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Professor Theodore A. Postol ’67, a well-known critic of missile-defense systems, has accused the U.S. of mischaracterizing missile defense capabilities in ongoing discussions with Russia.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has been working to install a missile-defense site in Turkey. The MDA’s Web site states that the defense site would “ensure common security” by providing protection from intermediate-range Iranian ballistic missiles and long-range North Korean missiles. The proposal, known as the European Capability Initiative, has been stalled by Russia due to Russia’s security concerns. Although the MDA claims that the European Capability Initiative would be unable to intercept these missiles, Russian officials are skeptical and opposed to the site. To delay the site, Russia has threatened to target some of their nuclear warheads to European cities and withdraw from a cold war treaty banning mid-range nuclear weapons.

Postol, a professor in the Science, Technology, and Society program at MIT, says that the U.S. claim that the European Capability Initiative cannot intercept Russian missiles is incorrect. Postol discussed his research at an Aug. 28 Capitol Hill briefing through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In his presentation, “Postol said that the MDA has overstated the speed of Russian ICBMs by 15% and underestimated the speed of proposed new U.S. interceptor missiles by 30%,” according to an AAAS press release from Monday, Sept. 24.

The MDA posted a response to Postol’s criticisms on its Web site on Thursday, Sept. 27. The agency “stands by its figures which are real, not hypothetical and are derived from actual hardware and software performance data from actual flight tests.” The response goes on to state that “Dr. Postol’s calculations are overly optimistic and do not accurately reflect detection, tracking and fire control solution times; acceleration profiles from our flight tests, with actual payload weights and propellant performance; minimum delta velocities required to destroy the targets; and what we know about Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).”

Postol was also skeptical of the necessity of a European missile-defense site. “There appears to be no credible technical reason that the stated U.S. objective to defend against … Iranian ICBMs could not be fulfilled by other types of deployment configurations,” said Postol, according to the AAAS press release. “It is therefore understandable that Russian military analysts might suspect that U.S. motivations are different from those that have been stated,” said Postol.

The U.S. has made little progress in persuading Russia otherwise, according to reporting on Sunday, Oct. 13 from The New York Times.

Postol is no stranger to controversy or to the field of missile defense.

In 1992, Postol made headlines during Operation Desert Storm when he criticized the Army’s Patriot Missile program. The Army claimed that the missiles were very successful at intercepting Iraqi missiles, and revolutionized parts of warfare. Postol’s analysis and subsequent testimony in front of a US House committee showed that the Patriot missiles were actually extremely inaccurate, hitting their targets less than 10 percent of the time.

In 2000, Postol was the center of a controversy involving national missile defense, when he was provided with a copy of a redacted report discussing the effectiveness of a missile sensor. According to Postol’s interpretation, the reports indicated that MIT and the Lincoln Laboratory were conducting fraudulent research and exaggerating the capabilities of a missile sensor. A long debate followed Postol’s accusations, during which the military restricted some MIT attempts to investigate the accusations, and Postol accused the military of covering up research fraud. The accusations culminated in an investigation by the Department of Defense (excluding MIT for security reasons) that determined there was no research fraud.

For more information, visit The Tech’s archives, at http://www-tech.mit.edu/V127/N15/dodreport.html.