The Clinton administration is relentlessly moving toward a decision this summer to deploy an untested and fundamentally unworkable national missile defense (NMD) system. The administration claims this technically flawed defense is needed to negate an unproven long-range missile threat posed by "rogue" states.
The cost of this defense will not simply be measured in dollars. It may include an end to further nuclear arms reductions with Russia, an increased Chinese effort to expand its nuclear forces, negative reactions from U.S. allies in Europe and East Asia, and an eventual collapse of global arms control and nonproliferation efforts.
The Clinton administration insists that this defense system would not upset global efforts to reduce the dangers from existing nuclear arsenals and potential nuclear proliferants.
Instead, the administration sticks to its claim that the proposed system will be sharply limited, and that it will not compromise Russia¹s retaliatory deterrent forces.
Although Iran and Iraq have been named as targets of this defense, North Korea is the alleged serious and immediate threat.
But if the proposed national missile defense system is to be aimed principally at North Korean missiles, why is the US deploying a radar that is ideally suited for gathering intelligence for a NMD system on the northern tip of Norway, less than 40 miles from the Russian border?
StrawmenOn September 8 1999, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott presented Russia with a proposal to modify the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to allow the US to deploy a light but rapidly expandable national missile defense system.
Talbott told the Russians that if they did not accept the U.S. proposal, the US would simply withdraw from the treaty and proceed on its own.
Not surprisingly, the Russians viewed Talbott¹s statements as an ultimatum rather than as a proposal for serious discussion about matters of fundamental importance to both nations.
They were presented with the pretense that the US is vulnerable to long-range missile attacks from the likes of North Korea, Iran, or Iraq.
But the latter two countries have no substantive long-range missile programs. And although North Korea does have a program, it is based on primitive, scaled-up Russian Scud technology.
This technology was based on the work of German engineers captured by the Russians at the end of World War II. The Scuds themselves consist of modest improvements over the German V-2 missile, first flown by Nazi Germany in the early 1940s. Despite the vast resources available in Nazi Germany, and the dedicated and well-supported national effort in the Soviet Union that followed, the first ICBM was not achieved until 1957, more than 15 years later.
The US now tells Russia that it has an urgent need for a national missile defense to protect itself from an imminent ICBM attack from a state that has a gross domestic product smaller than Delaware¹s.
Not surprisingly, the Russians and Chinese see the North Korean, Iranian, and Iraqi missile "threats" as strawmen.
They also understand that the administration¹s "limited" defense is in fact a system that is indistinguishable from one aimed at them. They correctly understand the full technical implications of the administration¹s proposed battle-management upgrades of early warning radars at Fylingdales Moor, Britain; Thule, Greenland; Grand Forks, North Dakota; and Clear, Alaska.
These upgrades are exactly those that would be needed for a national missile defense system aimed at Russia and China.
And now comes the most recent addition to the array of misrepresentations to the Russians‹installation of a state-of-the-art, NMD-capable radar in Vardo, Norway virtually on the Russian border.
The administration claims that the purpose of this radar is tracking space debris in earth orbit. It is obvious to any technically informed person that this claim is simply not true.
A Poke In The EyeThe certain principal use of this X-band radar, along with a second one planned for Eareckson Air Station on Shemya Island, some 1,500 miles southwest of Anchorage, will be to collect detailed intelligence data on Russia¹s long-range ballistic missiles.
This data will cover the entire trajectory of the missiles, and will be of primal value to a U.S. NMD system.
Fed into the NMD database, they will increase the discrimination capabilities of the proposed system against Russia¹s ballistic missiles.
It is not clear if the Vardo radar, code-named HAVE STARE, is a formal violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. But it is clear that the radar could be added to an NMD sensor system in a way that would unmistakably violate the intent if not the letter of the treaty.
The HAVE STARE radar was developed in the early 1990s by Raytheon, under the direction of the Electronic Systems Center, the US Air Force¹s lead organization for the development and acquisition of command-and-control systems.
According to the Defense Department, HAVE STARE is "a high-resolution X-band tracking and imaging radar with a 27-meter mechanical dish antenna." It became operational at Vandenberg Air Force Base on California¹s coast in 1995, where it was used in early developmental tests of the national missile defense program.
In late 1998, HAVE STARE was quietly dismantled and sent to Norway, where it is being jointly reassembled by the US and Norway under the Norwegian project name "Globus II."
It is located at a Norwegian military intelligence facility and its mission, according to the U.S. and Norwegian governments, is to track and catalog space junk in high earth orbit.
Now, space junk is no trivial matter. There are many thousands of manmade objects orbiting Earth, ranging in size from paint flecks and nuts and bolts to booster rockets.
But the new location of HAVE STARE, publicly revealed in April 1998 by Inge Sellevag, a Norwegian newspaper reporter, is nearly the last place on earth one would choose for a radar with the purpose of tracking space debris.
Because such objects can never be seen from a far north location, a space tracking installation is in fact best placed much closer to the equator. But the location of the radar is ideal for collecting very precise data on Russian missile tests.
