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Math The Military Technology

Missile Defense's Real Enemy: Math 589

An anonymous reader writes "Since the 1960s until the present day, missile defense has been a hot topic. Ronald Reagan popularized the concept with his 'Star Wars' multi-billion dollar plan to use lasers and various technologies to destroy incoming Soviet warheads. Today, America has a sizable sea-based system, dubbed AEGIS, that has been deployed to defend against rogue states missiles, both conventional and nuclear. However, there is one thing missile defense can't beat: simple math. 'Think about it — could we someday see a scenario where American forces at sea with a fixed amount of defensive countermeasures face an enemy with large numbers of cruise and ballistic weapons that have the potential to simply overwhelm them? Could a potential adversary fire off older weapons that are not as accurate (PDF), causing a defensive response that exhausts all available missile interceptors so more advanced weapons with better accuracy can deliver the crushing blow? Simply put: does math win?'"
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Missile Defense's Real Enemy: Math

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  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:04PM (#42762921) Journal

    Here's a video: []

    (seriously, watch the series. It's pretty amazing)

  • by Artraze ( 600366 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:28PM (#42763267)

    Indeed. This is an incredibly stupid article and the implication that this is some inherit law of math is outrageous... Somehow the missile defense installations have a fixed amount of resources but the enemy doesn't? Come on!

    One of the most basic rules of warfare is this: a strategy if a winner if it costs them more than it costs you. A missile defense is still a valuable tool if interceptors cost less than what they're intercepting regardless of whether or not what they're intercepting would do any damage because the enemy still had to build the thing. And from the same perspective if an enemy is going to build a missile why not just put a ton of TNT on it and point it in the general direction of a city? Even without guidance (which would add meaningful cost, unlike the TNT) a city is a big enough target that it presents a credible threat anyways and so needs to be intercepted.

    Arg, this is just ridiculous!

  • by cpghost ( 719344 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:48PM (#42763579) Homepage
    The real problem is that a missile interceptor is more expensive than the missile (or decoy) it is supposed to intercept. Take for instance Israel's Iron Dome vs. Hamas' rockets. A single Iron Dome interceptor costs $10k+, if not one order of magnitude more, while a single Hamas rocket is less than, say, $100. The same holds true for strategic defense missile systems: it's always a lot more expensive to intercept a ballistic missile than to send one. That's the real issue here. As long as missile defense technology doesn't become a lot less expensive (think e.g. some kind of futuristic force field shield of some kind that doesn't consume a lot of energy when idle), it will always be overwhelmed.
  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:50PM (#42763623)

    I remember reading a possibly apocryphal tale about different attitudes to deploying decoys on nuclear missiles in the Cold War; supposedly the US military went to a great deal of trouble building decoys that looked like nuclear warheads, whereas the British saved a lot of money by making the warheads look like decoys.

    Make your smart missiles look like dumb missiles until they're too close to engage, and the job is done.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @03:35PM (#42764181) Homepage

    Assuming you have enough "cheap" munitions in a coordinated attack designed to overwhelm interception defenses, the attacker would require several strongpoints with lots of weapons (no way you could ransomly distribute that level of coordinated attack with enough munitions to overwhelm defenses).

    Yeah that's what the Navy thought when in their asymmetrical war games and the entire carrier group was (virtual) sunk.

    Assuming the enemy cannot possibly be coordinated enough to launch an attack without being concentrated in one convenient spot for counter-attack is the kind of arrogance that is going to get a lot of people killed in the early days of the next war.

    Remember, too, there's a difference between overwhelming a defense systems ability to track and down targets, and overwhelming its ability to stay supplied with ammo.

    The rebels take pot-shots in small numbers because they only have a small amount of material and never want to risk over-exposure or the chance of a decisive conflict (that's not what guerrilla warfare is about). However guerrilla tactics can display extremely high levels of coordination, and if adopted by a military force that can afford ballistic missiles then they could also afford to use overwhelming numbers of smaller portable weapons.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @06:09PM (#42765985) Homepage

    Though, they arent called ballistic for the hell of it.

    Right. They're called that because the majority of their flight is ballistic. So it's an accurate term, even if they do incorporate terminal guidance.

    They aren't called "ballistic" because terminal guidance is verboten, as you are implying.

    still most of these people cant tell the difference between a ballistic munition and a guided one

    Though I do. And I also know that being in the "ballistic" category does not categorically prohibit having terminal guidance... something you apparently do not understand. Fortunately weapon and defense system designers are smarter than you.

    This is the only aiming/steering that modern ballistic ICBMs perform after launch... However, once each RV reenters the atmosphere, that's it. It is back to being a purely ballistic path again.

    Shows what you know. [] There are lots of ICBMs with terminal guidance -- you know, guidance during the phase that begins once the RV reenters the atmosphere when you said it is 'purely ballistic' -- dating back to the 80s.

    since you want to be an obtuse arse

    You're so funny!

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