Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Used the System Yesterday... Pentagon developing system to track every vehicle in a city

The Pentagon is developing an urban surveillance system that would use computers and thousands of cameras to track, record and analyze the movement of every vehicle in a foreign city.

Dubbed "Combat Zones That See," the project is designed to help the U.S. military protect troops and fight in cities overseas.

Police, scientists and privacy experts say the unclassified technology could easily be adapted to spy on Americans.

The project's centerpiece is groundbreaking computer software that is capable of automatically identifying vehicles by size, color, shape and license tag, or drivers and passengers by face.

According to interviews and contracting documents, the software may also provide instant alerts after detecting a vehicle with a license plate on a watchlist, or search months of records to locate and compare vehicles spotted near terrorist activities.

The project is being overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is helping the Pentagon develop new technologies for combatting terrorism and fighting wars in the 21st century.

Its other projects include developing software that scans databases of everyday transactions and personal records worldwide to predict terrorist attacks and creating a computerized diary that would record and analyze everything a person says, sees, hears, reads or touches.

Scientists and privacy experts - who already have seen the use of face-recognition technologies at a Super Bowl and monitoring cameras in London - are concerned about the potential impact of the emerging DARPA technologies if they are applied to civilians by commercial or government agencies outside the Pentagon.

"Government would have a reasonably good idea of where everyone is most of the time," said John Pike, a Global defense analyst.

DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker dismisses those concerns. She said the Combat Zones That See (CTS) technology isn't intended for homeland security or law enforcement and couldn't be used for "other applications without extensive modifications."

But scientists envision nonmilitary uses. "One can easily foresee pressure to adopt a similar approach to crime-ridden areas of American cities or to the Super Bowl or any site where crowds gather," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

Pike agreed.

"Once DARPA demonstrates that it can be done, a number of companies would likely develop their own version in hope of getting contracts from local police, nuclear plant security, shopping centers, even people looking for deadbeat dads."

James Fyfe, a deputy New York police commissioner, believes police will be ready customers for such technologies.

"Police executives are saying, 'Shouldn't we just buy new technology if there's a chance it might help us?"' Fyfe said. "That's the post-9-11 mentality."

Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said he sees law enforcement applications for DARPA's urban camera project "in limited scenarios." But citywide surveillance would tax police manpower, Kerlikowske said. "Who's going to validate and corroborate all those alerts?"

According to contracting documents reviewed by The Associated Press, DARPA plans to award a three-year contract for up to $12 million by Sept. 1. In the first phase, at least 30 cameras would help protect troops at a fixed site. The project would use small $400 stick-on cameras, each linked to a $1,000 personal computer.

In the second phase, at least 100 cameras would be installed in 12 hours to support "military operations in an urban terrain."

The second-phase software should be able to analyze the video footage and identify "what is normal (behavior), what is not" and discover "links between places, subjects and times of activity," the contracting documents state.

The program "aspires to build the world's first multi-camera surveillance system that uses automatic ... analysis of live video" to study vehicle movement "and significant events across an extremely large area," the documents state.

Both configurations will be tested at Ft. Belvoir, Va., south of Washington, then in a foreign city. Walker declined comment on whether Kabul, Afghanistan, or Baghdad, Iraq, might be chosen but says the foreign country's permission will be obtained.

DARPA outlined project goals March 27 for more than 100 executives of potential contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

DARPA told the contractors that 40 million cameras already are in use around the world, with 300 million expected by 2005.

U.S. police use cameras to monitor bridges, tunnels, airports and border crossings and regularly access security cameras in banks, stores and garages for investigative leads. In the District of Columbia, police have 16 closed-circuit television cameras watching major roads and gathering places.

Great Britain has an estimated 2.5 million closed-circuit television cameras, more than half operated by government agencies, and the average Londoner is thought to be photographed 300 times a day.

But many of these cameras record over their videotape regularly. Officers have to monitor the closed-circuit TV and struggle with boredom and loss of attention.

By automating the monitoring and analysis, DARPA "is attempting to create technology that does not exist today," Walker explained.

Though insisting CTS isn't intended for homeland security, DARPA outlined a hypothetical scenario for contractors in March that showed the system could aid police as well as the military. DARPA described a hypothetical terrorist shooting at a bus stop and a hypothetical bombing at a disco one month apart in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a city with slightly more residents than Miami.

CTS should be able to track the day's movements for every vehicle that passed each scene in the hour before the attack, DARPA said. Even if there were 2,000 such vehicles and none showed up twice, the software should automatically compare their routes and find vehicles with common starting and stopping points.

Joseph Onek of the Open Society Institute, a human rights group, said current law that permits the use of cameras in public areas may have to be revised to address the privacy implications of these new technologies.

"It's one thing to say that if someone is in the street he knows that at any single moment someone can see him," Onek said. "It's another thing to record a whole life so you can see anywhere someone has been in public for 10 years."

US-based missiles to have global reach: US to build missiles with global reach

The Pentagon is planning a new generation of weapons, including huge hypersonic drones and bombs dropped from space, that will allow the US to strike its enemies at lightning speed from its own territory.

Over the next 25 years, the technology would free the US from dependence on forward bases and the cooperation of regional allies, part of the drive towards self-sufficiency spurred by the difficulties of gaining international help in the invasion of Iraq.

The new weapons are being developed under a programme codenamed Falcon (Force Application and Launch from the Continental US). A US defence website has invited bids from contractors to develop the technology and Jane's Defence Weekly reports that the first flight tests are scheduled to take place within three years. The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) website says the programme aims to fulfil "the government's vision of an ultimate prompt global reach capability (circa 2025 and beyond)".

The Falcon technology would "free the US military from reliance on forward basing to enable it to react promptly and decisively to destabilising or threatening actions by hostile countries and terrorist organisations," according to Darpa.

