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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Researchers Target Missile Defense Flaws
12 June 2000 7:00 pm
WASHINGTON, D.C.--U.S. researchers are stepping up efforts to shoot down a proposed missile defense system. More than three dozen scientists journeyed to the Capitol today to warn lawmakers that the $60 billion system, designed to knock incoming warheads out of the sky, is technically flawed because it can't distinguish real warheads from decoys. The rally came as Pentagon officials heatedly denied one scientist's charges that they have rigged tests to hide the problem.
The national missile defense system is supposed to seek out and destroy intercontinental warheads high above Earth's atmosphere, using high-speed "kill vehicles" to shatter targets with brute force. Current plans call for a limited defense, starting with 20 Alaska-based interceptors by 2005 and reaching 100 in 2007, that could blunt a missile threat from North Korea, Iraq, and other so-called "rogue states." But President Bill Clinton has said he will wait until after a fifth interceptor test next month to decide whether to proceed.
Scientists at today's rally, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, urged Clinton to delay the decision, arguing that the carefully controlled test won't determine if the system will work against real targets. "The [system] is not capable of handling countermeasures," such as hiding a warhead amidst a flotilla of shiny balloons or warhead-shaped dummies, said physicist Kurt Gottfried of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The tests have been "a scientific hoax," adds physicist and nuclear engineer Theodore Postol of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After analyzing data from a 1997 test flight, Postol concluded that Pentagon engineers ignored evidence that their sensors couldn't recognize a decoy, then rigged future tests by reducing the number of the dummies.
Pentagon officials admit simplifying some tests to speed development, but "categorically deny that we're fixing the flights," Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, told reporters. New sensors, computers, and radars not analyzed by Postol, other officials say, will ensure that the kill vehicles hit their targets. But the technical dispute is undermining political support for the program, which is already facing international opposition. If the system can't tell "a phony [missile] from a real one," says the Senate's top Democrat, South Dakota's Tom Daschle, "I don't know that we're ready to commit resources."