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    Precision Tracking Space System

    US Defence Department Wasted $231mln on White Elephant Missile Program

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    The Precision Tracking Space System was touted as a necessary defence against nuclear attack from another state, but it should never have left the drawing board, experts told The Los Angeles Times last week.

    The Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), which cost $231 million to develop before it was scrapped two years ago, had deficiencies that were so obvious they could have been identified by a simple sketch, experts have told a Los Angeles Times investigation.

    “It’s an example of what can go wrong in defence procurement: Huge amounts of money just pissed away on things that should never have advanced beyond a study,” David K. Barton, a physicist and radar engineer who served on a National Academy of Sciences review panel of US missile-defence programs, told the newspaper.

    PTSS was proposed by the US Department of Defence’s Missile Defence Agency in 2009 as a way of enabling the complete trajectory of an enemy missile to be followed, even when it had left the Earth’s atmosphere. 

    The ambitious, but unnecessary, system was supposed to use a constellation of infrared sensors in space to track a missile in the cold environment of space, and allow the US to follow a warhead all the way from “birth to death.”

    The US Department of Defense
    © Sputnik / David B. Gleason
    The US Department of Defense
    Other missile defence systems rely on information from military satellites and radars, which are able to detect the heat produced after a warhead is launched but cannot detect the heat signature in space.

    The project was justified by its supporters as a necessary defence against what US hawks termed “rogue states” such as North Korea and Iran, but was officially discontinued in 2013.

    The LA Times reported a host of reasons why the aborted program should have never left the drawing board. Among its outstanding findings, the investigation found that the system would have required twice as many satellites for the full coverage of the Northern Hemisphere, and that the satellites “would have been blind to warheads flying over the Arctic — one of the likely paths for missiles launched from Iran or North Korea.”

    In addition, the system’s nine to 12 sensors would not have been powerful enough to distinguish warheads from debris, and existing satellites and radars are able to do much of what it was billed as being able to do.

    “The Missile Defense Agency’s cost estimate — $10 billion over 20 years — was way off. PTSS would have cost at least $24 billion over that time period, according to an independent assessment done for the Pentagon and Congress.”

    “You could have done it on a napkin,” said Philip E. Coyle III, former director of operational testing and evaluation for the Pentagon, about the lack of vetting for the doomed project. 

    “All you had to do was put pencil to paper.”


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