Friday, 24 April 1987 Washington, DC

the APS Study Group concludes that the development of an effective ballistic missile defense utilizing directed energy weapons (DEW) would require performance levels that vastly exceed current capabilities. The report, released yesterday, has received extensive media coverage. Additionally, the report concludes that insufficient information exists to decide whether the required performance levels can ever be achieved. The Study Group estimates that ". . .even in the best of circumstances, a decade or more of intensive research would be required just to provide the technical knowledge needed for an informed decision about the potential effectiveness and survivability of directed energy weapon systems." This would still have to be followed by extensive development in many important technological areas. The Soviet Union can be expected to use the time to make their missiles less vulnerable to such weapons and to develop the means to attack the defensive system. The report cautions against forcing an immature technology into an engineering evaluation. This would tend to freeze the technology at levels inadequate for its ultimate goals and absorb resources that could otherwise be used for research on more promising approaches. In recommending the approval of the report to the APS Council, the Review Committee, headed by George Pake of Xerox, acknowledged that the security review resulted in "small but significant deletions from the report. In particular, some of the counter measures available to the offense could not be discussed in detail." In addition to the extensive media coverage, the report has already become a part of the congressional debate over Star Wars, with a speech delivered this morning by Senator Proxmire (D-WI). The Executive Summary and Major Conclusions of the Study will be published in the May issue of Physics Today. The full report will appear in Reviews of Modern Physics.

in a prepared statement, expressed pleasure that the APS has responded to the President's challenge to the scientists and engineers of the United States to join together to seek defensive solutions to the ballistic missile threat. "Although the chapters in the report...represent an objective independent appraisal of various technologies, we find the conclusions to be subjective and unduly pessimistic....The report has the additional problem of being a snapshot in time that dates to the preparation of the report." This is a pretty cheeky reaction to a report that SDIO bottled up for nearly seven months. Members of the Study Panel, however, expressed confidence that progress made since the study was conducted does not invalidate any conclusions of the report. The SDIO statement goes on to say that, "while the APS Study Group has achieved an impressive compilation of unclassified source material and, as one would expect, astutely applied physical principles and their analysis, we would not have made several of the assumptions they made in defining the technical requirements."

Bob Park can be reached via email at
Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.