In other words, said John Pike, head of Washington think tank "It's about blowing people up on the other side of the planet even if no country on earth will allow us to use their territory."

The ultimate goal would be a "reusable hypersonic cruise vehicle (HCV) . . . capable of taking off from a conventional military runway and striking targets 9,000 nautical miles distant in less than two hours". The unmanned HCV would carry a payload of up to 12,000lb and could ultimately fly at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound, according to Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Washington.

Propelling a warhead of that size at those speeds poses serious technological challenges and Darpa estimates it will take more than 20 years to develop.

Over the next seven years, the US air force and Darpa will develop a cheaper "global reach" weapons system relying on expendable rocket boosters, known as small launch vehicles (SLV) that would take a warhead into space and drop it over its target.

In US defence jargon, the warhead is known as a Common Aero Vehicle (Cav), an unpowered bomb which would be guided on to its target as it plummeted to earth at high and accelerating velocity.

The Cav could carry 1,000lb of explosives but at those speeds explosives may not be necessary. A simple titanium rod would be able to penetrate 70 feet of solid rock and the shock wave would have enormous destructive force.

Jane's Defence Weekly reported that the first Cav flight demonstration is provisionally scheduled by mid-2006, and the first SLV flight exercise would take place the next year. A test of the two systems combined would be carried out by late 2007.

Raining death on U.S. cities?
Growing ballistic threat fuels missile-defense research, deployment

NEAR PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA, April 17, 2011 – It is one hour before dawn and North Korean forces have begun readying a number of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at America. Fueling of the missiles by their crews, which have been in place for years, goes unnoticed by U.S. and Allied satellite surveillance, despite increased tensions between both countries, and are readied for launch within 50 minutes. Shortly before sunrise, tens of thousands of North Korean shock troops, armored units and battalions of rocket forces with short- and medium-range missiles stand poised to invade South Korea.

U.S. troop presence, long reduced under previous Pentagon reorganization, is negligible, but America still retains its diplomatic and military alliance with Seoul, an increasing source of friction between Washington and Pyongyang. As day breaks, a dozen three-stage ICBMs with ranges in excess of 13,000 kilometers are launched at a half-dozen west coast American cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle. At the same time, 50 North Korean divisions numbering close to 600,000 men rumble southward following a massive missile and artillery bombardment that nearly levels Seoul, as well as much of South Korea's air and ground force.

Within minutes of launch, U.S. satellites pick up and begin tracking the North Korean ICBMs. Their path, missile trajectory computers quickly calculate, will take them over the extreme eastern expanses of China, past Russia's Siberian Sea, across the southern portion of the Arctic Ocean, down through Alaska on their way to key western U.S. cities. Though dawn in Korea, it is late evening the day before in the United States. Most of the 300 million-plus Americans are at home asleep or otherwise unsuspecting of the coming attack.

But the ICBMs never reach their intended targets. A combination of ground interceptors, along with airborne and space-based laser weapons, target and intercept each of the speeding missiles, destroying them in flight and rendering their nuclear payloads ineffective. Though war is raging on the Korean peninsula, the American heartland was protected because successive administrations made the investment years ago in technology and funding to develop state-of-the-art missile defenses – weapons that negated the need for the U.S. to respond with nuclear missiles of its own.


At least, that's one possible scenario. The other is much too terrible to contemplate, say supporters of missile-defense programs currently being built and tested by the Pentagon, for that one involves destruction of American cities and perhaps tens of thousands of American lives lost. To prevent such devastation, the Bush administration has embarked on an ambitious plan to deploy a multifaceted, multi-layered missile-defense system that is intended to shield the continental United States, its armed forces and its overseas possessions from ballistic-missile attacks.

"The objective of the National Missile Defense (NMD) program is to develop and maintain the option to deploy a cost-effective, operationally effective and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty-compliant system that will protect the United States against limited ballistic-missile threats, including accidental or unauthorized launches or Third World threats," says a Federation of American Scientists analysis. "The primary mission of National Missile Defense is defense of the United States (all 50 states) against a threat of a limited strategic ballistic-missile attack from a rogue nation."

Cheap in comparison to a state-of-the-art air ground and naval force, more nations worldwide are opting to buy or develop intercontinental ballistic missiles and tip them with nuclear weapons, say intelligence experts, which has fueled calls in the U.S. for developing and deploying a shield against ICBM threats.

Included in that list are "axis of evil" members Iran and North Korea, the latter already reportedly possessing a limited number of nuclear warheads, U.S. intelligence officials warned Japan in March. Pyongyang is also developing intercontinental ballistic-missile technology – most likely with Chinese help – to deliver them. Iran, meanwhile, is also working hard to develop nuclear and ICBM capability, say U.S. intelligence officials.

Because of these and other emerging threats, the Bush administration wants to deploy a workable, if limited, ICBM defense by 2004. The earliest system envisioned by the Pentagon, currently under development, involves placing up to 20 interceptor rockets in Alaska and California – known as Ground-Based Midcourse Defense. Advanced Patriot missiles would also be part of that system. But other, more technologically advanced missile-defense systems are also well under development, if not still years away from deployment.

The speed at which the Pentagon is set to deploy the first system was the subject of a government investigative agency report earlier this month, which said President Bush's directive to deploy a missile defense quickly may actually harm the overall effectiveness of the technology.

"The president's directive to begin fielding an initial defensive capability in 2004 places [the Pentagon] in danger of getting off track early and introducing more risk into the missile-defense effort over the long term," said the General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog, in a report released June 4.

The Pentagon was employing "immature technology and limited testing" of missile-defense capabilities in its rush to meet Bush's deadline, the GAO said. "While doing so may help MDA meet the president's deadline, it also increases the potential that some elements may not work as intended."

