“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is a timeless article, for there has never been a time in history when some tribe or nation has not been contemplating actions and policies that lead to war or peace. During the history struggle arose frequently between families, clans, small and large population groups, first about chasing ground for animals, then possession of arable land, and finally about mineral resources. Local fights spread with time to larger areas. Was it first fists and teeth the main weapons, soon humans learned to prepare special tools for fighting each other. In parallel they developed means of body protection by armor, and to surround their living quarters with fortifications. Each advance in offensive weapons was countered by defensive structures, mostly in this time sequence. First all developments stretched over longer periods, but intervals are getting smaller and smaller with progress in technologies and science. It is the aim of this talk to describe briefly the major defense systems, culminating in the proposed Star War idea, developed by President Reagan, who claimed that it would make all other weapons obsolete. This claim had already been made for other weapons at earlier times in history. Will the National Missile Defense idea do what is advertised, or will it lead only to new arms race? Are we willing to learn from historical precedents?
There is another underlying pattern to defense policy. Soldiers and statesmen are forever laying the pavements of good intentions that lead to the hell of military conflict. The process is endless and will not be interrupted before there is societal understanding of the patterns that lead to destruction and a modification of the behavior on the basis of that understanding. One such pattern is the predilection of tribes and nations to choose their statesmen from the ranks of a military hero . The transition from soldier to statesman may occur at any phase of the career. We all know of the political path taken by General Eisenhower, Captain Truman, Lieutenant Kennedy, Corporal Hitler, and Shepherd David as they make the transition from military hero to national leader. We see the same pattern with General Powell, becoming Secretary of State, and perhaps in four years time President of the strongest nation in the world. It looks that the training, temperament and skills of the soldier are diametrically opposed to the training, temperament and skills of the statesman.
2. Lifetime and efficiency of defense systems
Built-up of defense systems is as old as any offense activity. There is no defense system that could withstand forever attack, and no defense system is even at the start perfect. To quote Hellmuth von Moltke: Offence is the straight way to the goal, whereas the defense is the long way around. A few of such systems will be briefly discussed:
2.1 The Great Wall
The Chinese Great Wall can be considered as the longest living defense system. It stretched over a length of 6’300 km from the Yalu River (Gulf of Chihli) to Jiayuguan (Central Asia). It has been built and rebuilt during almost 2’000 years, beginning with the interconnection of walls which surrounded small kingdoms. The major construction periods start with the 4th century BC, were accelerated by the first Chinese Emperor Qin 220-206 BC, using almost a million compulsory labor including some 300’000 soldiers. Maintenance work in the 7th century caused a death toll of half a million workers within ten days. A major upgrade was made during 1368-1644 in the Ming Dynasty (5’660 km). The fortification consisted of a 9-meter high wall and about twenty-five thousand alarms towers 13-meters high. Signals could be transmitted over a distance of 2’000 km in 24 hours. During the Qin reign 180 million cubic meters rammed earth provided for the core of the wall (10 meter thick, 5 meter high). The aim of the Wall was to protect against Huns. However, this fortification never performed properly as defense line. In 1208 Dschingis-Khan broke through the Wall and China was liberated again only in 1368. In 1644 the Wall was opened by the treason of a general near Shanghaiguan, where it had the formidable height of 16 meter and a width of 8 meters. The Wall degraded and its remains are since not more than a tourist attraction.
2.2 The Roman Limes
In comparison the Roman Limes was a much less ambitious defense building. The best known part was in the western part of Germany spanning between the Rhine and Danube Rivers. Building had been started in 9 AD, and it was reinforced between 117-161 AD. It had a length of 480 km, and consisted of a 3-meter high palisades and watch towers. It fulfilled its intended function only until 260 AD, when Alemanni broke through. Romans built similar Limes in Great Britain, Anatolia, and Syria in 2nd century AD, again with relatively short lifetimes.
2.3 Castles and city walls
Castles and city walls were the preferred fortifications for small city-states. Their efficient lifetime was at the best a couple of hundred years, before they were destroyed with the help of gunpowder, canons, and fireballs. Metallic armor of mercenaries turned out to reduce mobility, could not protect the horses of the horsemen, and got soon out of fashion.
