'Taking Aim at Midgetman'

March 06, 1986

In your editorial (Feb. 21), "Taking Aim at Midgetman," your penchant persists for misinterpreting strategic issues while presenting them illogically.

You keep focusing on the political aspects of our strategic posture, presenting views on only one side of the question. Those of us who favor strength are cast as warmongers. When The Times cites "arms control experts" it seems to refer only to those who favor unilateral disarmament or minimum deterrence. When the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering says he is making a statement of his own personal beliefs, The Times doubts this, preferring to infer a conspiratorial taint. You are guilty of bare-faced "mediaspeak."

When Undersecretary Donald A. Hicks, who is a scientist and businessman of wide reputation, says he favors a bigger Midgetman, he is simply reflecting an objective technical evaluation. A single-RV missile being carried around the Southwest United States on a huge perambulator may seem to him overly expensive, highly inefficient, and potentially vulnerable.

Any well-read layman can quickly calculate that a Midgetman system, consisting of 500 missiles, deployed over sufficient area, that half would survive a Soviet surprise attack, and costing about $50 billion, would have little more capability than a single Trident submarine or 10 B-1A bombers. Arms control rhetoric aside, is this a system useful for redressing the strategic balance?

You are incorrect in stating that "sober-minded" members of Congress and defense "decided that the best answer" for a land-based ICBM system was Midgetman. They only agreed it was important to pursue the concept (which it is). To refresh your memory further, the potential value of single RV missiles to strategic stability requires that the systems be survivable, but mostly that the other side respond in kind. Reciprocity is key. For us to deploy such a system unilaterally could be utter folly.

You find alternatives to Midgetman "threatening." What does this mean? To deter the Soviets demands that our retaliatory forces be threatening in the extreme (that's what deterrence is all about). The trick (as your arms control "experts" will acknowledge) is to create forces that are threatening in general but do not threaten Soviet retaliatory forces. To do this requires forces that are highly survivable, so that the forces in being before any attack need not be so large as to threaten Soviet retaliatory forces, yet those remaining after a surprise attack are sufficient to inflict immense damage.

The Times implies that Midgetman is the only worthwhile approach. Such is not the case at all. Our improved understanding of nuclear hardness promises a variety of potentially effective basing models using only the land already available to the Defense Department. There are also some good ideas involving ballistic missile defense.



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