In other words, when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in an Oct. 24 speech that we are "moving forward on missile defenses" to the point where "we actually can hit a bullet with a bullet," he was uttering an irrelevancy. Hitting one bullet with one bullet is certainly a remarkable feat, but it's among the least remarkable feats that an effective missile-defense system must accomplish.
Incidentally, no tests have yet involved hitting, say, two bullets with two bullets. In one nominally successful test, after the interceptor slammed into the warhead, shards from the collision caused the radar on the ground to malfunction. If a second warhead had followed, the whole system would have been blinded. Despite these self-imposed limitations, the test program has been uneven. To date, five of eight tests have been successful. The most recent test, on Dec. 11 of this year, was a dud.
In June of last year, Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, director of the missile-defense program, said in hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, "I cannot overemphasize the importance of controlling our expectations and persevering through the hard times as we develop and field a system as complex as missile defense." The program's "test philosophy," he explained, "is to add step-by-step complexities over time. It is a walk-before-you-run, learn-as-you-go development approach."
Judging from today's speech, it seems that Bush wants his generals to run the New York marathon before they've mastered the 100-yard dash.
TODAY IN SLATE
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The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented
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You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney
Or at least trade it for something.
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An All-Female Mission to Mars
As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.