2.4 Defense lines in the 20th century
The lifetime of fortifications built in the first half of the 20th century decreased rapidly.
2.4.1 The French Maginot Line connected some modern fortresses, which hold out during World War I. Built in the 1930s, it presented a tremendous advance over previous fortifications and had all imaginable comfort for the defenders to offer. It was built along the French-German border, but not extended to the French-Belgium border, assuming Germans would respect in any conflict the neutrality of Belgium and The Netherlands. Germany did not behave as expected in World War II and its troops marched in 1940 through the northern flank into France, attacking the fortifications from the rear side.
2.4.2 The counter part of the Maginot Line was the German West-Wall, a much less elaborated defense structure. It was not needed at the very beginning of World War II, but demonstrated some efficiency towards its end in 1945.
2.4.3 Following the occupation of France in 1940 Germany built up the Atlantic-Wall. Its major fortifications were built near the smallest part of the English Channel, where it was expected that allied troops would try to land. This turned out to be a miscalculation by the German headquarters combined with an underestimation of air troopers that could land behind the Atlantic Wall.
2.4.4 Antiaircraft canons, developed between the two World Wars, became increasingly worthless due to countermeasures in form of chaff (aluminized paper) used in WW II, that distorted radar images and simulated planes where there were none. High-flying planes flying could only be reached with insufficient accuracy.
2.4.5 Reagan’s Star War program did not get beyond a preliminary design study, since scientists showed that laser canons could neither produce nor send the desired energy density towards incoming missiles to destroy them.
The above examples show that time intervals are getting shorter between building of new defense systems and for their efficient use. This very preliminary study of some major defense systems and their “effective” lifetime has been made in order to find out if there is a pattern that might help to predict the performance of future developments. Any such development starts slowly, rises to maturity, and then declines in its efficiency. Rise and decline time may vary considerably from case to case, may have a steep rise and a slow decline, or vice versa, or may be Gaussian. A reasonable scientific description could be done by fitting the data by a Gaussian-like curve and define the efficiency by the full-width at halve maximum. This was not (yet) done for the present study. Instead best estimates for the start-up and complete demise were given. Figure 1 shows a plot (for convenience on a double logarithmic scale) of the so defined useful lifetime of defense installations/methods over two-and-a-half thousand years. In this plot is indicated for each system by whom or by which technical development the system became obsolete. A straight line can represent the data. No effort has yet been made to evaluate error bars, to define the slope, and to represent this line by an equation.
Since this eyeball-fitted line represents so well the events during a very long period of human history, temptation is great to extrapolate it into the future. Doing so leads to the conclusion that defense mechanisms will become obsolete almost immediately after putting them into place. Taking an extreme view, it could mean that the National Missile Defense would not even see the light of the day before being made obsolete by countermeasures.
Only time will show the validity of our extrapolation.
2.5 Shift of warfare from ground to air
A change in theory and practice of warfare becomes obvious during the later part of the 20th century. Was the practice in earlier epochs mainly composed of political, economic and military elements, it is now increasingly influenced by technological, scientific and psychological elements. In previous centuries the theory of warfare had been subdivided into a strategic part, considering wide spaces, long periods of time, large amount of forces as a prelude to battlefield, and the tactic part, which was just the opposite to the former. A distinction between strategic and tactic blurred since World War I (WW I) and especially during World War II (WW II). Surprisingly to the author, this distinction between strategic and tactic is still kept for nuclear weapons, and finds expression in the START and INF treaties.
Whereas warfare during WW I was mainly on ground and at sea, and airplanes played only a secondary role for recognition purposes, a dramatic shift occurred during WW II. Weapon systems reached further and beyond front lines.
Defense systems crumbled, anti aircraft canons became militarily impotent during massive air raids. German V1 and V2 rockets reached almost unimpeded their targets on the British Island. The only defense against these rockets in the forties was to bombard their launch pads. The recent Kosovo War demonstrated even more vividly that defense against planes, now flying at considerably higher altitudes, by anti-aircraft canons is a hopeless enterprise.
