Thursday, March 21, 2013

Missile Defense

Leisure of the Theory Class posted this on missile defense today. The punchline is that if shields are not 100% effective, the opposing party can ensure a hit by firing off "enough" missiles.

While this is true, it misses the big benefit of missile defense: protection from one-off attacks from agents who do NOT have access to nearly unlimited rockets. Rogue states and terrorist groups rarely have access to the numbers of missiles needed to almost surely penetrate a missile defense shield. These shields are very effective at not only reducing the likelihood of success of these attacks, but also at deterring attacks from these groups in the first place because the expected damage done from a strike is reduced quite a lot while the cost of attacking -- from sanctions, retaliation, or war -- remains high. It's why the presence of the US's missile defense shield is more likely to deter North Korea from actually attacking the US, and prevent damage if it does, but not as likely to deter a nation like Russia or China, if they wanted to attack the US, or prevent damage if they do.

Imperfect missile defense shields protect against rogue attacks, but do little when the opposing party has the resources and resolve of a nation. The fact that so many missiles are constantly fired at Israel is just another indicator to me that a lot of what is happening in the Middle East is not terrorism, but war.

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Background:

Here's the NYT's write-up. Key stat: "The big test came over eight days in November, when Gaza militants fired some 1,500 rockets.... Israeli officials say Iron Dome missed 58 incoming rockets while destroying 421."

Here's Time's recent write-up on Iron Dome. Some statistics from the article:
  • "During the last Gaza conflict,... Iron Dome knocked out of the sky a reported 84% of the missiles it aimed at — that is, the ones headed toward population centers."
  • Homemade Palestinian rockets cost hundreds of dollars; interceptors used to cost hundreds of thousands, but Iron Dome has reduced the cost to several thousand each.
  • See Iron Dome at work here. (video from link in article)

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