So far, the GAO says tests have been conducted under non-stress conditions. "As a result, testing to date has provided only limited data for determining whether the system will work as intended in 2004," the GAO said.

But the gravity of potential threats is what is driving the administration's timetable. Most importantly, the Pentagon says, the ballistic missile threat is maturing – and quickly.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, prior to his appointment in the Bush administration, helped author a report in 1998 on missile defense which stated, "Concerted efforts by a number of overtly or potentially hostile nations to acquire ballistic missiles with biological or nuclear payloads pose a growing threat to the United States, its deployed forces and its friends and allies."

His report predicted that nations developing ballistic missiles could not match U.S. technological superiority, but could, within five years, "be able to inflict major destruction" on American cities, and that the emerging threat is "broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported" by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Also important in Rumsfeld's report was the notation that warning times for incoming missile deployments was being reduced. "The U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment," the report said.

And Bob Smith, a space and communications division spokesman for Boeing, told WorldNetDaily in 1999 that "at least 30 nations are known to have more than 10,000 theater ballistic missiles in their arsenals, and the threat is growing daily." Several of these countries are also known to be pursuing development or to have developed nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities for their missiles, he said.

To counter them, the United States is developing what Pentagon planners have called a "layered" missile defense that will likely involve land, sea, air and – eventually – space-based defenses.

Emerging threats
While most of the world's great powers – Europe, Russia, India and China, along with Pakistan and Israel, both of which are also nuclear-armed – are allies of the U.S. and not hostile, these nations also produce their own modern short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missiles. Ominously, many sell these weapons to other potentially threatening nations like Iran and North Korea.

Some of the most modern lethal weapons challenging U.S. missile defense developers belong to Russia and China. Moscow not only possesses modern ICBMs, but it also fields SLBMs – submarine-launched ballistic missiles – which, if exported, could be used by hostile navies to rain death on U.S. cities with little or no warning. The most modern Russian missile is the Topol M, or SS-27, a single-warhead missile that can travel 11,000 kilometers (6,900 miles). It comes in silo-based and mobile versions, the latter of which are much harder to find.

China also possesses modern ICBM and SLBM missiles. Beijing has successfully tested the 7,500-mile range DF-31 missile, and has deployed its 7,500-mile J-2 SLBM aboard People's Liberation Army Navy submarines.

Both China and Russia have sold missiles and missile technology to client states Pakistan, Iran and other nations in the Middle East, U.S. intelligence reports. And these client states are using the technology to advance their own domestic offensive ballistic missile capability.

Iran and North Korea, for example, are exchanging similar technologies to develop ICBMs capable of striking all of their neighbors as well as the west coast of the U.S. The weapon's designation in North Korea is the Taepo Dong 2; in Iran, the Shahab 5 and 6. On the drawing board for North Korea is the Taepo Dong 4 and for Iran, the Shahab 7, each with a maximum range of more than 9,300 miles with a 220-pound payload.

Iran has already exported domestically produced versions of short-range SCUD B and SCUD C missiles to Congo, the Washington Times reported in November 1999.

India's arsenal includes the short-range ballistic missile Prithvi, the medium-range Agni missile, and the short-range supersonic Brahmos. Less clear, says the Federation of American Scientists, is India's development of a 12,000-kilometer (7,456 miles) ICBM designated "Surya."

Brazil, meanwhile, is rapidly becoming one of the world's largest exporters of weapons. It has a mature space-launch vehicle program begun in the 1960s, and there were reports that Libya and Iraq were interested in Brazil's domestically produced ballistic missiles, though there were no reports of sales of such missiles to Baghdad or Tripoli.

All combined, great and emerging powers present an ever-increasing need for a state-of-the-art, layered missile-defense system, Pentagon and Bush administration officials insist.

"The president's decision to deploy a missile defense means that our total vulnerability to missile attack – yes, total; we could do nothing in the event of an accidental or deliberate launch – will soon go the way of the Berlin Wall," writes Baker Spring, the Kirby research fellow in national-security policy at The Heritage Foundation. "… As technology progresses further, this initial set-up can serve as the foundation of a more complex system designed to stop other types of missiles."

Land-based defenses
Anti-missile defense systems that use missiles to intercept other missiles have been in the U.S. arsenal for more than a decade. The Army's Patriot air-defense missiles made their debut in the first Gulf War, intercepting a number of SCUD-type ballistic missiles fired into Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait by Iraq.

The initial Patriot system has been upgraded to the PAC-3 system currently in use. It is "an entirely new missile … which is intended to counter theater-class ballistic missile threats using hit-to-kill intercept," says a description by the Federation of American Scientists, or FAS.

"The PAC-3 missile is fired from the same launcher as earlier versions of Patriot, although eight of the smaller PAC-3 missiles are carried in each firing unit, versus four each of the earlier versions," said FAS.

And the Patriot technology proved itself again in the recent war with Iraq. Of more than a dozen surface-to-surface missiles fired by Baghdad, eight were intercepted by differing versions of Patriot missile batteries. Only one Iraqi missile hit any target of significance; a shopping mall in Kuwait City, causing only minor injuries.

Israel and the U.S. have also developed the Arrow missile-defense system, which works similar to the Patriot.

Besides PAC-3 and the Pentagon's land-based interceptors set to be deployed next year, the Army is also developing a concept known as THAAD, or Theater High Altitude Area Defense. The THAAD is designed "to provide extended coverage, engaging incoming missile at ranges of up to several hundred kilometers, versus the tens of kilometers provided by" earlier Patriot systems, said FAS.

"THAAD missiles are intended to actually collide with the target ballistic missile, rather than destroying it by exploding nearby, as fragmentation warheads do," FAS said. Final guidance to the incoming missile is accomplished by an infrared seeker on the "kill vehicle," or interceptor missile.