The second half of the 20th century witnessed a dramatic improvement of the rudimentary German WW II rocket technology, promoted on the other side of the Atlantic and now common knowledge in most industrialized countries. These missiles can transport nuclear warheads, and of less military value, chemical and biological weapons . A majority of people condemns these weapons, called Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and demands their elimination. However, some countries believe they need WMDs for deterrence, but deny their possession for others. The escalation of the arms race during the Cold War led to plan for comprehensive antimissile defense systems for both super powers. Fortunately, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), concluded in 1972, limited drastically, and still does, such an out-of-control development.
3. Missile defense activities since the 1980s
President Reagan’s speech on March 23, 1983 was the starting point for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The military-industrial complex eagerly picked up the idea. Even the industry in several NATO countries was encouraged to get involved, however not in their desired way in front-element technologies.
Concerned, eminent scientists made feasibility studies, culminating in the “Report to The American Physical Society of the study group on Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons” . Soviet scientists made a similar study . Both groups came to the conclusion that most of the systems would not work as advertised or even not at all. The latter is the case for space-based laser canon . The software aspects cause another tremendous hurdle . A discussion of the results of these two documents is beyond the scope of the present paper. The reader is referred to the original literature, which remains a valid document up to date.
Considerable amount of money was wasted during the years following Reagan’s proposal. Deception of the public about supposed successes played a role in promoting SDI [7, 8]. However, the topic did for several years no longer make any headlines. Public awareness was reawakened only during the first Gulf War. Unfounded success stories and tests were then sold to the public, which does mostly not understand the basic science and technology behind such claims. During CNN broadcasts, the military commanders claimed a widely exaggerated success rate of the Patriot missile in shooting down Scud missiles coming from Iraq. The General Accounting Office found that only nine percent of the Patriot-Scud engagements are supported by the strongest evidence that an engagement resulted in a warhead kill. The Patriot’s supposedly near-flawless performance may be one of the greatest myths in weapons history. As Winston Churchill once said “In war truth is such a precious good that it has to be surrounded by a strong body guard of lies”.
The Patriot was originally designed to shoot down aircraft. In the 1980s, it was given an upgrade and a modified warhead to give it a limited capability to defend against short-range ballistic missiles. The Scuds were flying over 3,600 km per hour faster than the Patriot had been designed to deal with. The Patriot must detonate when it is within a few meters of the Scud to have a high probability of destroying the warhead [9-11].
During the Clinton presidency SDI was revived, now only under another name, as National Missile Defense (NMD). An excellent description of all aspects of NMD, written for general public, can be found in . NMDs task is advertised as a defense against a small number of missiles coming from rogue states. NMD consists actually out of two components: the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD). A shift of SDI from Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) to Kinetic Energy Weapons (KEW) occurred [13, 14].
NMD does no longer rely on space-based laser canons, in so far becoming more realistic. It is supposed to destroy warheads in mid-course, but this policy may still change to the easier boost-phase interception .
NMD is planned to protect against both, so-called theatre missiles and strategic (intercontinental) missiles. Such a development is seen by the departing and the incoming administration of the U.S. as a positive step in the right direction, but by a majority of other countries as counterproductive and giving rise to an unlimited arms race [16-20].
First tests of BMD are very far from successful [21-23]. Will the BMD system be effective? The answer will depend among many other questions to be solved on the effect of countermeasures on the kill probability. It appears to be highly impossible to protect entire countries against missile attacks, as it is claimed by the United States.
The kill probability is one of the key technical parameters for evaluating the effectiveness of a missile defense system. The higher the kill probability is, the more effective the defense system will be. Inevitably, a missile defense system will be challenged by countermeasures, which may decrease the kill probability. There are three different kinds of them against THAAD system: infrared stealth, radar interference and decoys. A brief qualitative discussion of these measures follows.
3.1.1 Infrared stealth
The endgame phase of an intercept begins when the infrared (IR) sensor built in interceptor’s kill vehicle (KV) acquires the target. The distance between the KV and the target at the beginning of the endgame is the so-called acquisition range. During the whole endgame phase, the KV maneuvers according to target’s trajectory information provided by the IR sensor to put itself on a path that leads to a direct hit with the target. For realizing a hit, enough endgame time, which is to say large enough acquisition range, is needed for the KV to correct its current velocity and position errors.
