Courtesy Reuters

Is SDI Technically Feasible?

The program known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) includes research on a variety of technologies—many aimed at distinct phases of the ballistic missile flight path. For each phase—boost, post-boost, mid-course and terminal —a defense would require successful surveillance, target acquisition, tracking, guidance of the weapons, and kill mechanisms. Are the objectives of SDI technically feasible?

The answer will depend primarily on what specific objectives strategic defenses ultimately seek to achieve—protection of population, of missile silos, of other military targets. Within that context, the answer will further depend on the capabilities of the technologies and on the potential countermeasures and counter-countermeasures of each side.

This article will assess the prospects for the various defensive technologies for both the near term (10 to 15 years) and the longer term. It will include recommendations on how to proceed with a realistic research and development program. It will also make tentative judgments on the technical feasibility of various SDI objectives, though definitive answers are not yet possible. The political desirability of SDI is a separate question, not addressed here.

Finally, in considering the prospects for the various SDI technologies, it is important to remember how long it takes to move from technological development through full-scale engineering to deployment. That time is governed by the budgetary and legislative process, as well as by the state of technology.

—After the technology is proven out, full-scale engineering development of a moderately complex system will typically take five to eight years (a new ICBM is a good example).

—The course of deployment (unless there is concurrency of development with deployment, which has almost always proven counterproductive) takes five to seven years after completion of engineering development.

—Thus, if proven technology exists now, it will take 10 to 15 years before a new system employing the technology could be substantially deployed.

—If the technology needs to be further developed, even though the phenomena exist and are well understood, the time for that technology development will have to be added to

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