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Ionson counters SDi dispute

By Steve Pao

Second in a series on the<>

Oct. 21 Strategic Defense Initiative Forum.

Dr. James Ionson, director of science and technology for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Office argued against the effectiveness of measures that other nations might use to undermine SDI systems.

Ionson said that using solid rocket boosters could reduce a missile's vulnerability by decreasing its time of exposure to defense systems. But missiles with solid boosters would carry fewer warheads, he said.

Missiles with thicker shells are another potential SDI countermeasure. But Ionson claimed that such missiles would be more expensive and massive than normal missiles. Each missile, again, would carry fewer warheads.

An increase in the number of decoy boosters might also be detrimental to a "Star Wars" defense system, he said. Decoys, however, could be easily distinguished from real missiles, he argued.

Missiles that spin or that have shiny surfaces could reduce the effectiveness of the lasers. Ionson countered that lasers could also destroy missiles by "impact."

Ionson's final argument against SDI countermeasures lay in submarine launches. In the case of submarine launch, the missile trajectory would differ from the land-launched missiles, reducing SDI's effectiveness. Submarines, however can carry only a limited number of warheads, he explained.

"We're not here to recruit support for SDI, but the viability of the concept is evenly split 50/50," he said.

"This underscores the need for further study," he continued. Peer pressure that suppresses objective study could hurt the academic doctrine and the search for truth, Ionson said. "Let the academic community continue with objective study."

Fifty-four percent of the professors in 14 leading university physics departments have signed a pledge to refuse SDI funding, according to Vera Kistiakowsky, professor of physics. The pledge asserts that "most scientists think SDI is dumb," she said.

Researchers desperate for funding may resort to SDI, Kistiakowsky said. She also said that foreign scientists might be pressured to sign SDI contracts.

Shaoul Ezekiel '68, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, as well as electrical engineering and computer science, supported SDI funding. "If the funding comes with no strings attached, there is no problem," he said.

When a professor accepts money, "it doesn't mean that the professor endorses or that MIT endorses the basis for the funding," Ezekiel said.

Scott Saleska of the MIT Student Pugwash Group concluded that discussion by saying, "We have fun with technology, but we must concern ourselves with more than fun and intellectual challenge. We must think of the consequences" such as "nuclear annihilation."