Thursday, June 12, 2008

Just a Bunch of Hot Air

* Special guest post by intern extraordinaire Kevin Shkolnik

When I received this Northrop Grumman flier, I was pretty excited. A demonstration of a Kinetic Energy Interceptor! Cool! To be honest, I didn't really know what a Kinetic Energy Interceptor was, and I haven't even heard the words "kinetic energy" since fourth grade science class. But, it has a picture of fire on it... so it must be cool.

Upon closer inspection, there are a few things about this event that have made me a bit unsure of whether or not I want to go. For starters, the "interactive demonstration" is scheduled to take place in the Rayburn Foyer. The Rayburn Foyer is in the Rayburn House office building, which, based on the flier's photograph of a giant fire ball exploding from a tubular rocket, is no place for a ballistic missile demonstration.

John McCain's "a google" revealed what the Kinetic Energy Interceptor actually is:

KEI is the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) element that is being designed to destroy enemy ballistic missiles during their boost and early midcourse phases of flight.

KEI destroys enemy missiles at their most vulnerable point - the boost/ascent phase of flight. This is the phase when missiles are moving relatively slowly, their location is more predictable, and before reentry vehicles, decoying warheads, or countermeasures can be deployed.
In other words, KEI is EXACTLY what I thought it was.

Note to House interns: you may want to think twice about volunteering to attend this event. My guess is the exhaust fumes of the Interceptor, combined with the imminent fireball unleashed upon impact with the incoming ballistic missile, will be a bit hot (no, not this kind of hot, which also goes on in Rayburn apparently).

Another thing about the flier: I'm not a graphics design expert, but I know ClipArt when I see it. The KEI program received $340 million in fiscal year 2008, and DOD wants $386 million more for it this year. With all that coin, can these guys seriously not afford Photoshop?

Maybe they don't need to worry about it. In its markup of the 2009 Defense Authorization bill released last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee noted that KEI is demanding "a very large sum of funds for a program at such an early stage of development." The Committee added its judgment that the KEI program has "lost focus and direction." Then they cut $45 million from the $386 million request.

Ouch. Can you say program cancellation under the next administration?

It seems as if KEI has fallen on troubled times, like many programs within the missile-defense-industrial-complex. The last thing Northrop needs is an immolated intern in Rayburn next week. So, to the House gawkers who may be loitering around the Rayburn Foyer next week, I beg of you to mind the gap.

All that said... I'll see you at the demonstration.


Plutonium Page said...

Tell you what, I'll join you at the demo. You bring the graham crackers and sharpened sticks, and I'll bring the chocolate and marshmallows. S'mores for all! As long as the Pentagon reimburses us, you know.

Eli Lewine said...

I love the scientific terms they use for military projects. Kinetic impact destruction sounds so much better than just "crash a missile into it."

And I'd hold off on smores until you get the flyer for the Airborn Laser demo.