The Vardo machine is‹at least for now‹ the most advanced tracking and imaging radar in the world.
It potentially has a resolution of roughly 10 to 15 centimeters, which means it could provide detailed radar images of Russian warheads and decoys. In contrast, U.S. early warning radars have a resolution of‹at best‹5 to 10 meters.
Because the radar-fingerprint of an object varies with the frequency of the radar, it is especially important that the Vardo radar operate in the X-band, the same frequency range of the NMD X-band radars.
Locations of radars in Vardo and Shemya Island are ideal for collecting very precise data on Russian missile tests
Both the Vardo radar and the planned radar for Shemya Island, operating together, collect precision radar signature data on virtually every phase of Russian tests of missiles and decoys, within minutes of their launch from the Plesetsk test range, about 150 miles south of the White Sea, to splashdown 4,000 miles away near Kamchatka.
Of particular importance, HAVE STARE will be able to obtain precision data in mid-course‹the critical point at which warheads and decoys separate from the "bus." Previous U.S. radars at Vardo and Shemya have lacked the ability to perform such measurements at X-band frequencies.
Even though both the US and the Soviet Union (and now Russia) have long been capable of defeating missile defense systems by deploying decoys and other devices along with warheads, this well-focused intelligence-gathering activity understandably appears to the Russians as a determined and planned step towards a U.S. NMD capability aimed at Russia.
What Is Real Time?U.S. officials have said little about the export of HAVE STARE to Norway, leaving Norwegian officials to explain its uses.
Mr Inge Sellevag, a reporter with Bergens Tidende, stirred the pot in the spring of 1998 with stories revealing that HAVE STARE was moving to Norway and that it had a potential national missile defense capability.
In response, Mr Dag Jostein Fjarvoll, Norway¹s secretary of defense, assured Parliament that the Globus II radar (HAVE STARE) was "under full Norwegian control." At best, that was misleading.
Norwegian personnel may man the system but the radar will be directly linked, according to a viewgraph prepared by the US Air Force¹s Electronics Systems Center, into "Cheyenne Mountain and NMD." (The nerve center of the proposed NMD system will be buried deeply within Colorado¹s Cheyenne Mountain.)
The Norwegian minister added that "only Norwegian personnel have access to data in so-called real time." His use of "real time" was repeated, perhaps for emphasis. "In other words, there was no connection between Globus II and the U.S. Air Force in real time. . . . The radar can therefore not contribute to any eventual American missile defense."
To those not familiar with how tracking systems work‹ and members of the Norwegian parliament surely fit that category‹the no-real-time argument might seem compelling. From a commonsense point of view, if a sensor system does not supply data in real time, it is useless for missile defense.
In fact, none of the existing U.S. early warning and tracking systems, or those projected for NMD, operate in "real time. They are not real-time systems because they collect vast amounts of data that are not sent directly to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.
Each Defense Support Program satellite, for instance, collects about 170 million bits of information per second. These data are then sorted by a vastly powerful signal processing system on the satellite. By the time the data sorting is completed, only one million bits per second are actually transmitted to the ground!
Once on the ground, the data are further processed. That processing takes place in 10-second batches, creating a vastly simplified but supremely accurate surveillance "picture" of the earth below. In turn, that information is updated and further processed every 10 seconds.
In cases where there is very clear data indicating a missile launch, it takes 20 to 40 seconds before the system can "initiate" tracking of the launch. The operators of the system would not see this information for 30 to 90 seconds, depending on specific circumstances.
Hence, the Defense Support Program satellites in high earth orbit, currently the heart of the U.S. early warning array, do not comprise a "real time" system according to the definition implied by the statements of Norway¹s defense minister.
Why Norway?What is the purpose of the Vardo radar? Its purpose is clear to the Russian civilian and military analysts we have talked to. It is an intelligence-gathering system optimized to collect data on Russian ballistic missiles that can be directly used by a U.S. NMD system aimed at Russia.
The technical information on HAVE STARE released by the U.S. Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) indicates that it is a very capable tracking and imaging radar. Testimony given in Congress and statements made elsewhere further confirm this.
On June 18, 1996, for instance, Rear Adm. Richard D. West, then acting director of BMDO, testified before the House National Security Committee about the NMD program. He described plans to upgrade existing early warning radars." He added: "If needed, other existing forward-based radars (such as Cobra Dane or HAVE STARE) could also be used to support the NMD system."
A mid-1990s statement provided by the U.S. Air Force Atmospheric Interceptor Technology Program, noted that two existing US Air Force radar system "have high potential for NMD application." One was the upgraded Precision Acquisition Vehicle Energy‹Phased Array Warning System (PAVE PAWS) radar located at Beale Air Force Base in California; and the other was HAVE STARE .
"To fully understand the utility of these radar systems in an NMD role," the statement said, "the [air force] plans to integrate and test these systems using realistic threat scenarios." The tests were carried out. Two Minuteman III launches were picked up by the Defense Support Program¹s early warning satellites; in turn, that data cued PAVE PAWS and HAVE STARE, which tracked the missiles.
