Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ballistic Missile Defense - Operator Error

The Navy has concluded that a recent failed anti-ballistic missile test of the Standard SM-3 Block IIa was due to an operator who inadvertently input an identification of the target as a “friendly”, thus causing the SM-3 to self-destruct before hitting the target.

“A U.S. Missile Defense Agency review of a failed ballistic missile intercept test showed that a mistaken input into the combat system by a sailor on the destroyer John Paul Jones caused the missile to self-destruct before reaching the target.

A tactical datalink controller, in charge of maintaining encrypted data exchanges between ships and aircraft, accidentally identified the incoming ballistic missile target as a friendly in the system, causing the SM-3 missile to self-destruct in flight …” (1)

We’re building a vast network of sensors and weapons as the foundation of the Third Offset Strategy – a strategy that will give us an unrivaled edge over our enemies and assure us of maintaining combat superiority.  At least, that’s what we’re being told.

And now, we see that a simple operator input error can entirely negate a ballistic missile intercept.  What if that had been an actual intercept instead of a test and the missile had been a nuclear missile aimed at a US base or city?  Do we really want to base our entire military “advantage” on a system so prone to inadvertent and haphazard failure?

All of us understand that software systems, and their inputs/outputs are subject to bugs and glitches under the best of conditions, let alone in the middle of war when electronic countermeasures will be blitzing the system, cyber/hack attacks will be constant, and the stress of combat will guarantee that input mistakes and output misinterpretations (remember Vincennes?) will happen with regularity.  Do we really want to bet our military future on such a strategy and such systems?

It’s interesting to note that the Russians and Chinese, while investing heavily in electronic and cyber warfare, are also producing massive increases in traditional, raw, brutal, explosive firepower.  They seem to understand that electronic and cyber warfare will be useful but that firepower still rules the battlefield.

Recall the Vietnam war.  Recall the air strikes by US planes.  For all the sophisticated surface to air missiles, radar warning receivers, countermeasures, and high performance aircraft with computer controlled navigation and weapon delivery systems, etc., our aircraft were still shot down, all too often, by old fashioned ZSU-23 barrage gunfire.

There’s a place for electronic and cyber warfare, without a doubt, but it’s as a complement to explosive firepower not a replacement for it and certainly not as the foundation of an entire military strategy.


(1)Navy Times website, “Sailor error led to failed US Navy ballistic missile intercept test”, ”, David B. Larter, 24-Jul-2017,


  1. "It’s interesting to note that the Russians and Chinese, while investing heavily in electronic and cyber warfare,

    --are also producing massive increases in traditional, raw, brutal, explosive firepower--."

    Well, if we are talking ground forces the US certainly lacks in modern self-propelled artillery, the M-109A6 howitzer cannot match modern western and Russian SPH like the PzH2000 , the Korean K9 and the Russian Koalitsia SV.
    And the US Army does not look to consider a totally new tank design in the near future .

    1. The enhancement of firepower by potential enemies is across the spectrum. For example, the Chinese are building an entire force of short and intermediate range ballistic missiles while we refrain from doing so due to treaty limitations which the Chinese are no bound by and the Russians appear to be ignoring. Both countries are developing advanced cluster munitions which, again, the US is largely refraining from. China and Russia are both developing entire families of modern tanks, IFVs, and APCs. As you point out, the discrepancy in heavy artillery is stunning. And so on. We are rapidly becoming a second rate military in terms of firepower.

    2. "intermediate range ballistic missiles"
      Yeah, now that you mentioned it, the US also lacks a new type of tactical ballistic missile.
      the ATACMS is a good missile for what it was designed to do , but compared to the Iskander-M it lacks behind, especially in the ability to maneuver in the terminal attack phase.

      The Russians circumvented the INF Treaty in a elegant way by simply putting cruise missiles on very small ships like the Buyan class corvettes .
      So if the US wants a tactical ballistic missile with a range of over 500km it has to design, say a family of missiles witch abide to the treaty .
      The ground based should be with a range of 500km but if they are ship based they can have a far greater range.
      Sort of a Anti-A2/AD strategy

    3. " Both countries are developing advanced cluster munitions"
      Well, currently the US manufactures the best cluster munitions : CBU-105 Wind Corrected Munition Dispenser with SFW ;)

    4. As of Sep 2016, Textron, the manufacturer of the CBU-105, has permanently halted production, as far as I know.

      China and Russia are pushing ahead aggressively with cluster munitions while the US has ceased production and development. I don't know whether we maintain any inventory or not.

    5. that guy did a nice writeup

  2. That is just a rumor so far "according to a source" a sailor is to blame. No one in this multi-billion dollar game likes to blame the missiles.

    The Russians chose to ignore missile treaties after the USA openly violated them. For example. placing SM-3 launchers in Poland and Romania capable of launching nuclear cruise missiles at Russia. The treaty says "launchers" to avoid those who claim "trust us" they are just defensive missiles. What is odd to the Russians is SM-3 ABMs haven't the range to shoot down ICBMs and IRBMs that fly a normal arcing trajectory. The SM-3s can only hit an IRBM if it flies an odd "depressed" trajectory near the ship.

    1. Did you read the referenced article? It's a good bit more than a rumor.

    2. The Aegis Ashore launchers are not capable of firing Tomahawks. They were put in place under the Obama administration, who I doubt would have allowed for that capability. Besides, I seriously doubt Poland and Romania would allow cruise missiles to be based in their countries.

      Aegis Ashore was meant to counter medium range missiles from Iran. It is a defensive weapon system.

    3. Aegis Ashore is a nice jobs program for Lockheed Martin.
      And pisses the Russians a lot more off than Iran .

  3. This just in, the Ford disaster continues to unfold. I guess they will not be launching aircraft soon as promised.

    EMALS Catapult Fixed But Won’t Reach Ford Until 2019

    "A new electromagnetic launch system for aircraft carriers that has faltered when attempting to launch heavier planes is now sound thanks to a software fix, Navy officials announced this week. However, it won’t reach the Navy’s new carrier for more than a year."

    I had no idea that software was so difficult to transport and install!

  4. The system has the ability to show an incoming ballistic missile as 'friendly.' Almost comical.


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