Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Inside U.S. Missile Defense Tech—And (Perhaps) A New Cold War

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From Popular Mechanics:

It's a difficult transition to grasp: How could missile defense—that slow-moving political target first proposed by Ronald Reagan 25 years ago—suddenly become not only real, but potent enough to raise the specter of a Russian nuclear strike on Poland? As often happens, the progress of technology has changed the international debate. Here's just how the evolving U.S. plan aimed at rogue regimes—and the new deal with Poland—are fueling tensions with Russia, featuring an exclusive interview with the head of the Missile Defense Agency.

The U.S. ballistic missile defense shield has been up and running since 2004, and it's growing. If an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) were fired at the United States, there would be as many as 24 ground-based interceptors (GBIs) ready to fire at it from Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. One or more of these 60-ft.-long, three-stage missiles could be boosted into space, guided by an array of space and terrestrial-based radar systems directed toward the incoming threat. For each GBI's payload—a 140-pound, remote-operated spacecraft called a kill vehicle—this would be a suicide mission. If everything went according to plan, the kill vehicle's four onboard thrusters would slide it directly into the path of the enemy missile and—relying on nothing more than its mass and 20,000-plus mph velocity—the drone would pulverize its target into orbital debris.

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