Sea-based defenses
A sea-based component involves deployment of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, which was outlawed under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The U.S. gained the ability to test and deploy a sea-based defense after Washington withdrew from the treaty, signed with the former Soviet Union, in 2002.

For one, the U.S. Navy is developing a missile-defense system for theater-wide forces. Incorporating THAAD technology, the sea-based version will be deployed on AEGIS-equipped warships and be capable of providing "wide area coverage against a wide range of threats, including ascent phase intercepts where the ship's mobility permits such engagements," says an assessment by FAS.

The Missile Defense Agency reported June 18 that a test of its AEGIS defense system involving the use of an SM-3 kinetic warhead missile failed to hit its intended target.

"Preliminary indications are that the SM-3 interceptor missile deployed its Kinetic Warhead, but an intercept was not achieved," said the MDA, in a statement. "The primary objective of this test was to evaluate the SM-3 Kinetic Warhead's guidance, navigation and control operation in space using an upgraded solid divert and attitude control system."

It was the fourth test of the AEGIS SM-3 missile, said the MDA, which was conducted on the cruiser USS Lake Erie. The first three resulted in successful intercepts.

Adding a sea-based aspect to missile defense is an appropriate step, argues the Center for Security Policy, and one that is bipartisan in nature.

"… The wisdom of adapting Navy AEGIS fleet air-defense ships for [missile defense] has been increasingly recognized by influential Democrats," the center said, in a policy brief. "Former secretaries of defense Harold Brown and Bill Perry, former CIA Director John Deutch and even Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware have recently espoused this idea. In so doing, they appear to have embraced an approach for acquiring effective missile defenses long advanced by a blue-ribbon Commission on Missile Defense sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and by most leading Republicans. …"

Laser defenses
One of the most ambitious and technologically challenging concepts currently under development in the U.S. is the Airborne Laser, or ABL, project, led by Boeing Corporation.

Also, as WorldNetDaily has reported, over the past two decades the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, or BMDO, formerly the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, have developed the technologies essential for a Space-Based Laser system, or SBL.

Nicknamed the "Death Star," the space-based laser program is well underway, led by $4.1 billion in development funds supplied by the BMDO. The goal is to place SBL into orbit in 2012. Testing is already underway.

"Whoever controls space has control of Earth," says physicist John Pike, an international weapons expert.

"The United States is unable to resist it. If the U.S. is in a position to control Earth from outer space, there's nothing to stop us. Of course we're going to do it," Pike told the Toronto Star in March 2001.

But the ABL, a 747-mounted system under development since 1996, could be deployed much sooner – perhaps by 2007, say experts. Besides Boeing, defense contractors Lockheed Martin and TRW are also involved in its development.

The ABL system is designed to locate, track and destroy missiles shortly after they have left their launch platforms and before they enter high altitudes. "Capable of autonomous operation at altitudes above the clouds, the Airborne Laser will locate and track missiles in the boost phase of their flight, then accurately point and fire the laser with such energy that the missiles will be destroyed near their launch areas," says a Boeing statement.

Developers have armed the ABL platforms with YAL-1A Attack Laser, which is a COIL – Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser.

According to the Air Force, all of the ABL's systems – infrared heat detectors, turbopump to circulate laser fuel through the megawatt class laser (a pump with enough power to fill an ordinary home swimming pool in 10 minutes), two solid-state kilowatt-class lasers, a COIL and a beam-steering configuration that incorporates the use of the relatively new science of adaptive optics – "will be tested individually and then as part of the ABL system, both on the ground at the ABL Integrated Test Force facility at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and in the air," as they are installed.

"The integration and test phases will culminate in late 2004 when ABL shoots down its first boosting ballistic missile," said the Air Force in a published statement.

An official at the Airborne Laser System Program Office at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico told WorldNetDaily he wasn't aware of any other nation developing an ABL platform. He also said the program was on schedule.

Boeing's Smith says a fleet of seven ABL aircraft are initially planned, but the military could buy more if the Pentagon saw the need.

The United States, in conjunction with allies, also is developing ground-based laser weapons. One such concept being developing primarily by TRW for the Army is called the Tactical High Energy Laser, or THEL.

The system, which incorporates a tracker/pointer and high-energy beam, was co-developed with U.S. and Israeli contractors for the U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala., and the Israel Ministry of Defense.

"It's the only working high-energy laser system that has been fielded," one developmental engineer familiar with the project told WorldNetDaily, on condition of anonymity.

But "its important role in missile defense and boost-phase intercept has been ridiculed and even denied because political appointees and career civil-service types have pursued missile defense on a political footing along with their geo-politics concepts," said the source. "Immaculate warfare at a distance."

THEL's success was "predicted and studied carefully in the '90s," the engineer said, and development was pursued only after scientists examined the physics limitations of such a weapon.

Developing new military technology is especially tedious and lengthy, but it must be, say experts, because lives – as well as billions of taxpayer dollars – are at stake. Developing effective missile-defense technology has been no different.

"You test a little, you learn a lot and you continue to go forward. This is rocket science," Department of Defense spokesman Chris Taylor told CBS News June 19, following the failure of a sea-based missile test, in which a Standard Missile-3 interceptor fired from the cruiser USS Lake Erie missed an Aries target missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.

Last week's failure marked the first in two and a half years of sea-based missile defense testing, Pentagon officials said.

Is there a need?
Not all experts believe the U.S. is in dire need of an expensive, technologically challenging and elaborate missile-defense system.

"The Clinton administration underestimated the technological ability of several of the 'rogue' states to develop long-range missiles and politicized its intelligence estimate. However, missile threats to the United States from any one of those states also depend on the intentions of that state and political developments that might affect those intentions," writes Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at the CATO Institute, a libertarian Washington-based think tank.

