Nothing could be better news for Raytheon’s Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) than North Korea shaking its nascent atomic fist at Uncle Sam and Don Rumsfeld retorting that America is prepared to blow it away simultaneously with Iraq, depending on our axis-of-evil bump-off needs. The EKV, a gold-colored sensor-loaded flying ram that is supposed to destroy the rogue nation’s nuclear missiles in flight by smashing into them at 16,000 mph, doesn’t work so hot yet, but thrills war-gear nerds (men who get stiff over the contents of magazines like Wired and Aviation Week & Space Technology) with its superbly high-tech looks.
While very capable at resurrecting the Cold War thrill of nuclear arms races, as often as not the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle belly flops. In a mid-December test fire it choked, failing to separate from its booster rocket. This wasn’t so bad, implied one general, because it had worked five out of eight times since 1999 in other contrived exercises.
Presidential decree has mandated that six kill vehicles be stationed in Alaska and four in California by 2004, along with fancy support radars, booster rockets, and integrated launch-warning intelligence and guidance systems. It’s a deal too good to be true for any CEO of a big aerospace contractor, because the Bush fiat not only rendered moot what little oversight the EKV program had but also guaranteed immediate sales of a weapon in no way required to work. Anyway, if you were living in Alaska and a handful of atom-bomb-loaded missiles were coming your way, you wouldn’t have long to dwell on a few slipups by the Ballistic Missile Defense Agency. Instead, you could make your way to the afterlife secure in the knowledge that the national command authority would carry out massive thermonuclear retaliation against East Asia and/or the entire Middle East.
The Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle is also good for the job stability of secretive specialty engineers in Tucson, where it is made, with Washington raising the stakes in its game of nuclear brinkmanship with Pyongyang. Already, $17.5 billion is set to be spent on it and supporting systems over the next two years. That’s $17.5 billion Americans won’t be spending on the deadbeat welfare mothers of national security—foreign aid, diplomacy, and international nuclear proliferation control programs.