Against IR sensors, there may exist several kinds of countermeasures; among which to shorten the acquisition range to an unacceptable level is a common one, known as IR stealth. For a given IR sensor and background noise, the acquisition range depends mainly on temperature, material and sizes of the target. The most effective way of realizing IR stealth is to chill the target to very low temperature since IR radiation decreases quickly with temperature. Dry ice or liquid nitrogen will do the job, being filled into the space between shroud and thermally insulated layers.
3.1.2 Radar interference
The X band ground based radar (GBR) is one of the most important components of the THAAD system. The GBR detects, acquires and tracks targets before interceptors could launch. When a certain tracking accuracy is achieved, interceptors are committed to their targets and launched, then the GBR continues to track the targets and issues updated target information through BMC4I system to the interceptors and KVs to guide their boost phase flights and midcourse flights respectively. When a KVs midcourse flight finishes and its endgame flight begins, the KV is delivered to the hand over point where the IR sensor of the KV is expected to acquire the target. The so-called hand over point is actually an error basket in space. To achieve a successful intercept, the basket has to satisfy two conditions: (1) at the hand-over point, the KV is at the position where it can acquire the target, (2) the KV’s position and velocity vector at the moment insures that the resulting zero effort miss distance (ZMD) error is within the KV’s maneuvering capability. On the one hand, the above two conditions depend mainly on the GBR’s capability to accurately predict the trajectory of the target. On the other hand, the KV’s capability of removing ZMD error is limited by the amount of fuel it carries and the total time of flight (TOF) during the endgame that is available for the KV to maneuver.
In addition to GBR information obtained from satellites may be used for tracking. Their jamming could then be also being an effective countermeasure.
Decoys or false targets are a most commonly used countermeasure. They are required to simulate some physical characteristics of the real reentry vehicle (RV), like size, shape, and temperature, speed etc., according to their task. The discrimination distance plays an important role. KP drops as discrimination distance decreases.
Typical velocities of strategic targets are 7 km/s, and for theater targets 5 km/s. Calculations show that the KV with a speed of about 5 km/s will have nearly the same kill probability against strategic missiles as against theater missiles. It strongly suggest that a defense system with same performances would be nearly as capable in intercepting strategic missiles as in dealing with theater missiles if its performances and reliability are proved in testing against theater missile targets. The KV should explode when it is at about 4 meters away from the target. This requires timing within a fraction of a millisecond.
3.2 Kill what and when?
There is no doubt that weapons attain more destructive power over time, as was the case with the switch from TNT to nuclear explosives. There is no longer a strong relation between power and number of weapons as in a classical war. The population agglomeration gets denser, and therefore the vulnerability of the civil population increased and effects them physically and morally.
BMD is advertised as an efficient means to protect the United States and its allies from weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It assumes that the main threat is coming from missiles, which could transport nuclear, chemical or biological warheads. The author has argued that delivery of biological and chemical agents this way is extremely inefficient and highly improbable . The main danger is originating from nuclear warheads. They are getting so compact that countries of concern or terrorists can choose many other ways for transportation.
Whatever the load the warhead contains, an intercept with a kill vehicle can cause two effects, which are rarely discussed in detail: Firstly, it can destroy either the propulsion part of the weapon (if any is still connected with the warhead), or the warhead itself, or both. Secondly, it could leave the warhead intact, but gives an additional momentum to it, causing a deviation of its trajectory.
Can warhead destruction always considered to be an advantage or can it have detrimental effects?
The destruction of the warhead will leave debris behind, which will essentially follow the original trajectory. The parts will hit ground somewhere. Since an intercept will happen at high altitude, chemical or biological material will be distributed over wide space. The agent will probably not have severe effects on humans, since its density at ground level will not reach the necessary, critical value to cause adverse health effects. An exception might be with plutonium, where strong negative long-term effects at ground level might be expected.
In case the warhead remains intact and its trajectory is changed in an unpredictable way, effects during landing at another than the originally targeted place may be advantageous or not for the attacked country.