He argues that many of the nations most likely to threaten the U.S. with ballistic missiles have gone, or are undergoing, political changes that likely will mean a thaw in relations with Washington.

"Since early 1999, significant positive political developments have occurred in the 'rogue' states most likely to develop long-range missiles," he says. "The United States has agreed to lift some of the economic sanctions against North Korea – the nation that would first have the technological capability to threaten the United States with missiles – in exchange for a suspension of its testing of missiles.

"Iran – the next most capable 'rogue' nation in missile technology – is haltingly liberalizing at home and improving relations with its neighbors and the West. That thaw could eventually lead to improving relations with the United States," Eland says.

Also, some critics have cited a 2000 Congressional Budget Office report that projected the 15-year research-and-development cost for missile defense would be around $60 billion. But, as the Center for Security Policy argues, that's "cheap at twice the price."

The center estimates that U.S. defense budgets over the next decade and a half could total as much as $4.5 trillion.

"Consequently, even if the current CBO estimates are correct, the annual outlay for this expanded (but still 'limited') national missile defense system would be less than 1 percent of then-year budgets," the center said in an analysis. "At that rate, a missile defense capable of sparing even a single American city from attack by missile-delivered weapons of mass destruction, to say nothing of perhaps all of them, would be cheap at twice the CBO's price."

Other think tanks and experts also see the threat of weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, used against the homeland as reason enough to develop a workable system.

"U.S. ballistic missile-defense efforts need to be pursued as part of a comprehensive strategy for dealing with WMD and the means to deliver them," says Daniel Gouré, director of the Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Of necessity, that strategy must be global, one in which the United States can enlist its closest allies."

Army getting to heart of the matter

The Army will begin accepting proposals this week for solutions that detect the electronic signal of a beating human heart as far away as 50 feet for urban combat or medical uses.

In May the Army released a request for proposals for "remote sensing of the electro-magnetic potential of the human heart" and will accept contractor submissions July 1 through July 14. The Army expects to award a $70,000 contract in mid-September, said Jeremy McLain, mechanical engineer at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

The contract will use fiscal 2004 funding, and one vendor will produce a proof-of-principle device during the initial six months. Phase II, which will be worth up to $500,000, will include the development and demonstration of a prototype, McLain said.

The heart has specific electronic signature that a sensor could detect by filtering out other noise and signals. The Army request for proposals lists two possible functions:

* A handheld version for medics in the field to determine the heart rate of a wounded soldier.

* An enhanced version for soldiers in urban combat situations to detect heart signals through walls and other obstructions, which could illustrate how many individuals are in a room that soldiers are about to enter.

The Army expects the system to weigh 5 to 10 pounds with a sensing range of 20 to 50 feet. If that range increases, the heart detection devices could augment other sensing solutions, such as infrared and light amplification sensors. With telescopic sights on small guns and rifles, soldiers could detect a hiding enemy even farther away, according to the request for proposals.

"I've seen a couple of abstracts on it from different sources that would suit medical community and war fighters," McLain said. "Hopefully, it will get to be that precise to detect through walls."

The Army's goal is to have solid prototypes and initial production types by the end of the decade, McLain said. He added that if the solutions were available today, they could aid soldiers' searches of Iraqi palaces or Afghani caves.

George Smith, senior fellow at, which monitors space and military programs, said he was skeptical of the program's potential impact based on the modest funding levels and because this is not a new area of research.

Navy to Defend Sonar in Court

For more than a year, the U.S. Navy and environmentalists have been in close combat over sonar and its effect on marine mammals. On Monday, their fighting will culminate in court.

The Navy says it needs a wide berth to test its controversial, ultra-loud, low-frequency sonar system. The Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, and other green groups counter that the military has to be more mindful of whales and other marine mammals when it runs the tests. Whales depend on their ears to make their way around the oceans, after all. The sonar in question can be as deafening to marine mammals as a Saturn V moon rocket.

Today, the two sides will begin the final phase of their legal tussle in U.S. District Court over the sonar program: Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active -- or LFA for short.

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte has already slapped a preliminary injunction against the use of LFA. The environmental plaintiffs "are likely to prevail on a number of issues" in the case, she wrote. By authorizing the Navy to test LFA in as much as 75 percent of the world's oceans, the Bush administration may have violated a number of environmental regulations, including provisions of the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Everyone in the case agrees that there's a national security argument for active sonar systems like LFA. Submarines are the ultimate stealth weapons and the greatest danger to American military and commercial ships, the Navy notes on its LFA website. "An undetected enemy submarine is an underwater terrorist, threatening any surface ship or coastline within its range."

During the Cold War, the United States used passive sonar -- microphones in the water, basically -- to listen for the relatively big, relatively loud Soviet submarines.

Today's potential adversaries -- namely North Korea, Iran and China -- have subs that are considerably smaller and less noisy. The Navy contends the only way to find these is by using active sonar -- a rig that sends out blasts of sound waves into the water and detects reflections off objects, giving away their location.

"It's like going into a dark area and flashing the lights on," said John Pike, director of

During the Cold War, using active sonar was considered a bad idea because it would give away the location of the ship that sent out the blast.

"But when you have an entire carrier group steaming 50 miles off the coast, you're not going to hide," Pike added. "Since you've lost the element of surprise, you might as well go active."

While going active may be the smart military move, it can carry heavy environmental costs.

At least eight whales were killed in the Bahamas when the Navy tested its "53 C" active sonar in March 2000. A Navy program meant to spot ships in coastal waters is using a version of that technology, as well as adaptations of the noisy air guns used in oil and gas exploration.

With eight deafeningly loud speakers, LFA can produce up to 240 decibels of sound, according to Joel Reynolds, an NRDC attorney. That's the equivalent of standing next to a Saturn V rocket at takeoff, he said.

