Jeffrey LewisTune In Tokyo; NFIRE Set to Launch

Hey, all. I am in Tokyo, attending a conference, Collective Security in Space: Asian Perspectives on Acceptable Approaches sponsored by the Space Policy Institute, Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Research Institute for Peace and Security.

I was having breakfast with John Logsdon who reminded me that the Near Field Infra Red Experiment (NFIRE) is set to launch in the next twenty four hours, sans the Kill Vehicle that irritated me so much.

I am glad to see the satellite going up, both because I think the mission is worthwhile and because the kill vehicle is being left behind, where it belongs.

Jim Oberg nicely sumamrizes the debate about NFIRE—a debate in which this blog played a small role—linking to one of his old posts arguing that the “kill vehicle” couldn’t, well, kill. I thought I should link my response at the time. Oberg and I differed pretty sharply about whether what the Missile Defense Agency called a “kill vehicle” was, well, a kill vehicle. (I took the linguistically straightforward approach.)

As I think is clear from my response, as well as this post, those of us who objected to placing of a kinetic kill vehicle on NFIRE (and firing it at missile!) have no objection to the mission now that the laser communications payload has been substituted for the KV.

God speed, NFIRE.

Comments

  1. Coyote (History)

    I agree.

    Say hello to John for me.

  2. M

    Jeff,

    Any follow-up to your book, now that the US is going forward with Theater Missile Defense in Europe and the PRC did show that they do have space weapons? Is this going to get the CD moving forward? Or should we just give up on negotiations, because Nukes don’t matter anymore.

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Sadly, the PRC is now blocking a program of work in the CD.

    Was thinking about a follow-up … In a sense, my “follow up” is the paper that I am working on about the PRC ASAT test, the spread of hit-to-kill technology and means to manage the spread of said technology.

  4. Allen Thomson (History)

    > the PRC ASAT test, the spread of hit-to-kill technology

    Speaking of such things, are there any studies around examining whether the GBIs at Ft. Greely and Vandenberg AFB have significant ASAT capabilities?

  5. Theresa Hitchens (History)

    Allen,

    I’ve not seen any studies, but it’s pretty obvious that if the GBIs were fed the right targeting data, they ought to be able to serve as ASATs. Question would be their software capability for taking such data.

  6. JimO (History)

    My story on msnbc.com yesterday referred to DoD officials as ‘stupidly’ leaving the title ‘kill vehicle’ on the kill vehicle they took off a ground-launched interceptor and modifed significantly to carry sensors as close to the plume as it could get, before installing it on NFIRE. My editor, who smoothes out future troubles for me by curbing my tongue, ‘fixed’ it (properly so). It was sheer madness to leave that designation on the vehicle, showing cosmic insensitivity to public perceptions on the part of would-be space war-fighters enamored by their own cosmo-macho rhetoric. It wasn’t the first shoot-self-in-foot terminology gaffe and it won’t be the last.

  7. Allen Thomson (History)

    > they ought to be able to serve as ASATs.

    Yes, that’s certainly what I would think: the kinematic difference between an object in an ICBM trajectory and one in low orbit is pretty minimal.

    > Question would be their software capability for taking such data.

    Yes, the devil is in such details. But if ASAT capability isn’t in the basic GBI, I doubt that it would be hard to put it in an upgrade package (along with racing stripes).

  8. JimO (History)

    I wouldn’t say it was ‘obvious’—there could be significant envelope violations in angle rate, time of flight, cross-range—but that should depend on the hardware implementation of the GBI rather than anything inherent to the trajectories. The same question applies (but I’ve never seen it asked—I’m mildly curious why) to the Moscow ABM ring and the Sary Shagan test range, where (please correct me on this) hit to kill (rather than all nuclear) interceptors are now installed.

  9. Allen Thomson (History)

    > The same question applies (but I’ve never seen it asked—I’m mildly curious why) to the Moscow ABM ring

    IIRC, NIEs used to attribute some ASAT capability to the Moscow ABM system just based on technical characteristics. My declassified NIEs are in a box at the moment, so I can’t check to see if that made it through the redaction.

  10. Laura Grego (History)

    >Speaking of such things, are there any studies around examining whether the GBIs at Ft. Greely and Vandenberg AFB have significant ASAT capabilities?

    We wrote a paper on this in 2002, before the GMD sites were in place.

    The analysis could be done in more detail now, but essentially the answer is yes.

    Paper here:

    http://www.ucsusa.org/global_security/space_weapons/asat-capabilities-of-us-missile-defense-systems.html

  11. JimO (History)

    Laura, have you done a paper on the Russian ABM ASAT capabilities?

  12. Laura Grego (History)

    Jim:

    The Russian ABM interceptors meant to protect Moscow are nuclear-tipped, reportedly armed with 2-3 megaton nuclear warheads.

    While these interceptors certainly could be used as ASAT weapons, indiscriminately destroying LEO satellites (including their own) in the line-of-sight and condemning many others to a lingering death, I don’t find this threat very compelling.

    While setting off a megaton nuclear explosion in the atmosphere above Moscow might be considered justifiable in defense of a nuclear attack, I cannot see any kind of satellite threat that would prompt Russia to a high-altitude nuclear explosion like that, especially not above Moscow.

    So we didn’t write anything on it, as it seemed quite remote from the center of the debate.

  13. yale (History)

    Laura wrote

    The Russian ABM interceptors meant to protect Moscow are nuclear-tipped, reportedly armed with 2-3 megaton nuclear warheads.

    The older GOLOSH ABM system was replaced witha two-tier system.

    The long-range, high altitude GORGON may have a warhead of only 1,000 kilotons or so.

    The low-tier, short range GAZELLE appears to carry a 10 kiloton device.

    There are 100 missiles surrounding Moscow and are divided 1 to 3 ratio GORGON to GAZELLE.

    The use of such a system would achieve the goal of any attacker, causing terrible damage to Moscow.

  14. JimO (History)

    Considering the massive efforts to keep that system operational, and now to resume Sary Shagan testing, I remain baffled by what the Russians think it is good for. Are there any plausible scenarios where the system, as it exists or could be upgraded, would provide protection? Accidental single launch?

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