Reporter Sellevag documents that HAVE STARE was later involved in two test flights in the NMD program.
Occasional air force and BMDO briefing viewgraphs and slides allude, directly or indirectly, to HAVE STARE in future NMD architecture. One December 1999 slide produced by U.S. Space Command shows HAVE STARE clustered with a host of existing early warning and tracking radars, all linked to "CINC [commander-in-chief] NORAD-USS-PACE COMMAND POST"‹that is, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.
Could HAVE STARE act as an early warning and tracking radar if a national missile defense system is deployed? Yes‹but only as a backup to other sensors closer to home or parked in safe orbits.
The U.S. Air Force would have to assume that in the event of an intentional missile attack by Russia, Vardo would be immediately destroyed.
But the real value of the Vardo radar and of the not-yet-built Shemya radar is that they can do critical advance work for the national missile defense system. They can collect radar signatures‹"fingerprints"‹from a host of Russian missiles, warheads, decoys, and other devices as they are tested in east-west flight high above the Russian hinterland. These fingerprints constitute vital information for any system designed to counter the Russian missile "threat".
If the purpose of a national missile defense system is to protect the US from North Korean missiles, why is the world¹s most advanced tracking and imaging radar about to go online at the northern tip of Norway instead of northern Japan?
A New Arms Race?The Clinton administration may soon make a decision to deploy a national missile defense that could well end whatever momentum is left in the U.S.-Russian strategic arms reduction process. The truth is that domestic politics in the US has led to false claims about the promise of missile defense technology‹as well as fantastic claims about "emerging threats."
Both the Republicans and the Democrats have been involved in a charade trying to make each look less concerned about national defense while they together drive the US toward a disaster of historic proportions.
If the administration decides this summer to deploy the national missile defense system, it should at least be honest about it. The Pentagon still defines the principal missile threat as Russia, not North Korea. That is why HAVE STARE is in northern Norway instead of northern Japan.
In his visit to Russia last September, Talbott assured the Russians that the proposed system would only be capable of handling "tens of missiles." Apparently Talbott thought that would reassure the Russians and not alarm the Chinese.
But the Chinese have, according to the CIA, only 20 missiles capable of reaching the US. The Chinese have long said that the proposed "limited" system has an anti-Chinese face. And the Russians clearly believe that a system that could be rapidly expanded and upgraded looks like an anti-Russian system.
Talbott¹s words got an immediate response from Russia and China. When one of us (Postol) was in Moscow in October, only a few weeks after Talbott¹s visit, I was told by several government officials about a meeting in Beijing, from which they had just returned.
The meeting was sponsored by the foreign ministries of Russia and China. However, most of the participants were from the Russian and Chinese ministries of defense.
The purpose of the meeting was to begin Russian and Chinese political and technical cooperation to deal with the threat of a U.S. national missile defense system.
A U.S. decision to deploy NMD will result in a strong negative, coordinated, and unequivocal reaction from Russia and China. They will be concerned that the US may eventually expand and modify the defense with nuclear-armed interceptors instead of the hit-to-kill interceptors now planned for the system.
Such a nuclear-armed system could also be readily defeated, but the Russians and Chinese would have to dedicate more resources to the task. Most important: They may want to expand their offensive capability, following the Nuclear Age dictum that a good offense beats any defense.
The Russians and Chinese also will not want to agree to a cutoff in the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. After all, they may need these materials to expand their nuclear arsenals in response to upgrades in U.S. missile defenses.
They will also want to reserve the option of nuclear testing, so that new nuclear weapons designs‹hardened to the effects of U.S. nuclear interceptors‹can be tested.
And they will certainly not be interested in engaging in further arms reductions. Instead, they may need to expand their forces in response to changes in the U.S. national missile defense system.
While this game is going on, the non-weapon state signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be watching their security erode. Some states may choose to withdraw from the treaty while others may choose to stay.
Thus, a decade after the end of the Cold War, the Clinton administration will have put us on the path to a new arms race and a breakdown of the entire international regime of treaties that has been built over the past 30 years.
It is bad enough if the administration simply does not understand what it is doing. It is even worse if it does.
Theodore A. Postol is a professor of science, technology, and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked at the Argonne National Laboratory, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and the Office of the Chief of US Naval Operations. Anatoli Diakov is a professor of physics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
© Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 2000
- Vardo Exposed, by Inge Sellevag, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March/April 2000, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 26-29)
- The Target Is Russia, by Theodore A. Postol, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March/April 2000, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 30-35)
- The AN/FPS-129 HAVE STARE radar system, (PDF format), Raytheon Systems Company, - this page previously located at: http://www.raytheon.com/rsc/ses/spr/spr_hvs/spr_hvs.htm Apparently, an appropriate link to the HAVE STARE radar page has disappeared from the list of military systems, developed by Raytheon.
- Russians Challenge U.S. Over Radar in Norway, (by Elizabeth Becker, The New York Times, Tuesday, February 22, 2000)
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