That's near the sonar array. But water tends to carry bass tones, like LFA's, tremendous distances. So even hundreds of miles away, LFA is still heavy-metal-concert loud at 140 decibels, Reynolds said.

Prolonged exposure to that much noise is bad for people: Musicians like Pete Townsend have had their hearing decimated by prolonged exposure.

Whales rely on their ears a lot more than humans. They use them to find mates and places to feed. So it's assumed that the loud sounds are even worse for them.

But the fact is, "we don't know how these sonars affect whales," said Bob Gisiner, who runs the Office of Naval Research's marine mammal study programs. "We know they're loud. But there are other loud sounds in the ocean."

But for the Navy to comply with the Marine Mammals Protection Act, Reynolds added, the service has to show that LFA tests have a "negligible" effect on local whales. That's something the Navy hasn't been able to do. Nor has the military been able to demonstrate they considered "all reasonable alternatives."

For now, the NRDC and the Navy have agreed to allow testing of LFA in about a million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, near the Mariana Islands. Whether the military will be able to use LFA elsewhere is now in the hands of Judge Laporte.

IT MAY BE the supreme irony of the Space Age.

Thirty-four years after the United States trounced the Soviet Union in the race to the moon, NASA's shuttle fleet is grounded, and we depend on the Russians' 1960s-era Soyuz capsules to put American astronauts into orbit.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan called for a "National Aerospace Plane" that could take off from a runway, reach orbit in a single stage and return to Earth as routinely as an airliner. A decade and billions of dollars later, engineers joked that the space plane would have to be built of "unobtainium." Today they're not joking at all. The United States still has nothing to replace its 20-year-old shuttle fleet, down to just three craft since Columbia broke up on re-entry Feb. 1, killing all aboard.

As a panel chaired by retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr. finishes its report on the Columbia disaster, due within a month, the space community is wondering whether America is willing to sustain the manned program it launched 42 years ago.

"There is no question we are at a crossroads," said Roger D. Launius, head of the space history division of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. "The decisions we make in the next six months to a year are the ones that are going to affect human space flight for the next 20 to 25 years."

NASA, Congress and ultimately the American public will have to decide whether the manned space program is worth the lives and treasure being risked for it. If we continue, we'll have to decide whether to patch up or replace the shuttles -- which qualify for antique license plates. And what then? Does NASA return to the proven space technology of the 1960s, or move on to something new?

A key issue is whether today's money can buy a solution to the puzzles that stymied Reagan's single-stage space plane. "We tried, technologically, to bite off more than we could chew," said John R. Rogacki, NASA's director of space transportation technology.

Engineers concluded that the air-breathing, reusable "scramjet" engine at the heart of their one-stage effort could accelerate to only 6,000 mph -- eight times the speed of sound. The craft would need a rocket boost or a heavier, more complex hybrid to reach orbital velocity of 17,200 mph. Cost projections soared.

Nor could engineers devise a workable lightweight, reusable tank for the plane's liquid hydrogen fuel, or durable new materials to shed the searing heat of re-entry without costly service between flights. The same for better systems to monitor the spacecraft's health and to speed servicing, as well as avionics to guide, dock and land a spacecraft without a crew. "Our technology has not yet advanced to the point that we can successfully develop a new reusable launch vehicle that substantially improves safety, reliability and affordability," Art Stephenson, then-director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said in 2001.

Was the nation better at this in the 1960s? NASA landed men on the moon just eight years after President John F. Kennedy gave the order in 1961. The shuttle took to the skies in 1981, just nine years after President Richard Nixon said to make it so.

Not a fair comparison, space historians say. The early space program was driven by Cold War fears and a gusher of money. Both have vanished. "Astronauts standing on the moon with the flag were just as relevant to the ongoing rivalry with the Soviets as the building of weapons. So money flowed to that program," said Launius.

The moon race cost taxpayers $25.4 billion -- more than $123 billion in today's dollars. Also, its Mercury, Gemini and some Apollo capsules rode versions of existing military rockets whose development was already paid for -- $36.8 billion by 1963, a sum worth at least $220 billion today. "Since the end of Apollo," Launius said, "we've never felt the need to make that kind of investment."

Once America had beaten the Soviets to the moon, Nixon nearly shut down the manned space flight program. But the president's home state of California was rich in aerospace businesses and the electoral votes he needed in 1972. "He didn't want to be the president who closed down the human space flight program," said Howard E. McCurdy, a space historian at American University. "No politician of national stature has had the nerve to shut it down, and yet nobody had the nerve to invest in it sufficiently so it can accomplish its objectives."

The first three shuttles cost the government just $9.8 billion in 1980 dollars -- about $21.4 billion today. But politics, cost cutting and design compromises made the shuttle expensive to operate, and possibly more dangerous. For example, to win congressional support, NASA made the shuttles big and maneuverable enough to put Air Force spy satellites into polar orbit. But after the Challenger exploded in 1986, the Pentagon switched to expendable rockets. Today's shuttles rarely fly with full loads, and they've never flown a polar orbit.

Rather than pay for fully reusable, liquid-fueled boosters, Launius said, NASA also chose cheaper solid-fuel rockets that can't be shut off (they run until fuel is depleted) and must be rebuilt for each flight. One of those boosters triggered the Challenger disaster, dooming the shuttle's role as the all-purpose, once-a-week launcher.

With fewer flights scheduled but the same fixed costs on the ground, the price of each shuttle liftoff soared, from $50 million to $400 million. New precautions in the wake of the Gehman Commission report will likely drive that even higher. "We decided to buy a cheap vehicle and pay for the vehicle in operational costs. It's like a car you get cheap, but you pour money into maintenance down the road," McCurdy said.

