Monday, February 14, 2005

Missile shield test fizzles out (but the program still has value)


"A test of the national missile defense system failed Monday when an interceptor missile did not launch from its island base in the Pacific Ocean, the military said. It was the second failure in months for the experimental program."

There are a lot of people that attack this program as a waste of money, a boondongle that will never work and useless exercise in the face of a diminished threat.

I am not one of those people.

"You're a liberal, how can justify this waste?", I am asked with shock and awe, "You've drank the Kool-Aid of the Neo-Cons."

First of all, missile defense, as a workable system, is probably never going to work in my lifetime. It's too complicated for us to develop right now - that's why even highly controlled tests fail miserably. Secondly, forget about Seattle, I'd be shocked if North Korea could successfully launch a missile at Seoul. It's value is somewhat limited in the final application.

With that being said, I still support this program, precisely because it is so complex it probably won't work. The scientific knowledge that we'll gain from this kind of project will be immeasurable in value. Look at NASA - going to the Moon has little value, but the science and technology developed out of the effort is what makes so much of lives possible today. Small electronics, computers, safety devices, etc...all a result of NASA effort.

The two best technology drivers in this country are funded by our government - sorry general commercial industry, but you don't hold a candle to the defense industry and universities. Lockheed Martin and the University of California System will do more to advance science and technology with defense contracts and NSF money this year than Ford & GM will do in this entire decade.

If we insist on having a high defense budget, better that it's INVESTED in product development and research than thrown away on consumption spending like paying for overseas bases.

Let's face it - the "market" isn't going to fix oil dependence issues, it's going to create a war for energy between rich and poor, U.S. and China. The path off of oil is going to come from the military, trying to figure out how to move armored divisions without relying so much on oil. Northrup Grumman, on the government's dime, will be asked to figure out how to move armour without oil, or at least get high mileage. The theory will come from a university physics or engineering department, the first practical application will be in defense, and Ford will use the technology in a passenger car.

Most things are like this - small business (or big business for that matter) didn't invent the Internet. Al Gore has a better claim to that because he was a government employee at the time of creation. Private industry didn't invent nuclear energy on their own. Heck, plastics technology advancement had more to do with WWII than the market ever did.

Maybe there's a better way to get more bang for the buck, but with a concern about quarterly profits, I don't expect business to give us much of anything in the way of R & D - the shareholders are too darn fickle. I don't care if missile defense ever works, but as an engine for innovation, it's fine by me. The government should keep on funding programs like this.


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