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The Six Billion Dollar Pyramid

June 3rd, 2014 - 2:33 pm

PYRAMID

War is Boring remembers a Cold War story I hadn’t read about since probably high school:

Construction of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex began in 1970. It was the Safeguard prototype—the first of many such installations. But fear of a new nuclear arms race killed the program before assembly of the first facility was complete.

In 1972, U.S. president Richard Nixon and Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

The ABM treaty limited the number of facilities such as the Stanley R. Mickelsen to two per country. Congress—citing mounting costs—killed a second defense array already under construction in Montana.

Five years after the initial groundbreaking, the North Dakota complex came to life. The facility operated for a little under 24 hours before Congress pulled the funding and ended the program.

The article notes how much money the Pentagon wasted on the usual cost overruns. I’m no defender of Pentagon waste — I’ve called our procurement system “broken” on far more than one occasion — but the real waste here might have been political, not military.

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All Comments   (8)
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Yes, the entire phased-array radar system shown here was minaturized for the Aegis radars. The system, bleeding edge when designed, was obsolete when built, even though it was orders of magnitude better than the Soviet systems. We and the Sovs were each allowed two ABM tracking sites. We built this one to track inbounds over our own missile silos, and passed on one to protect DC. The Soviets built several more than the treaty allowed, but Frank Church never gave a damn about Soviet treaty violations.

It worked out in the end; so many ABM radars were so expensive to the Soviets that it, with Strategic Defense and the XB-70 Valkyrie and the German IRBMS in the mid-80's, bankrupted the Soviets and they collapsed.

You folks knew about the XB-70, right? Enormous supersonic manned bomber, could outrun any fighter in the Soviet inventory. The USSR never allowed themselves to fall behind, so they started a crash program to develop a fighter that was SO FAST and SO HIGH that it could catch and kill a B-70 Valkyrie. It was the Mig 25 Foxbat, and the Soviets deployed lots of them in a hurry, to be ready to shoot down the Valkyries. We never built the Valkyrie; one crashed in a stupid mid-air and the other is the prime exhibit in the US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The Foxbats were useless in any other role, and required new engines after only 250 flight hours. When Victor Belenko stole one and flew it to Hokkaido, Japan http://www.amazon.com/Mig-Pilot-Final-Escape-Belenko/dp/0380538687/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401947498&sr=1-1&keywords=viktor+belenko, we discovered that the engines were stainless steel; nothing like the titanium alloys we had expected to find.

That the Soviets had built a massive fleet of specialized aircraft whose sole purpose was to shoot down a fleet of bombers THAT WE NEVER BUILT, I knew we were going to win the cold war.

And when a Soviet submarine sailed from Cam Ranh Bay to Petropavlovsk ENTIRELY ON THE SURFACE, because they couldn't dive, I knew we had won.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's odd. I was in AFROTC starting in '78 and can't recall anyone even mentioning this beast, and a big chunk of classes like that were all about describing weapon and support systems. Wondering if its info at that time was controlled or embarrassing (or both)...
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wonder how much of this wound up in the Aegis system, or at least pointed out blind alleys that the Aegis developers could avoid. Maybe it wasn't a total waste.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
In all fairness, it only had to run for a day so everyone could see what it could do.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Congress pulled the funding and ended the program."

I thought refusing to fund an already enacted program exceeded Congress's authority! ;^)
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not as creepy as the TIA logo and no apparent Masonic symbols. Happy days.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just watch a video of a Sprint missile launching and you'll know the money wasn't wasted.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Indeed. 0-8,000 mph in ~5 seconds is a feat eclipsed only by the ability to track and hit something at that speed. In the 70s, when the whole of military computing power was a tiny fraction of that found in my iPhone.

That said, remember when $6 billion was a lot of money?
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
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