MX: Prescription for Disaster by
Kirkus Star

MX: Prescription for Disaster

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The decision to scrap, restart, or alter the MX missile project could be one of the most consequential ones the Reagan administration will make, so any help the nonexpert can get in understanding the issues is most welcome. Scoville, who is a former analyst with the Atomic Energy Commission, Defense Department, and CIA, served as Assistant Director for Science and Technology of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and is now President of the Arms Control Association; he is exceptionally qualified to take on the task, therefore, and he does it in language anyone can understand. His conclusion is in the title, and his attack is devastating. Scoville argues, firstly, that a missile system targeted for Soviet Missile silos (""hard targets"" because protected by earth and concrete) and designed to withstand a Soviet first strike is precisely what we don't need: to the Soviets, such a system can only loom as a first-strike, offensive weapon which will either escalate the arms race or lead to greater risk of nuclear war. (This is even more true in the absence of SALT II.) He also makes the point that our overwhelming superiority in missile-packing submarines and strategic bombers (especially if equipped with new cruise missiles that can be fired from outside Soviet air space) makes the vulnerability of our land-based ICBMs irrelevant. Secondly, the plan of the MX, which calls for a mobile system whereby each missile will be moving around between 23 different launching sites (so that the Soviets will not know which site to target), is rife with technical problems. For one example, the combined missile, launcher, protective shield (to thwart detection during transport), and transporter will weigh 1.6 million pounds, all to be carried over concrete roads. In order for the deceptive maneuverings to work, each actual missile--there will be two hundred--must have 22 dummies; and each dummy must duplicate the characteristics of the real missile, including temperature and weight, in order to avoid detection by sophisticated intelligence technology. This example only hints at the monumental scale of the project; Scoville says simply that it would be the biggest construction project in history. He estimates that two hundred clusters of 23 sites connected by roads would stretch out over 40,000 square miles of Nevada and Utah; the strain placed on water resources, labor markets, mining and cattle grazing, and just about everything else, he argues, would be catastrophic. A cheaper, more rational and effective alternative (first put forward in 1967) would entail the construction of a fleet of small, non-nuclear submarines stationed in shallow offshore waters carrying either Trident or even the MX missiles; but this scheme, Scoville acknowledges, is not being given serious consideration in the upper levels of the Pentagon. Everyone--at any level--should read this testimony before it's too late.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: MIT Press