Friday, April 23, 2010

Stupid comes in many forms

But dumb goes right to the bone

A long time ago in a century gone by a certain super power had a certain high value target in a certain country that they really felt that if dead…would more than likely end a whole series of problems that had been…um…multiplying.
So this certain country had a certain vessel launch a certain type of missile that could hug the ground, bob, weave, and dodge till it came upon its target and then explode with righteous indignation.
And so…they did.
The only problem was…the 30 min window of the launch to target time…yeah, people are not static, and time has a propensity to multiply the opportunities for a person to move.

I picked this up from Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones, and for the life of me I laughed, posted a “been there, done that” response and went about my day…but still, this lil voice in the back of my head said, “what if…”

Dear G-d, I’m thinking, they can’t be serious.
A near 30 million dollar missile being used like a sidewinder?
They can’t be that nutty…or could they?
So I dug around and sure enough I find this article…good lord, all it takes is stupid to go viral and soon it does…

The list of things that could go wrong are staggering, but I’m just flabbergasted that this is even being considered…ICBM’s are not known for pinpoint accuracy…certainly of getting to the target zone with 30m, but not for “drop-on-top” accuracy, not to mention all the other incidentals this has going for it.

I’m not sure how you guys feel about this, but for me….this has wrong written all over it…and it makes me wince thinking about all the abuses that could go with this little device since, apparently unbeknownst to moi and vu, George W. Bush wanted the same capability.
Holy shirt birds!
Really, W. wanted this capability?
With what he did?
Oh hells no!


  1. Yeah, this controversy has been going on for a few years now. Modern ICBM's do have the accuracy to make it work, so problems with this idea are not really technical. The obvious problem is that other countries (Russia, China) might not know or believe that ICBM we just launch has a conventional payload.

    Of course, China has already has this capability, but it's on shorter-range missiles.

  2. Many such "detect and kill in 20 minute time window" projects have surfaced since the 90's. They were mostly outright assassination munitions. They were known as "HyStrike" or "Fasthawk" for example.

    Some people aren't satisfied with the ability to send a subsonic stealth bomber to everywhere in the world, to launch hundreds of naval fighter bombers behind every coast. They aren't satisfied with (impossible to audit) military & defence expenditures in the region of USD 700-1,000 billion.

    Some people are never satisfied.
    Some people lack humility and the ability to understand the concept of "costs".

  3. Actually, Andy, the tech is rather far out...or was...back in my day with the ICBM's they were dependent on the position of the North Star relative to their launch to target position, not on the global battlefield management grid.
    Of course, things may have changed since Milstar has come online...

    There is something you should know about "novel" projects and doesn't really matter what the cost is so long as the damn thing works.
    Granted, I agree with you, but in terms of projects...believe me...cost is meaningless and for some projects...a billion dollars is just the start up cost...actual delivery of item is generally more...and the projects fall under black programs which means they are outside the general mil budget.

  4. I've got one of the likely only two comprehensive books on MBT technology here. Its author (R. Hilmes) tells his readers that new MBT projects are unlikely in NATO countries for the high development costs of € 500-600 million.

    The U.S. Army can barely finance a hiccup with 500 million USD. Look at what it spent for FCS, a collection of gold plated failures.
    That's what happens if a certain good (money) loses its scarcity; wastefulness.

    You need to make funds scarce again, squeeze the armed services to press out the fat and teach them the importance of real efficiency (not just the importance of writing "low-cost" and "affordable" on most powerpoint slides).

    One of our greatest international security problems of our time is probably that our potential enemies have underfunded armed services nowadays. THEY know how to work with minimum funding. They'll feel ready to take on anything once they get proper funding for a few years.

  5. And the really sad thing about this, sheerah?

    All these gee-whiz slicky-boy gadgets are being used by people about as smart and knowledgable of the ripple effects of their actions as Gavrilo Prinzip was when he took his revolver to the motorcade.

    I can imagine a whole bunch of people sitting around thinking what a good idea it would have been to assassinate Lenin in 1925. Who'da thunk that the guy who came after him would have made ol' Vladimir look like Fred Rogers?

    Who'd have imagined that things in Uganda would have gotten worse AFTER Amin? Or Haiti after the Duvaliers? Or Iraq after Saddam?

    My problem isn't the technology. As you point out, what's a few billion here and there? It's the technology gives the idiots the idea that they're something more important than a bunch of monkeys in suits flinging their poop against the wall.

  6. No, no, no.

    It's not that the cost doesn't matter.

    The cost is the *whole* point of the exercise.

    Recall: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

  7. Ael: Not so sure that this is some sort of "mulct-the-taxpayer" boondoggle. These missiles will be in the silo regardless. Rather, I think it's knid of like what the USAF and USN have been doing in central Asia - it's 1) trying to find a mission for something that is otherwise just going to sit around, and 2) another one of these damn "24" wish-fulfillment fantasies where the Good Guys send a missile into the closet where the Bad Guy is trying on his Hitler costume, solving the "problem" slickly from 4,000 miles away. No muss, no fuss, no problem...

