.

> possible to defend against every possibility.

No, but if you're smart about it you apply your resources so that you get
optimal ROI. Star wars rapidly gets ridiculously expensive. You have to
add a zero to the officially published numbers, then you're roughly in the
ballpark of the real costs.

> Your right, we've been through this before, the technology you
> speak of is not in the hands of those the system is designed to
> defend against, your other delivery modes are unproven as well.

Excuse me, we're not talking about a superpower. We're talking about those
rogue states which are piss poor they can only afford a few nukes, and of
course they will buy some obsolete Russian delivery vehicles, just to make
it easy for you to not make them nuke a few 100 k people. Such people
don't have a driving license, nor do they have a pilot's license to fly a
Cessna. Makes sense.

> For about the fourth time, the system is not designed to defend
> against a superpower. A large scale attack would be met with large
> scale retaliation.

You mentioned China, for some strange reason, so I felt compelled to point
out that such umbrella is useless against a superpower. You keep harping
that terrorists are nice enough to make it easy for you, which is somehow

> I didn't grow up that way, but by the way it's going to happen

Well, 1975-1980 was sure that way in Moscow, and it was similiar 1980-19xx
in MUC, whenever the Cold War started to peter out. I'm sure most people
don't have a gut feel for what a nuke can do to a nice Sunday afternoon,
but it sure helps watching them nuke test movies. Smoking pigs squealing,
then getting splattered as the shockwave hits. Houses smoking, then
disintegrating. Etc, etc.

> again anyway. China is going to develop a large scale nuclear
> capability and we're right back where we were, honestly.

> I feel pretty much the opposite, except I feel there are some good
> arguments against.

Okay, tell me a few good arguments as to why you think the umbrella will
work against a sneaky terrorist type of attack which won't use ICBMs.
Trust me, they won't. They won't advertise it on prime time TV, either. In
fact they won't even tell you afterwards who nuked you. They're crazy, but
they're not that stupid.

> 18 minutes or so, less from a sub, and the cost of the underground

18 minutes is a great long time, particularly if the average distance to
the next shelter is short. Like, really short.

> defense shelters you mention dwarves the cost of a missile defense
> by several orders of magnitude, not to mention being completely

So, how many shelters can you build for 300 gigabucks, or so?

> useless.

Useless? Them are few nukes, we agreed, since this is a limited scale
attack. You're not carpet bombing the target, and you're not laying one
after another with some few min pause in between. If you want to get
killed, you choose a clear day and stand in the open exposing maximum
amount of skin. The IR flash fries your skin, and if the shockwave doesn't
finish you off the burns will, eventually. If you stand behind something
as flimsy as a white sheet of linen, and after the flash rapidly duck
behind a sturdy wall, the kill radius suddenly shrinks, a lot. If you sit
in a simple cellar, the kill radius shrinks a lot farther. If you sit 10 m
underground, in a more or less intelligently designed bunker the typical
weak terrorist nuke (which will be typically not a ground explosion, as
you want to fry as many as possible) could explode within few 100 m
radius, and you should still survive it. With enough material between you
and the nuke, and if it doesn't couple to the ground the thing could
explode on top of you, and you would be still fine.

So, unless you explain the kill mechanism which is supposed to get the
people in the bunkers I'm so far unconvinced.

> underground shelters of the type you describe are far more
> expensive and essentially useless.

Subways are expensive, but they're there. Underground parking lots are
expensive, but they're there. Integrating bunkers into houses translates
into extra reinforced concrete and more earthworks, it's an incremental
cost on existing houses. Few hundred gigabucks can buy a lot of these.

-- Eugen* Leitl <a href="">leitl</a>
ICBMTO : N48 10'07'' E011 33'53''
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