4. Who should make decisions?
Clemenceau once said: Modern war is too serious a business to entrust it to soldiers. This statement could be modified and enlarged: “Preparation for peace through building of defense systems is too serious a business to be handled by military heroes, since it may lead to modern war.”
The 20th century has seen already one hero as statesman, Adolf Hitler, who considered himself as the greatest strategist of all times (Grösster Feldherr aller Zeiten). The world experienced the consequences of his ‘leadership’. The 21st century needs diplomats and not heroes, heads of state who are able to address questions of the international economy, market interventions, unanticipated crisis, all by peaceful methods.
Fortunately, no decision on NMD had been made during the Clinton administration [24, 25]. However, the probability for a rush into failure at the beginning of the Bush administration looms on the horizon. A starting point of the new government could have been to limit the influence of military people in the decision making process. However, the choice of a military hero, General Colin Powell, to head the State Department, points in the wrong direction. General Powell is three things Mr. Bush is not: a war hero, worldly wise and beloved by Afro-Americans. That gives him a great deal of leverage. It means that Mr. Bush can never allow him to resign in protest over anything. The Bush team will be serious about what the Clinton team was not serious about, which is about intervening militarily . This is the way generals are trained for.
There should be an open discussion within the largest existing military pact, the NATO, on its necessity after the end of the Cold War and of its eventual dissolution. Building new defense systems should not jeopardize disarmament treaties. In particular the cornerstone, the ABM Treaty, should be maintained.
For some four decades, deterrence was at the center of U.S. defense policy. There were three important features to it. First, it sounded robust without being reckless. Second it was hard to think of a better way to make sense of a nuclear inventory. Third, it seemed to work. A re-evaluation started with Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, which was based on the idea that it was better ‘to protect than avenge’. The problem with NMD is that it is likely to aggravate other problems, in particular the already tense relations with Russia and China. Worse, it could provide an illusion of security that, if ever tested, might come tragically apart. It may be wise to use deterrent threats only sparingly, but it can hardly make sense never use them at all [28.29].
Many prominent scientists should reevaluate, if deemed necessary, their assessment of SDI and extend it to NMD. Scientists in the big weapon laboratories should be given tasks that are addressing more urgent problems of society, such as changes in means of energy production, protection of the environment, to name a few challenging tasks. Scientific evaluation, like the one that had been done by a group of prominent experts in the case of SDI, should get more weight than the judgement of military heroes.
Should the American government pay more attention to the will of the people? Answers during a recent poll in the U.S.  on the question “Which of the following do you think is the most important issue facing the country today: Education, Medicare, health care, fight crimes/drugs, economic growth, crack down on illegal guns, cut taxes, strong military, national missile defense?” show that NMD has an extremely low priority of 1 percent, and a strong military a marginal 4 percent. This overwhelming disinterest is a clear sign that the drive for NMD is to search elsewhere. A good candidate may be the military-industrial complex.
There are an infinite number of better and necessary actions to be taken by any responsible government than to build the equivalent of a “National Missile Defense”, that has a high chance not to work at all. Not long ago a well-known physicist had to testify on the feasibility and efficiency of such a system during a hearing at an U.S. Senate’s Committee. He had been asked if NMD would work. It is reported that he thought for a short while, then came up with a resounding “YES”, and after a pause he added, “provided the adversary collaborates.” Even such an answer seems to me still too optimistic.
