Brilliant Pebbles

Dr. Arthur B. Robinson

"Why Not Space-Based Missile Defense" by Henry F. Cooper, The Wall Street Journal May 7, 2001, p. A22, advocates immediate deployment of the "Brilliant Pebbles" space-based missile defense system. Dr. Cooper was director of the Strategic Defense Initiative during the Administration of George Bush Sr. and was ambassador and chief U.S. nego-tiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks during the Reagan Administration. He states that both the Reagan and Bush Administrations emphasized Brilliant Pebbles technology.

Dr. Cooper relates that Edward Teller first introduced him to this technology in 1988. Edward Teller and I both gave presentations to the Platform Committee of the Republican Convention in New Orleans. I managed to write a civil defense plank that became a part of the Republican Platform that year. Professor Teller did far more. He managed to convince the Bush Administration that it should build and deploy Brilliant Pebbles.

Teller opened his remarks by saying that he had been wrong. He had thought that space-based lasers would provide the best missile defense. It happened, however, that a young protegé of his, Lowell Woods, had led a research group at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the development of the Brilliant Pebble. This, Teller stated, was far superior to lasers. He asked the committee to include its deployment in the Republican Platform.

Lowell Wood will be speaking at the July meeting of DDP on the subject of "Current Outlook for Defense Against Ballistic Missile Attack." He and Professor Teller spoke at the DDP meeting last year. In that talk, Dr.Wood stated that the Administration of George Bush, Sr. had scheduled the first deployment of missile defense for approximately 1993. In 1992, Clinton was elected and immediately cancelled the program. Clinton-Gore directed strategic defense funds into the least promising technologies and deliberately stopped all work on those technologies that were immediately useful.

Dr. Cooper says that, in March1990, Brilliant Pebbles was designated "first to deploy" by his predecessor at SDI, Lt. Gen. George Monahan. Contractors were selected in 1991. They estimated that 1.000 Pebbles would cost $11 billion in 1991 dollars and begin operating in 1996. This cost estimate included 20 years of operation and one-time replacement of each Pebble during that two decades.

Brilliant Pebbles are tiny Earth-orbiting satellites with maneuvering rockets. Col. Warren Everett, who worked with Gen. Daniel Graham advocating strategic defense, carried the shell of a Brilliant Pebble to meetings—placing it on the display table along with his literature.

Brilliant Pebbles can attack a missile in its boost phase, atmospheric re-entry phase and even as it approaches its target. Simulation studies showed that a Brilliant Pebble array could have shot down every Scud missile launched by Iraq during the Gulf War. Boost-phase attack is most reliable because it avoids the problem of decoys, involves more slowly moving targets, and leaves time for further efforts against missiles that happen to avoid destruction.

The Pebbles would be deployed in an orbital array around the entire Earth. If a target is designated, they simply propel themselves into its path, destroying the target by collision. While collision-based interceptors are themselves an inferior technology dictated by antinuclear hysteria, the Brilliant Pebble is a collision-based system that works reliably and has multiple redundancies.

Dr. Cooper estimates that a useful Brilliant Pebble system could be deployed now at a cost of $5 to $7 billion and become an effective defense system within five years.

Regardless of the ABM treaty and program cancellation by Clinton-Gore, Brilliant Pebble engineers managed to actually test this system. Brilliant Pebbles were used for the Clementine solar mapping missions in 1994. Clementine tested everything except the propulsion system. That was tested, also in 1994, in the Astrid project.

America needs a strategic defense system to avoid nuclear blackmail. The Red Chinese threats concerning the vulnerability of Los Angeles to their missiles during a recent Taiwan argument serve as an example. Ballistic missiles are spreading rapidly to all sorts of countries. Brilliant Pebbles would protect us against these dangers.

As the press "debate" about President Bush’s strategic defense proposals continues, a central lie presents itself. The discussion centers on the supposedly unanswered question of whether or not a workable technology can be developed. The truth is that this technology has already been developed. It is Brilliant Pebbles, and it should be protecting every country in the world, including the United States, from ballistic missile attack—today.

The duplicity of the Clinton-Gore Administration has left America susceptible to manipulation and destruction by ballistic missiles. President Bush wants to end that susceptibility. He has the technology to stop the missiles—but does he have the votes to overcome Congressional Democrats who oppose American defense?