Difference between revisions of "Strategic Defense Initiative"
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Critiques of the original program
Critiques of the original program that it was technologically impossible that it
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Revision as of 07:06, 4 July 2008
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which is also commonly called Star Wars (at first by detractors), was a proposal by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1983 to build a ground- and space-based system to protect the U.S. from nuclear ballistic missiles. The system was never fully set up, but the research from this paved the way for the anti-ballistic missile systems of today, including the Patriot missile that provided the defense against [[Iraq]i Scud missiles launched against American forces and Israel during the Gulf War. It is believed by some experts that the Soviet's response necessitated by SDI contributed to their financial and political collapse.
Goals of SDI
The basic goal of SDI was to intercept and destroy incoming nuclear ballistic missiles to prevent detonation over the U.S. In some scenarios, not all warheads would be intercepted, but enough would be to render mutually assured destruction moot. In the scenario of "partial protection", the U.S. would be immune from complete destruction, which would deter the USSR from launching a first strike. See Game Theory and Mutually Assured Destruction.
Components of SDI
There are a limited number of ways to prevent a ballistic missile from detonating over one's territory. A brief primer on nuclear attack will help explain the problems to be solved.
Missiles with nuclear payloads are launched in two primary ways: as ground based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and as shorter range missiles, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs).
- ICBMs are launched from the ground, travel into space, and return with the assistance of gravity. Most contain "multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles" or MIRVs. This means that a single ICBM can cause many nuclear warheads to detonate over multiple targets. Problems involved include detecting the launch, and deciding on what level to intercept the target. If the target is disabled before deployment of MIRVs, this obviously solves many problems. Once MIRVs are deployed, many more targets must be eliminated. Destroying an ICBM before it enters space is essentially impossible. Interception in space requires a pre-placed infrastructure. Interception after MIRV deployment involves ground-based systems.
- SLBMs and SLCMs present serious difficulties. SLBMs have a shorter time available to intercept, as they can be launched nearer to target. SLCMs are basically a first-strike weapon, travel short distances quickly and close to the ground.
Ground-based systems must be able to detect a rapidly-approaching ballistic object, and destroy or divert that object well enough to avoid catastrophic damage to the target.
Space-based systems generally aim to destroy a ballistic missile at the height of its trajectory. At this point, the missile is fragile and vulnerable. The difficulty lies in detecting the object, deploying the countermeasure, and successful interception. Several solutions have been proposed, including "Brilliant Pebbles", which would be non-ballistic kinetic missiles deployed to intercept the missile, and at low energy, deflect or destroy the ICBM.
Critiques of the original program were self-contradictory. Liberals argued that it was technologically impossible while simultaneously arguing that it was destabilizing.
The criticisms were substantially weakened by the successful missile defense deployed during the Gulf War, when the Patriot missiles successfully and spectacularly shot down deadly missiles launched by Saddam Hussein against military and civilian targets.