Jeffrey LewisKill the NFIRE, No Matter What Oberg Says

Jim Oberg is wrong to dismiss the controversy over the Near Field Infra Red Experiment, which will test a Missile Defense Agency kill vehicle in space, as the result of “careless usage of provocative terminology” by the Missile Defense Agency that has “converted a fairly routine upcoming military space test into a cause celebre for international arms control.”

Mea culpa: I am one of people lambasting the NFIRE at international conferences and within our community/’s informal discussions on the subject – although I/’ve been careful to include the appropriate caveats. I am going to blast it (along with the XSS-11) again at the end of the month in during a conference held in conjunction with the NPT Prepcom in New York.

Oberg might leaven his reassuring tone with some caveats and corrections of his own. For example, he claims that “the kill vehicle/’s fangs have been pulled: It lacks the steering jets that would be required to ram a target in space. ” As I understand the program, that statement is false: the KV is missing the axial stage (which accelerates the KV), not the steering jets. This is important because the Pentagon has requested $10.6 M next year to start work on an axial stage for a space based interceptor.

“But a space-based system would require 100 or more separate satellites,” Oberg says, “and Pentagon officials say NFIRE doesn/’t represent any move toward such technology.” This is misleading. The $10.6 M for space based interceptors test bed work in FY 2005 is the first step toward a 3-6 satellite test bed constellation in the 2011-2012 timeframe. General Kadish described the NFIRE as a “risk reduction effort” for the space based interceptors test bed.

Finally, Oberg describes the IR experiments as “follow-ons to observational programs the Defense Department has performed for decades, from the ground, from aircraft, from unmanned satellites, and even in 1991 from a space shuttle flight.” That statement sidesteps the crucial question: Why collect plume data in such a provocative manner? The MDA reportedly did not conduct any cost comparisons between NFIRE (which will have cost more than $100 M, is overbudget and behind schedule) and other programs to collect the same data.