    I just keep hearing GEN Buck Turgidson sneering (in that terrific George C. Scott voice) "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But, I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, TOPS. Uh, depending on the breaks."

  8. Sven: Not so sure that starving the beast will make it smarter and faster. It worked for the Heer in the twenties and thirties, but I'm not sure if that was privation or an unrepeatable combination of lessons learned from WW1 and a bunch of incredible idosyncratic talent. Our officer selection system has proven pretty thoroughly that the way NOT to make GO in the U.S. Army is to have the tactical ingenuity of a Manstein or a Guderian.

    We do need to skinny up the defense slice of the pie, but I'm not sure that it will have a positive effect beyond the actuarial one.

  9. Wow! The cat's ass. The bee's knees. Way cool. That's what I'm talking about. So much for those who doubt the USAF's commitment to the war on terror, eh?

    This is what these two former SecDefs are talking about:

    Really something, huh? What red-blooded American wouldn't want to add this to the arsenal? This'll strike fear into the hearts of those dirty terrists. There is one tiny little problem: the Russians. Seems the Red Boys are a little concerned about this perhaps being used to mask a nuclear strike. They also just don't like it because if it works, it could fuck them up without the use of nukes. So, the Russians have told the U.S. that signing up for Obama's grand new nuke control scheme is contingent upon the U.S. trading off one nuke for each one of these wonder missiles developed. They would also get inspection rights.

    BTW, according to the NY Times, this beast would be based at Vandenberg AFB, and would be deployed sometime after Obama leaves office (presuming a second term).

    Also according to the NY Times, the Bush Adminstration decided against this missile, based on fears that Russia or China might mistake a launch for the real deal. Who woulda thunk? BushCo more prudent than Obama.

    You know, Obama's weird. He's clearly got a thing about nukes, something all of the "progressive" love him for, but he seems pretty lacking in that old risks vs gains department. Knocking off one bad guy at what cost? Well, shit, we know the missiles will cost a fortune. And then there's that not inconsequential thing about risking nuclear warfare. And, and what's the CEP on these things? What are the chances of collateral damage? The USAF will tell you they're accurate to a gnat's ass. Right.

    Get Brown and Schlesinger off those drugs. And stop 'em from giving them to Obama.

  10. The Missileers must find relevancy in this new type of war. No one can do it more expensively than they.

  11. One of the comments on Mother Jones speaks eloquently for the stupidity of the whole idea:

    Of course, if it was announced and became routine practice, then that fuse wouldn't get shorter; the first few times, we could even call the foreign heads of state to say when and where we'd be striking as a courtesy. Once countries got used to that, we'd be fine. And that leads us to the next benefit: If we started doing this and then did end up needing to nuke somebody, they wouldn't realize what was happening until it was too late.

    The wonder of the American discourse!

    Once upon a time, it was said that a motto of the Texas Rangers was, "One Riot, One Ranger". Now we are contemplating multi-million dollar missiles as a means of targeting an individual? Will we then have to determine exactly how many individuals are and might become a threat to the US and stockpile these weapons accordingly?

    Has mankind evloved away from the ability to think rationally?

  12. Off topic, but truly speaking of STUPID---

    We have a mail forwarding service in the US that provides us with a mailing address and then forwards all first class mail to us each month.

    Thursday, we received an offer for a home equity loan for this address. Even gave how much was pre-approved and the basis for same.

    Thus, this thread about stupid weapons programs does not seem inconsistent with the "American Way". Just variations on a consistent theme.

  13. What I liked the most was the first two paragraphs of the Brown/Schlesinger piece from 2006 . . .

    "Imagine the following dilemma facing an American president one day in the future (when, we hope, our real-time intelligence will have reached a high degree of accuracy, precision and timeliness):

    Within the past hour, a terrorist organization, known to have acquired several nuclear weapons, has been observed by a U.S. imaging system loading the weapons onto vehicles and preparing to leave for an unknown destination. A delay of even an hour or two in launching a U.S. strike on that location could mean the group would depart, contact might be lost, and the weapons would be smuggled into the United States or an allied nation and detonated. . . "

    How effortlessly Brn/Schl linked perfectly timed intelligence collection (whenever has that existed anyhow?) with the ticking bomb scenario. This of course is necessary, since without this particular pair of assumptions, the whole program makes no sense at all.

    Of course the key assumption is the faith in technology, and we have talked about that again on this blog recently. One would have to presume however that US Humint would be the decisive factor in acheveing such a state of intelligence collection supremacy, and given our opponent (in the GWOT) this should be clear by this point in time imo.

    Also given that the last great US Humint collection event was the CIA's failed "birthday party" of December 30, 2009 . . .

    and it gets better . . . that Dr. Lani Kass is where she is . . . that about covers it, doesn't it?

    The conclusion being that there is little confidence that the US will achieve this level of intelligence collection timeliness, let alone supremacy, any time soon. So why provide yet more power to the president?

    That would be perhaps the ultimate form of stupid.