News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, May 18, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. EDT
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA


Can we get your response to the analysis provided by Dr. Ted Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in which he claims that the -- his analysis shows that the basic technology and physics behind this national missile defense program is unworkable and that it's been misrepresented by at least one of the companies involved?

Mr. Bacon: Well, first, let me say that I have read Dr. Postol's letter. However, I have not read all four of the attachments that came with the letter.

The Air Force or, I should say, the Ballistic Missile Defense Office is in the process of doing a line-by-line analysis of the letter. They have not completed that yet. So my comments will be somewhat limited and not an encyclopedic response to the letter.

But let me just say a couple of things.

First of all, obviously, one of the biggest challenges faced by the National Missile Defense program is to discriminate between warheads and decoys. This is something to which we've devoted a lot of time and will continue to devote time in the future. There are basically three technological parts to the solution to the discrimination problem. The first is the quality of the sensors. The second is miniaturization, the compactness of the weapons, speed of the weapons, et cetera. And the third is computers.

Now, in the third area -- there have been improvements in all areas, but in the third area, the improvements over the last decade, or last five years, have been particularly dramatic increases in computational speed and power. And this is important because ultimately the computers have to be able to process a lot of information picked up by the sensors very, very quickly and compare what they're seeing to information that is loaded into data banks for the sake of comparison in making a choice between whether an object in space is a warhead or a decoy.

We're building, as you know, a system that's designed to respond to a limited threat; that is, a relatively small attack or an attack involving a relatively small amount of missiles. It's not the type of attack that we would get from a country that has a huge force, such as Russia does. It's not built in response to the Russian force at all. We know that a Russian force, or any force that's even much smaller than the Russian force, but still large, would quickly overwhelm the system we're contemplating.

We assume that the type of attack right now may not have the most sophisticated decoys, but obviously decoys can be improved over time, and will be improved over time. So we're very aware of that, and we're working very hard, particularly on the three areas that I mentioned.

Now, let me just say one thing directed at Dr. Postol's letter.

He focused primarily on one test, so-called the Integrated Flight Test 1A. That test occurred several years ago, and it involved an interceptor made by Boeing TRW. The prime contractor, or the lead systems integrator for the National Missile Defense program is, in fact, Boeing. When Boeing came to make the choice of the kill vehicle, the interceptor vehicle, it did not choose its own kill vehicle. It chose instead one made by Raytheon.

Now, Dr. Postol's letter focuses primarily on this first test that involved the Boeing TRW interceptor. Now we are using interceptors, and have for several tests, they've been using interceptors made by Raytheon. The next test -- Integrated Flight Test 5, for instance -- will involve a Raytheon interceptor, as did 4, and I believe 2 and 3 as well involved the Raytheon interceptor.

The Raytheon interceptor differs from the Boeing interceptor in several respects. The Boeing interceptor, as I understand it, had only an infrared sensor. The Raytheon interceptor has a different, more advanced infrared sensor, but it also has an optical sensor. So it has two ways to acquire targets, both optically through a visual sensor, and infrared, which senses heat.

Second, it uses each one of these -- and this goes back to the computers -- has to use a computer program based on an algorithm that's designed to process large amounts of data very quickly. They use different algorithms. I can't get into the details of this because I don't understand it myself. But if you would like somebody to explain the difference between the Bayesian algorithm that was in the Boeing interceptor and the Dempster-Shafer algorithm, which is supposed to be better for these purposes that it's the currently used Raytheon interceptor, I am sure we can find somebody who can explain these mathematical formulae and algorithms.

But in short, Dr. Postol focused primarily on a test involving an interceptor that is no longer part of the program.

Now, having said that, I don't want to diminish the challenges that we face in target discrimination. That's clearly one of the things that we're continuing to work on. We believe that the current interceptor is doing a good job in discriminating between warheads and decoys.

Q: If I could just have one follow-up on the Dempster-Shafer algorithm -- (laughter) -- please? (Laughter.) No, seriously -- (laughter) --

Mr. Bacon: I wonder if you could just give me -- I mean, do you think there is a mistake in it? (Laughter.)

Q: Yeah. (Laughter.) I think it might have just been my calculator. (Laughter.)

If I understand -- I mean, my understanding of the science behind this is probably not much better than yours or probably less than yours, but as I understand Dr. Postol's argument, he says that it doesn't matter whether or not you are talking about another test with a different algorithm; that what his analysis showed is that the data that you can collect from space, through these various systems under any algorithm, is simply not possible to make the kind of discrimination that the Pentagon says it's having some success in doing, in discriminating between a warhead and a very simple decoy.

