Friday, 10 June 1988
"SDI: TECHNOLOGY, SURVIVABILITY AND SOFTWARE,"
the much-delayed Office of Technology Assessment report, was delivered to
key congressional committees more than nine months ago in
classified form (WN 23 Oct 87).
This week it was officially made
public--sort of. Three critical chapters dealing with offensive
countermeasures are still being held up by the Pentagon and the
remaining nine chapters have been sanitized, but the frustrated
OTA decided to release what it could. Tom Karas, the project
director, and others involved in the study, made it clear that in
their opinion the expurgated portions contained nothing that
would help an adversary, but are being withheld to prevent a full
public debate of the merits of the SDI concept. One can only
conclude that the deleted chapters were in the megaton range,
since what remains is pretty devastating. Some of the findings:
"Given optimistic assumptions" (and more than $150B), the
proposed first-phase system "might destroy from a few up to a
modest fraction" of attacking warheads. (We can destroy half of
their warheads with a START treaty.) Relatively mature technologies
could be adapted by the Soviets
as anti-satellite weapons, such as direct-ascent nuclear weapons,
to threaten all three phases of the proposed defensive system.
Most of the technologies being developed for a ballistic
missile defense (BMD) would be useful in an anti-BMD role long
before they reached the level of development needed for BMD.
There is a "significant probability" that software problems
would lead to a catastrophic failure of the BMD system the first
(and presumably only) time the system were used in a real war.
. ARE THE SOVIETS VIOLATING THE 1974 THRESHOLD TEST BAN TREATY?
In sharp contrast to Administration assertions of probable
violations, a recent OTA study on seismic verification concludes
that "the Soviets are observing a yield limit consistent with the
150kt limit" set by the treaty. Apparent violations can be
attributed to the expected statistical distribution of estimated
yields for tests at or near the limit, according to the report.
It points out that yield estimates of US tests show the same
variation. The report also concludes that nuclear tests down to
10kt can be readily monitored with external seismic networks.
3. THE PENTAGON HAS FROZEN AWARDS OF NEW RESEARCH CONTRACTS
in a surprise move that stunned many university researchers. Claiming
that outlays are running higher than expected, the DOD announced
there would be no awards from 20 May to 30 June and warned that
the freeze might be extended. The Pentagon is now buzzing with
rumors that the freeze will be extended until September. That
could mean disaster for researchers with a payroll to meet.