US not safe from nuclear attack, say scientists

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The US government's new strategy for nuclear war is a 'dangerous fantasy', according to an independent group of scientists.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says that the current missile defense systems on which the April 2020 strategy is based have not been tested against real-world threats and would not be effective in real combat conditions.

The strategy, say the scientists, relies on assumptions that the current US Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) and Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) systems will be reliable and robust in nuclear-armed combat.

It asserts that the GMD system is effective in protecting the US from long-range nuclear ballistic missiles that could be launched from countries such as Iran and North Korea.

But, they say, recent Iranian ballistic missile tests indicate Iran is developing effective countermeasures that would defeat these US missile defenses.

New missiles without tail fins, or warheads attached to rocket bodies that tumble end over end like those that defeated the Patriot Missile Defense in the Gulf War of 1991, would easily beat these interceptors, say George Lewis and Theodore Postol, as would decoys deployed in the near-vacuum of space.

The Defense Department's strategy, they say, relies on these nuclear defense systems performing to near perfection. But the authors are concerned that the Defense Department has shown no test-based evidence that they can ever work in combat - despite claiming that they effectively protect the continental United States from missile attack, and that they are also an effective deterrent.

"These claims are fantastical, audacious, and dangerous," says Lewis.George Lewis and Theodore Postol argue that the US should replace the GMD system by using stealth drones carrying specialized fast interceptors. These, they say, could take down the nuclear-armed long-range ballistic missiles while they are still in powered flight and before they can deploy effective countermeasures.

Since a drone-based system would use a relatively small number of interceptors, it wouldn't cause any problems with arms reduction agreements.

"The situation is urgent, as Iran is already demonstrating countermeasures in flight tests that would render both the GMD and SM-3 long-range missile defense systems ineffective," Lewis says.