A reusable, single-stage spacecraft like Reagan's aerospace plane looked like the answer in 1985. It would lower operating costs by eliminating booster rockets and adding a new, lightweight tank for its liquid hydrogen fuel. It would not carry liquid oxygen because its "scramjet" engine could scoop what it needs from the air. But even as its costs mounted, the basic design and manufacturing problems were never solved. An initial budget of $3.1 billion to develop two spacecraft grew to $10 billion by 1992, with estimates of $7 billion more for flight tests and another $10 billion to $20 billion to build the real thing. With the nation in recession and the Cold War over, Congress was intent on cutting NASA's budget. In 1995, the National Aerospace Plane was terminated.

NASA, the Pentagon and the aerospace industry kept trying, spending hundreds of millions more for engineering "test beds," a strange succession of craft known as the X-33, X-34, DC-XA and X-38. But solutions remained elusive, and NASA decided to keep upgrading the shuttle and fly it for another decade -- or longer. "Committing the big bucks is risky because you can spend the money and fail," McCurdy said.

Some engineers argue that reaching Earth orbit will always be dangerous and expensive. Others say they need just one big breakthrough -- something comparable to the 1950s jet turbine engine for airliners. "People think there is something out there like that, that if they just click their heels three times and think hard enough, it will happen," said McCurdy.

The hard reality, historians say, is that great leaps in space require great heaps of money. "The single-stage-to-orbit vehicle doesn't exist now. It's an order of magnitude more sophisticated, and we want to spend a billion and a half to achieve it? I think it's not possible," said the space museum's Launius.

Some experts say the way forward lies in the past. "I think really the way to go is an updated version of Apollo," said Charles Vick, a senior fellow at the defense think-tank and a research analyst for the Federation of American Scientists.

The original Apollo carried three astronauts; Vick's version would carry seven and travel on an updated Saturn V rocket -- the brawny, throwaway system that hurled seven missions at the moon. "We can launch Saturn V's ... cheaper, quicker, more reliably and safely than we can launch the shuttle or whatever future system we're trying to develop," Vick said.

NASA is looking at something like that -- a relatively low-tech Orbital Space Plane. It would ferry astronauts (but little cargo) to the International Space Station atop a big, expendable Delta or Atlas rocket. With $2.4 billion committed over five years, NASA wants the craft available as a space station escape vehicle by 2010, and for round-trips by 2012. Until then, the shuttles and Russia's Soyuz capsules are the only means to get people into orbit.

The shuttles will also have to haul space station components and other heavy cargo until NASA develops an unmanned heavy launch system. The agency wants more than $500 million in 2004 for this "Next Generation Launch Technology" program -- with delivery by 2020 at the earliest.

But "Next Generation" engineers will face the same challenges -- scramjet engines, lightweight fuel tanks, durable thermal protection and automated docking. "It remains to be seen whether the country will support the level of investment needed for certain new systems," NASA's Rogacki said. "I hope that is the case. For science, and from the perspective of national leadership, commercial competitiveness ... it's too important to not make this investment."

Politics spawned Columbia mission
Years of political wheeling and dealing helped lead shuttle Columbia to the launchpad in January and shaped its doomed final flight.

Congress gave in to lobbyists and created Columbia's science mission using pork-barrel spending tactics. Deployment of a controversial satellite proposed by then-Vice President Al Gore was added as one of the research flight's objectives.

The mission changed after Republican lawmakers stalled work on the satellite. Then, one of Columbia's seven astronauts, Israeli air force Col. Ilan Ramon, joined the crew as the result of a 1995 deal cut between President Bill Clinton and Israel's prime minister, Shimon Peres.

"One can certainly use this mission as a way of understanding how the shuttle and NASA have as much to do with politics as science," said John Pike, director of the policy-analysis group "Anyone who thinks this is mainly about science hasn't spent much time looking at the space program."

Columbia's breakup over Texas on Feb. 1 and the death of its crew have given fresh ammunition to skeptics who question the rationale behind a human-spaceflight program mired in low Earth orbit for the past 30 years.

Critics are urging that human lives and the $3 billion spaceships not be put at risk unless there are clear and compelling reasons for doing so. However, an investigative board chaired by retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman is not expected to address the issue in its final report expected next month.

"What is most disturbing about Admiral Gehman's investigation is that it isn't looking at questions like this -- just what it takes to get the shuttle flying again as soon as possible," said Alex Roland, a history professor at Duke University, former NASA historian and vocal critic of the agency. "Neither the shuttle program or the [international] space station are providing any payoff that justifies the risk of human life or the huge expense."

Birth of a mission
House members created what would become Columbia's final mission in October 1998 during final negotiations on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's fiscal 1999 budget. Lawmakers anonymously added language to the bill at the last minute appropriating $15 million -- an amount far short of the flight's estimated $500 million total price tag -- for "a shuttle mission which accommodates research payloads."

"The original idea was that NASA would fly shuttle science missions, the space station would get ready, and the science would continue on the station," Library of Congress researcher Marcia Smith told Gehman's panel during a June 12 hearing. "But, as the station schedule slipped, there was going to be a long hiatus."

A lobbying campaign launched by Spacehab Inc. drummed up congressional support for the research flight. One NASA manager described the lobbying effort as "intense."

NASA contracts with Spacehab to provide, among other things, the leased laboratory modules that are installed in the shuttle's cargo bay on research missions. NASA paid the company more than $47 million for the onboard lab on Columbia's final flight. Spacehab suffered a $50.3 million loss after the module was destroyed.

"I wouldn't call them intense lobbying efforts," said Spacehab spokeswoman Kimberly Campbell, "but certainly we periodically meet with members of Congress who are interested in what we have to provide."

