ith the recent accomplishments of the U.S. missile defense system the nay

have again come out of the woodwork to criticize and try to diminish the success of the intercept.

I am not a rocket scientist and

I will try and keep this as simple as possible

and not cherry-pick telemetry data to make

my point or

hide behind complicated descriptions of


tracking or data relay

in order to

prove that MDA is


in its

tests. I will try to approach this using

common sense



is important to

remember what the missile defense system is designed to protect us from. The U.S. president directed the system to be developed to protect against a small number of incoming warheads. The intent

was never

to protect against a mass raid by the Russians.

The number

of interceptors we currently have and those planned for the future

support this.

The system is purely defensive.

Any indignant reaction by the Russian government is simply a political play to try and exert

power over

U.S. policy and cause the United States

to lose credibility in the eyes of the world.

The United States not only has

a right to protect itself

against a rogue nation, it has

an obligation to do so. To go blindly forward and believe that a small scale attack could never happen would be the height of naivete.

Years ago I was invited to talk to a civic group about our fledgling missile defense system.

I had many slides showing the ground-based interceptors and the radar

involved and how they would be linked together. I also talked about the effectiveness of the system and where we hoped to go in the future.

During the question and answer period a woman stood up in the back of the room and asked: “Why are we wasting all this money for a system that will never have to be used


I asked her to explain her rationale, and she replied

: “W

hy would any nation or terrorist organization attack us with a missile with a chemical or nuclear warhead? They know we would wipe them off the face of the earth.”

Her question presupposes that we are all rational human beings and we don’t need to worry about a

bad actor

at an international level. I asked her why would Japan attack Pearl Harbor even though they knew they would “awaken a sleeping giant


why would Saddam Hussain invade Kuwait knowing there was no way we would let that stand;

why would Germany invade France;

why would

al-Qaida attack the United States?

The whys are endless, the bottom line is there are all kinds of unstable regimes in the world today and there will be all kinds for the foreseeable future. As a nation we have to protect ourselves to the best of our ability and sometimes that means taking an

as yet fully tested program and moving it to operational.

There are many issues with the Ballistic Missile Defense System – there have been failures, but there also have

been many successes. Every new weapon system we have ever developed has faced challenges, and as soon as there is a failure the doom and gloom crowd emerges. For example, I offer


system development

that today seems a rather simple design


The History of flight

While humans have considered and experimented with flight for thousands of years, though a


focus on

the first real attempts at powered flight offer insight into

the effort needed to achieve true flight.

In the 1480s Leonardo DaVinci began the first serious look at powered flight. Although never built, his drawings of the Ornithopter were the basis that today’s helicopter is built on.

In 1783 the first “manned” hot air balloon launch took place. The passengers were a sheep, rooster and duck and went to an altitude of about 1,829 meters.

From 1799 to the 1850s, Sir George Cayley conducted extensive experiments with the aerodynamics of wing and tail surfaces, rudders, elevators and even air screws.

In 1891 Samuel Langley built a model airplane with a steam-powered engine and flew it for about 1.2 kilometers

. He received a $50,000 grant to build a full-size version of the model. When inflation is factored in,

this is equivalent to $1.1 million

today. Unfortunately the full-sized version failed miserably.

On Dec.

17, 1903, the Wright brothers made the first successful manned flight of a powered aircraft,

36.6 meters


12 seconds –

a blinding 11.45 kilometers per hour! On July 30, 1909, the U.S. government bought its first aircraft. The airplane sold for $25,000 plus a bonus of $5,000 because it exceeded 64 kilometers per hour.

In 1911, the Wright brothers made the first flight across the United States. During the 84-day flight, it

crashed so many times there was little left of the original plane when it arrived in California.

It took 423 years from DaVinci’s

first serious design to the first flight. A more liberal timeline shows

that technology did not allow a real effort at powered flight until 1823 when Samuel Brown patented the first internal combustion engine to be applied industrially. This would give us 80 years of development. The bottom line of this discussion is that it takes time and money to develop any new system.

Serious development of the current missile defense system has begun only in the last 10-15 years. The system is not

100 percent perfect, but

if the country

ever has

to use it, the folks in the city that it saves will think the money was well spent.

Many argue that the testing for the system has yet to involve an end-to-end test, and that there has not been a realistic demonstration of the ability of the kill vehicle to discriminate between decoys and the real warhead. Is this really a surprise, or for that matter is it really an issue?

Breaking Down the Basics

Just to make things simple, let’s look at how

a kid is taught to play baseball. Baseball is one of the most difficult sports to master.

A kid must learn

eye-hand coordination, have quick feet, be able to run and catch and be able to react in a split second to a ball traveling

+ kilometers per hour.

When I teach a kid to play

baseball I don’t show him how to turn a double play, how to hit a nasty curveball that drops off the table or how to execute the hit and run on the first day.

I start with the basics.


show him the proper way to hold the ball,

where the seams are and how they affect the ball’s flight


I show him the proper footwork and how to transfer his weight and rotate his hips to get the power out of his legs.

I show him the proper arm motion and release point. Then

I break down the entire motion into pieces and let him practice the pieces individually.

Only after all of those steps

do I

put it all together and allow him to make the full motion and actually throw the ball. But

that said,

I don’t wait until the child has mastered all of the intricacies

to insert him into a game. Once

we have established the basics, we then begin game play and continue to develop his abilities.

It is the same process

with every weapon system

ever developed.

The first air-to-air missile was not


to perform perfectly right out of the chute.

It was developed with simple flight tests first that involved no countermeasures and worked up to an actual hit. Even after development and fielding, work continues

on the missile and improvements are made


I’ll close with my favorite criticism of the missile defense system. Theresa Hitchens, director of the

Center for Defense Information during an “ABC Nightline” interview stated:

“The missile defense interceptors that are in the ground at Fort Greely [Alaska] and Vandenberg [Air Force Base, Calif.] have absolutely no proven capability against an enemy missile under operationally realistic circumstances.”

In other words, it seems the United States

cannot produce a missile defense system until an enemy missile is launched against us.

However, if the United States waits until


n isn’t it

a little late? It’s a Catch 22.

There is an emerging threat and we need to stay ahead of that threat by developing and fielding the Ballistic Missile Defense System.


ndy Fowkes,

a retired Air Force colonel,

was a member of the U.S. Space Command-U.S. Strategic Command

team that developed the current Ballistic Missile Defense System

policies and guidance.