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The Star Wars Myth of Missile Defense

51T6 SH-11 Gorgon exoatmospheric ABM Transporter/Loader (via Russian Internet).

Back in the 1980s there was the impression that technology and the United States could do anything. President Reagan announced at the time that the United States was developing a laser based anti-ballistic missile system that would be able to concentrate light energy onto a moving target in orbit and destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) coming in from the Soviet Union. While the theory was feasible and has been proven to work to some degree in a few modern experiments, at the time the technology was simply not at the stage of development that was needed. This of course did not stop the Soviet Union from addressing the Star Wars project as a possible threat, along with other pieces of mythical technology that lead to some of the most impressive solutions to non-existent problems. What was created during the Cold War was missiles, systems that could shoot down other missiles, in theory.

With more recent systems like the THAAD and Israeli Arrow program working off technology proven in combat using Iron Dome, the race for an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system that can challenge an incoming medium range rocket is somewhat established. To challenge an incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that enters space and comes into its target from above at extremely high speeds is still a difficult task to accomplish. In the early stages of the Cold War, American projects like the Nike Zeus was created to essentially blow up the sky with a nuclear tipped anti-aircraft missile in order to counter the warheads of early Soviet ICBMs. No one knew the effectiveness of such a strategy, but some unknown systems were created in the Soviet Union, and the modern development of these systems exist defending Moscow today.

Similar to the Nike systems, the Soviets developed what was essentially a super SA-2 missile called the V-1000 to intercept incoming ballistic missiles. Pushing the defense farther into the atmosphere, the ABM system called the Galosh and the further developed A-35 surrounded Moscow to protect the capital with the few systems they had for ICBM missile defense. Towards the latter part of the Cold War, the A-35 was improved to use the Gorgon missile to target threats in the atmosphere, combined with the Gazelle missile to target closer range threats that eluded the Gorgon. Currently there is not a lot of open information on Russian ICBM defense past some knowledge of the development of the A-235 Nudol missile that likely will still be in small numbers defending fortress Moscow.

While the best defense against missiles is to not enter a conflict, it is often the case that missile development is essential to protect a designated population. In a more effective manner, it also acts as a deterrent in escalating a larger conflict. Current technology still likely could not produce a really effective Star Wars style system and it is complicated defending against medium range missiles and ICBMs. It is still difficult defending against small rocket attacks as seen in the Middle East with GRAD rockets being targeted by Iron Dome missile interceptors. With S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems now becoming more common in the region, it might be the case that ICBMs might be the only effective systems that could pass through the anti-missile defense shields using the S-300 and S-400 radar systems. The fact is that any ballistic missile system will cause a significant amount of damage, and there are few options in stopping such an attack.



Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration