MAD world.

by Justin

Sometimes I long for the era when Mutually Assured Destruction was a more pronounced policy, and one that inspired the kind of fear anchored in helplessness if things ever went awry. Because, really, if push came to shove what could anyone have done?

These days the conflicts are dirtier, the lines blurrier, and the politics muddier. Plus, concerns about The Bomb are limited to those volatile wildcards of North Korea and Iran. And NK’s particular brand of crazy or Iran’s particular brand of middle finger to the West are more infuriating than frightening. At least in the way that I imagine the depths of the Cold War to have been.

But the ol’ false alarm scenario got a little nod in yesterday’s article in the New York Time about another ridiculous stride in devastation, Prompt Global Strike.But I do think this is awesome, and a decidedly better alternative to anything nuclear. Plus the diagram below is straight out of Yukito Kishiro:

So this conventional missile, “would be far more maneuverable than a ballistic missile, capable of avoiding the airspace of neutral countries, for example, or steering clear of hostile territory.” This monster can suddenly turn 90 degrees, pinpoint a target’s GPS coordinates, and detonate with immediate damage comparable to nuke. And a lot of that damage has to do with its hypersonic speeds (!).

The technology is a few years away from being deployed, though, and current models still take four or five hours to reach the more distant targets – the goal being to disrupt and destroy the attempted launches of an enemy before their missile gets off the ground. As long as you can trust to government judgment in the righteousness of a given preemptive strike, there’s something to be said for technology that moves this fast. As fear builds about a nuclear device or chemical weapon falling into terrorist hands, a hypersonic cruise missile isn’t a bad tool to have in your arsenal. But to decimate a target that quickly demands a kind of certainty that is seldom attainable. We all remember the WMD hilarity of yesteryear.

If you want to get technical, the awesome nerds at Popular Mechanics get really carried away with how cool all this is.

So the problem is that something that big, moving that fast, and with that kind of payload is difficult to recognize definitively as not-nuclear. If the idea is to have rapid deployment and rapid impact, the reaction (and re-reaction) window may be dangerously small. Hence China and Russia getting a little anxious about measures to insure that there’s never any atom-splitting coupled with a missile traveling 600 miles in ten minutes.

You know what I didn’t see coming, though? That George W. Bush backed away from this technology (presumably because of the potential catastrophe in misidentification), while Obama’s propelling it forward.

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