Mr. Bacon: Well, we clearly disagree with that. We wouldn't be spending a billion dollars -- billions of dollars on developing a National Missile Defense System unless we had some degree of confidence that we can make that discrimination and make it in time to be useful.

But clearly, this program is still a young program. There have been four integrated flight tests so far. There are several dozen more planned, and they will be occurring over a long period of time. And one of the things we'll be doing is refining every element of the program as we go along.

As I said, the BMDO, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, is in the process of doing a detailed analysis and response to Dr. Postol's letter. This is a letter that reached the press before it apparently reached the government, so we haven't had quite as much time to analyze it as some other people have, but we are doing our best to analyze it as quickly as possible.

Q: And one other follow-up: Is the next test still set for June 26th?

Mr. Bacon: We had set June 26th as the target for the next test.

We've known for several weeks that it's probably going to be later than that. It'll probably be sometime in early July rather than June 26th. The reason for that is that there was a minor problem discovered in the interceptor, some rewiring had to be done. It was sent back to Raytheon in order to complete that rewiring. Now the rewiring is done, it's been tested, they have confidence in it and they are in the process now of marrying the interceptor to the rocket and shipping it to Kwajalein Island. That took, this fix, took about a week, and so we've had to delay the test by several days.

Q: And does that affect your time table for making a recommendation to the president by --

Mr. Bacon: It should not have any impact whatsoever. We always said that there was a window for the test that opened on June 26th. Our hope was to do the test at the first day of the window, but we always recognized the possibility that it could slip a day or two.

Q: In light of the questions that Professor Postol raised and the importance of the decision, wouldn't it make sense to have the work that's been done so far and the testing and so on be reviewed by an independent body of scientists who would be, you know, capable of passing an independent judgment --

Mr. Bacon: Well, I gather that Dr. Postol is already reviewing it.

Q: Well, but I think that that's what he's suggesting to the White House, or urging the White House to do, is to have an independent body review this.

Mr. Bacon: We, from the beginning, have tried to hew to a very ambitious program without cutting corners that would compromise the quality of the National Missile Defense system or its chances of success. And I think we found a pretty good balance, but we still have one more test to do before the president has the information that the secretary will send him fora decision and we will evaluate the program as we go along.

One of the things the Air Force -- the BMDO will do is go through Dr. Postol's letter and decide how serious the charges are. But we have been working very hard on the discrimination problem for some time and will continue to do that.

Q: Are you open now to an outside review, or do you -- do you oppose --

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think it's premature at this stage. I'm not ruling it in or I'm not ruling it out. It's not clear to me, and I don't think it's clear to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, that we need an outside review at this time.

Clearly, there is a lot of information about this program publicly available. Dr. Postol presumably got his from public sources. There has been extensive congressional testimony on this, been several fairly detailed press briefings in this room on it. This program is proceeding with a huge amount of public attention and surveillance, and this is appropriate. This is a very important program. It's an important program to our nation's defenses. And it's appropriate that it be scrutinized, and it is being scrutinized.

We will obviously proceed in a way designed to give the public the greatest possible confidence in the program and in a way that gets the information to the decision-makers as quickly as possible and as accurately as possible. And we'll have to find the right balance between those two goals.

Q: Regarding Flight Tests 3 and 4, which were the last two intercept tests --

Mr. Bacon: Right.

Q: -- do you know why BMDO originally planned to use about 10 decoys in each of those tests and then scaled them back to use only one decoy that was of a different size and intensity than the actual warhead?

Mr. Bacon: I do not myself know. I believe that General Kadish addressed that publicly here, as a matter of fact. But I don't know. We'll try to get the answer. We'll get the answer. I don't know the answer myself.


Q: Yes, sir. Pardon me if I'm not terribly descriptive and accurately descriptive. To follow the question I asked Mr. Cohen yesterday: Mr. Bacon, can we assure the Chinese or point out to the Chinese that their missile force is able to be routed onto any target they choose without being within range of our National Missile Defense, to be located in the Aleutians? In other words, can they get their missiles around this defense? And is that what we're saying when we say it will have no effect on their strategic deterrence?

Mr. Bacon: First of all, we do not anticipate that China or Russia or any other country is going to fire missiles against us. And if they were to do that, it would have a disastrous consequence on the attacking country. But we don't anticipate this is going to happen. Second, however, we're not in the business of telling countries how to route their missiles against the United States. Third, we have sent teams to China and discussed our National Missile Defense program with them and made the point that this program is designed to counter attack, counter a very limited attack against the United States of the type that could be launched by a rogue nation with a very small number of missiles.

Q: Such as North Korea?

Mr. Bacon: Such as North Korea, possibly Iran not too far in the future, maybe Iraq sometime.

We have had discussions with the Chinese about this, and we will continue to discuss it with them.

Q: I guess I should ask this -- go a little further and just once again ask, can missiles coming out of China to any targets anywhere, any reasonable targets, can they be intercepted by this system that the U.S. intends to place in Alaska? Or is it just out of range or what?

Mr. Bacon: We don't have a national missile defense system yet, so I am not going to talk about the capabilities of a future system. We have described it in very general terms: It's designed to deal with limited attacks from rogue nations.

President Clinton has not made a decision to deploy such a system, and he'll be looking at the information later this summer and will then decide what to do.

Q: Ken --

Mr. Bacon: Sure.

Q: -- just to follow up on that, if I could? I think we understand the argument that's been made publicly, as far as reassuring the Russians that national missile defense doesn't affect them. But what's the argument that you can make to the Chinese, who have dozens -- supposedly -- missiles that can reach the United States, that their deterrent would not be affected by this?

Mr. Bacon: We have been designing this system -- we use the -- sort of the code word "rogue nation." I think that that symbolizes two things: One, it suggests a country that might not be deterred by the deterrence that has worked in the past, and still works, against Russia and China and other countries. We have a very formidable nuclear force now that is built not to attack, but to deter anybody from attacking us. We believe that the Chinese, as the Russians, are susceptible to this argument of deterrence and in fact will be deterred from using their weapons. We are not so sure about smaller nations with different governmental systems.

Second, we are building this system to protect us from the type of blackmail that we might be held hostage to in a situation -- for instance, where Iraq attacks a neighbor; we begin to mobilize a coalition, as we did in 1990, to go in and respond, and they say: "Wait a minute.

If you do this, we're going to hold one of your cities hostage."

These are -- this blackmail argument is one that Secretary Cohen has made many times. We do not believe that a country that is susceptible to the normal deterrent arguments would want to use a blackmail approach against us.

Q: My question is -- I mean, the Chinese want to have a nuclear deterrent. They --

Mr. Bacon: They have a nuclear deterrent.

Q: Well, they have dozens of missiles. And you're proposing a system that could shoot down dozens of missiles, or I think the number that's being used is tens of missiles, which to a layman makes it sound like you're going to have a system that could defeat the current Chinese nuclear force. And so I'm asking what reassurance you can offer the Chinese that they will still have a deterrent the same way that you're attempting to reassure the Russians on that point? Or is there no -- do you not want to reassure the Chinese about this?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I mean, we have talked to the Chinese about this, and the Chinese have said publicly that they don't ever plan to be the first to use nuclear weapons, in which case they have nothing to fear from a national -- from a purely defensive force that would only respond to the use of nuclear weapons.

Q: But you understand that they want to have a deterrent. I mean, I don't --

Mr. Bacon: I understand that they want to have a deterrent, and I believe they --

Q: I feel I haven't explained the question correctly --

Mr. Bacon: You have explained the question, and all I can tell you is that we've had discussions with China. And we do not -- we are not building this system against the Chinese system. But we can't -- you know, all we can do is tell them why we are building the system and the very -- the types of limited threats -- much smaller than the Chinese threat, even -- that we have in mind.

Q: But you can't tell them just -- and I'm not trying to heckle you here, but you cannot tell them for some reason "This system wouldn't affect your deterrent, this system wouldn't be relevant to you." You cannot tell them that at this time.

Mr. Bacon: We can tell them that this is not a -- that this is a system designed against an extremely small force, smaller than their force.


Q: As we're talking here, the chiefs, the chairman and the U.S. Strategic Command are scheduled to be testifying on the Hill about nuclear force levels necessary. Can you just tell us what their message to Congress is? Is it that the Pentagon doesn't want to go below 2,000 warheads, or -- is there any way to --

Mr. Bacon: I think their -- I have not read the testimony that they're going to be making. And as you say, they're going to testify soon. My understanding is that they will say basically what Secretary Cohen said several days ago in this room, that the chiefs and the Defense Department in general agreed to the range of 2,000-2,500 warheads that were set in Helsinki between President Yeltsin and President Clinton -- then-President Yeltsin and President Clinton. That is the range for bringing, for reducing the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States.

Now, we're operating -- we're coming down to the START I range, which is about 6,000 countable warheads. START II range would be 3,000-3,500. The START III range would be 2,000-2,500. And they will announce that they reviewed that range and accepted it. That's not new.

Q: Okay. Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you.

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