(WASHINGTON, D.C.) The success of the Patriot missile defense system in the Persian Gulf is unlikely to help the beleaguered "Star Wars" program, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee said today. The congressman's remarks came as the committee began its secret review of weapons performance in the Gulf War and just days before the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) is expected to ask Congress for a massive budget increase for the coming year.
"We can all be proud of the Patriot system," said Congressman Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.), "It is the kind of practical, workable anti-missile system we should be producing. But those who are trying to piggyback their own pet programs on the back of this success story are sadly misinformed. Here are the facts about Patriot and SDI:
Bennett points out that Congress has tried to prod the SDI program to pay greater attention to the threat of tactical ballistic missiles. In 1985, as Congress passed the first Defense Authorization Act providing a major increase for the SDI program, the statement of mangers accompanying the bill noted:
"The conferees question whether adequate emphasis is being given within the SDIO to near-term options...the conferees would like information on the plans for defending against the Warsaw Pact's tactical and theater ballistic missiles armed with conventional, chemical or nuclear warheads. In general the conferees desire information on the relative balance between the funding requirements and technology challenges associated with comprehensive defenses and those associated with near-term options." (DOD Authorization Act, FY1986, p. 403)
Bennett notes, "I was a conferee on that bill and I can tell you we never got a satisfactory answer from SDIO. They have continued to push a system that would require us to launch thousands of space-based weapons and to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. There is a broad consensus in Congress that we should never breach the ABM Treaty."
"The Patriot," says Bennett, "evolved from an air defense system directed against airplanes to one capable of shooting down tactical ballistic missiles. Tactical missiles are about the size of a large truck and arrive on target at about 1 kilometer per second. We know we can shoot them down. ICBM warheads, on the other hand, are about the size of a man, fly in 4 to 5 times faster, arrive in a barrage of up to ten at a time, and may be hidden among dozens of decoys. These, we do not know how to shoot down."
Bennett concludes, "We should explore upgrading the Patriot further to give it the ability to protect wider areas and interdict more capable tactical missiles. As for SDI, we should re-orient the program much more towards developing follow-on systems to the Patriot, preserve its research on future technologies, and abandon its plans to orbit space-based weapons in violation of the ABM Treaty. SDI funding must be balanced against our other, more pressing conventional defense needs".