The tactic Congress used to create the research mission is called earmarking. Lawmakers increasingly have employed the technique in recent years to quietly slip local pet projects into NASA's budget including fisheries, business jets, museum exhibits and gardening studies.

More than $1.7 billion has been siphoned from NASA priorities since 1998 to pay for pork-barrel spending. Those responsible for the earmarks aren't identified in the spending bills, meaning there is little to no accountability.

Several NASA managers contacted by the Orlando Sentinel said the agency never requested money for the research mission aboard Columbia. In fact, none could recall a previous shuttle flight that was created by Congress in this way.

The 1999 budget negotiations also sparked bitter debate about an Earth-observing satellite that was the brainchild of Vice President Gore.

The spacecraft was dubbed Triana after the lookout on Columbus' ship who first spotted the New World in 1492. As initially conceived by Democrat Gore, the satellite would beam back from space images of the sunlit Earth that could be viewed around the clock on the Internet. Republicans labeled the project "Goresat" and "junk science."

After Congress created Columbia's research mission, NASA divided space on the flight between the agency's biological and physical science division and the Office of Earth Science. Launch of Triana was near the top of NASA's Earth-science agenda. It was added to the mission.

The satellite's concept had evolved considerably since Gore first presented the idea to NASA. In an effort to beef up the project's research value, scientists had added instruments to study solar flares, Earth's climate and space weather.

"The rest of the project really was shaped by the scientific community at large," said Ghassem Asrar, NASA's associate administrator for Earth Science.

Republicans still weren't convinced. An audit by NASA's inspector general already had criticized the program for allowing the Gore-inspired part of the mission to circumvent a standard review process. And costs had risen dramatically from the original $50 million estimate after additional science capabilities were added.

With Triana's launch initially planned just weeks before the November 2000 election, Republicans feared presidential candidate Gore might somehow parlay the mission into gains at the ballot box. Lawmakers ordered that all work on Triana stop until the National Academy of Sciences completed an independent review of the project.

The academy's four-month study released in March 2000 found that Triana did, in fact, have scientific merit. The time required for the independent assessment, however, meant it was too late to get Triana ready for Columbia's research flight. The satellite was bumped from the mission in July 2000, delaying Columbia's projected launch date until June 2001.

Today, Triana is gathering dust in a storage container at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Four custodians make sure the $96 million satellite is kept ready in case NASA finds it a ride to orbit. The storage cost for the satellite, recently renamed the Deep Space Climate Observatory, is $1 million per year. There are no launch plans.

"For a lot of us, it was a new thing to be involved in a project so steeped in controversy," said Craig Tooley, Triana's deputy project manager. "It is a little irksome to have a $100 million satellite system that is ready to fly and do valuable science but not know when you are going to launch."

Emptying the closet
The Triana debacle led to one of many schedule slips for Columbia. Ten subsequent delays caused by a variety of factors -- processing issues, repairs to shuttle fuel lines, greater priority for space-station flights -- eventually postponed the launch until Jan. 16, 2003.

The removal of Triana left the shuttle program scrambling to fill the void with backup experiments. In the words of one NASA official, scientists "emptied the closet" at Goddard in an effort to find research projects to fly aboard Columbia.

The Triana team's loss became Israel's gain. One experiment looking for a flight was an Israeli multispectral camera designed to study the effect of dust particles in the atmosphere on global climate and rainfall. The camera and Israel's first astronaut, veteran combat pilot Ramon, were assigned to Columbia in September 2000.

A 5-year-old boy was the inspiration behind Ramon's flight.

Jeremy Issacharoff, the former political counselor at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, had visited the National Air and Space Museum in 1995 with his young son, Dean. Issacharoff was struggling to come up with new initiatives for an upcoming summit meeting between Clinton and Peres.

As Dean walked by a space-shuttle exhibit, he noticed a number of non-U.S. astronauts, including a member of Saudi Arabia's royal family, had flown on the ships. His question -- "Daddy, why isn't there an Israeli astronaut?" -- was the inspiration Issacharoff had been looking for.

"I thought they might think I had gone a bit nuts," Issacharoff, deputy director for strategic affairs at the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem, told the Sentinel last year. "I said, 'My kid had this idea. What do you think?' "

Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's ambassador to the United States, approved the idea a few days before the summit. Clinton announced after meeting with Peres that an Israeli astronaut would fly on a future shuttle mission. NASA and the Israel Space Agency signed a cooperative agreement in 1996.

"Most American presidents have understood how to use the space program as a foreign-policy tool," analyst Pike said. "It's a great way to impress people."

Cost versus benefits
The value of shuttle experiments such as the physics, biology and Earth-science research flown aboard Columbia increasingly has been challenged in recent years.

Critics charge that while the experiments have merit, the returns don't come close to justifying the staggering investment. Some scientists have suggested that much of the shuttle and station research could be done just as effectively on Earth at a fraction of the cost.

NASA officials hotly dispute those claims.

"Some commentators claim dismissively that we don't get any tangible scientific and technological return from our human-spaceflight endeavors," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors convention last Thursday. "That's urban legend number one. On the other hand, some of NASA's most vocal supporters tend to rally around the flag and claim credit for every major technological innovation in modern history."

While similar experiments remain the primary justification for building the $100 billion space station, it's unlikely an entire shuttle flight will be dedicated again to conducting research. A second shuttle research mission -- also created at Spacehab's urging with a $40 million congressional earmark in 2000 -- was canceled. And with only three shuttles remaining, virtually every flight will be needed to finish building and support the space station.

Debates are certain to continue, however, over whether NASA's human-spaceflight goals are worth the money and the risk, and whether politics or science drives the program.

"It's not that there is no value," Roland said, "but the cost is so great and the benefits are so low that this is not the way you should invest your people and scarce resources."

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