6. References: Hero as Statesman, Political Leadership in Military Defense Edited by John P. Craven Readings for Leaders, Harland Cleveland, Volume I Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University Press of America, 1988  The Concept of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Chemical and Biological Weapons, Use in Warfare, Impact on Society and Environment, Gert G. Harigel Seventh ISODARCO-Beijing Seminar on Arms Control, Xi’an, October 8-13, 2000,  Report to The American Physical Society of the study group on Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons N. Bloembergen, C.K.N. Patel, P. Avizonis, R.G. Clem, A. Hertzberg, T.H. Johnson, T. Marshall, R.B. Miller, W.E. Morrow, E.E. Salpeter, A.M. Sessler, J.D. Sullivan, J.C. Wyant, A. Yariv, R.N. Zare, A.J. Glass, L.C. Hebel Reviews of Modern Physics, Vol.59, No.3, Part II, July 1987, S0- S201  Space-Strike Arms and International Security, Report of the Committee of Soviet Scientists for Piece, Against the Nuclear Threat, Moscow October 1985  Physics and Technical Aspects of Laser and Particle Beam Weapons for Strategic Defense, R.L. Garwin, 1986, submitted to Physikalische Blätter  Software Aspects of Strategic Defense Systems, David Lorge Parnass, American Scientist, Volume 73, 432-440, September-October 1985  Aspin Confirms Deception Plan Existed to Promote SDI Program Dunbar Lockwood Arms Control Today, October 1993, pg. 18  Strategic ‘Deception’ Initiative John Pike Arms Control Today, November 1993, pp. 3-8  The Patriot Myth: Caveat Emptor John Conyers, Jr. Arms Control Today, November 1992, pp. 3-10  The Patriot Debate: Part 2, Letter to the Editor Frank Horten Arms Control Today, January/February 1993, pp. 26/27 Author’s Response, Arms Control Today, January/February 1993, pp. 27, 29  The Patriot Debate: Part 3, Letter to the Editor Theodore A. Postol and George N. Lewis Arms Control Today, March 1993, pg. 24  Defense Mechanisms Kosta Tsipis The Sciences, November/December 2000, pp. 18-23  Theater Missile Defense Programs: Status and Prospects John Pike Arms Control Today, September 1994, pp. 11-14  The Clinton Plan for Theater Missile Defenses: Costs and Alternatives David Mosher and Raymond Hall Arms Control Today, September 1994, pp. 15-20  Boost-Phase Intercept: A Better Alternative Richard L. Garwin Arms Control Today, September 2000, pp. 8-11  Missile Defense: The View From the Other Side of the Atlantic Camille Grand Arms Control Today, September 2000, pp. 12-18  A Pause in Unilateralism? Jack Mendelsohn Arms Control Today, October 2000, pp. 21-23  No Pressure From the People Mark S. Mellman, Adam Burns, Sam Munger Arms Control Today, October 2000, pp. 19, 20, 23  Security: The Bottom Line Jack F. Matlock, Jr. Arms Control Today, October 2000, pp. 17, 18, 24  Facing the China Factor Banning Garrett Arms Control Today, October 2000, pp. 14-16  Ballistic Missile Defense: Is the U.S. ‘Rushing to Failure’? John Pike Arms Control Today, April 1998, pp. 9-13  Mixed Results in U.S. TMD Tests Wade Boese Arms Control Today, September 2000, pg. 29  Officials Testify on National Missile Defense, Assess Program Wade Boese Arms Control Today, October 2000, pp. 25, 29  National Missile Defense, the ABM Treaty And the Future of START II Arms Control Association press conference, Arms Control Today, November/December 1998, pp. 3-10  Where Do We Go From Here? Harold Brown Arms Control Today, October 2000, pp. 12-13  Powell, a Serious Man to Be Tested Before Long Thomas L. Friedman International Herald Tribune, December 20, 2000  Does Deterrence Have a Future? Lawrence Freedman Arms Control Today, October 2000, pp. 3-8  Finding the Right Path Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Arms Control Today, October 2000, pp. 11, 24
Years “Efficient lifetime” of defense systems
2000 – ————– Chinese Great Wall – Huns
—- Upgraded Great Wall – Traitor 200 – — Roman Limes — Complete metal armor – Horses unprotected Alemanni — Castles in Europe – Gun powder
20 – Antiaircraft canons – Planes too high
10 – — Maginot Line – Attack from behind
5 – – German West Wall – limited efficiency (‘Siegfried Line’) – Atlantic Wall – Disembarkation in Normandy
2 – – SDI – Scientists
0.5 – – Safeguard ABM – Maintenance cost
0.2 – NMD ? Decoys Jamming Cooling of radars of missiles
0.1 500 500 1000 1500 1800 1900 1950 1980 1990 1995 1998 2000 BC AC Year
Forum on “The Missile Threat and Plans for Ballistic Missiles Defense: Technology, Strategic Stability and Impact on Global Security”
Istituto Diplomatico “Mario Toscano” and Parliament, Library Room “Il Refettorio” Rome, Italy, 18-19 January 2001