Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I don't get the PR strategy here...

I am fascinated by the idea of trying to shoot down a satellite as it falls out of orbit.
If a missile launched by the Navy succeeds in taking out the bus-sized satellite as streaks across the sky 150 miles up, it will be one of the longest shots ever.

But the Navy is pretty confident it won't miss. In fact, the Navy has decided to go with only one ship instead of the three it originally planned to send out on the mission. [More]
Opinions vary on the political wisdom of this attempt. But at the risk of being seen as a jealous submariner, one small question:

What if we miss?

I'm not the only nervous Nellie either.
The good news is: The government has a plan. The bad news is: The government has a plan. It involves shooting missiles into space with the hope of blowing the satellite to smithereens, a technical term for "very small reens."

Experts say there is an 80 percent chance of success. While that sounds pretty good on the surface, we are talking about a 5,000-pound paperweight here, and if my math is right, there is still a 40 percent chance it could wrinkle my rhododendrons.

A Navy missile known as "Standard Missile 3" will be used to shoot the satellite before it crashes. Wouldn't we all feel better if the missile was called "Interceptor" or "Sure Shot" or "Satellite Annihilator"? Somehow, I get the impression "Standard Missile 3" has the words "ACME ROCKET CO." printed on the side.

As confident as the government seems to be, I noticed in a related story that the members of the space shuttle crew hastily are packing their bags to get out of the satellite space-vicinity before the shooting starts. The astronauts were quoted as saying: "We just waxed the shuttle and promised NASA we'd bring it home without any smithereens stuck in it." [More of an irreverent , albeit humorous essay here]
But seriously, folks. By broadcasting this plan widely, the stakes are now high for US military prestige and the Navy in particular.

It could be the Navy is feeling slightly left out in recent years. The Army and Marine Corps. are stretched to the max and showered with resources (and medals). Even the loathsome flyboys (USAF) are seen as essential to supporting the troops. But since we stopped "shocking and awing", the workload for Naval air and ships has been much lower and definitely lower down the news chain.

With budgets always problematic the ol' USN needs a winner image, and I think they are betting a serious part of the farm on a showy display of firepower. A safer route would have been to shoot the rascal down and then start bragging.

I hope it works, for whatever reason it is being planned. But given the Chinese success at a similar mission, it better.

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