In "Getting the MX Moving" (Op-Ed, May 22) R. James Woolsey endorses a basing scheme that is predictably vulnerable. Fortunately, we can do better.
The race-track basing of the MX, or any Multiple Protective Shelter (MPS) thus far proposed, fails the test cited by Woolsey: "It has to be at least as affordable, in the absence of an arms-control agreement, for us to add shelters, or otherwise improve MX's survivability, as for the Soviets to add warheads. . . . [T]he House has now decided that MX passes this test," its error facilitated by misinformation and disformation provided by the Air Force and many Defense Department witnesses and speakers. Particularly harmful are two related assertions: that the Soviets could not threaten and expanded shelter system by deploying more MIRVs on their existing missiles but would have to build more missile boosters and silos; and that an alternative to the land basing of MX -- the Shallow Underwater Mobile system (SUM) -- is vulnerable to tidal waves produced by nuclear weapons, would not have the accuracy proposed for the MX and would be subject to communication failure.
SUM has been advocated in congressional testimony by Sidney Drell and I because our analyses show that the proposed MPS basing is vulnerable to fractionation of the payload of the existing Soviet missiles into larger numbers of smaller MIRVs, each retaining present shelter-kill capability by virtue of improved ICBM accuracy. Indeed, SUM would give the ICBM launched from submarines MX accuracy by the use of the NAVSTAR satellite system, with NAVSTAR-like transmitters deployed on U.S. soil for use if satellites are attacked in all-out strategic war.
The Soviet Union could deploy similar transmitters in its ICBM fields to reach accuracy of about 100 meters versus the 200 meters quoted for its new-generation missiles, so that a given crushing pressure could be produced at the target by a warhead of eight-times-lower yield, with some five times as many on the same MIRV-dispensing "bus." Neither the Defense Department nor the Air Force witnesses seem to have provided an estimate of the cost to the Soviet Union to increase its shelter-killing potential in this way.
Criticisms of SUM have been given an air of authority by reference to Air Force or Defense Department "studies." Aside from a secret Navy study more recently available, the only such study other than our own (according to testimony by Dr. Seymour Zeiberg, deputy under-secretary of defense, on April 3) is one prepared for Zeiberg's office and released that day (and in final form on April 9). This study and Zeiberg's oral testimony now take no issue with our assertions of reliable communication to submarines and of accuracy for sub-launched ICBMs equal to that projected for the MX missile based on land. He also agrees (as do the two top technical people in the Defense Department -- Dr. Brown and Dr. Perry) that vulnerability of the SUM submarines to surf-zone effects from nuclear weapons is limited to a portion of the continental shelf -- less than 10 percent of the proposed deployment area available in 200-mile wide belts extending off the east and west coasts of the United States.
The Zeiberg study cites the acquistion cost of a SUM system at $27.6 billion, in comparison with the MPS-MX at $31.9 billion. It states that because costs are comparable, there is no reason to be interested in the SUM system in comparison with Trident basing at $26.5 billion (with Trident-II missile).
Unfortunately, the SUM system is stressed with a four-week tour of duty, whereas a two-week tour would be adequate and could save almost 50 percent in fuel capacity and crew space. About 50 percent at-sea time is assumed for the little submarines, whereas 70 or 80 percent might well be achieved. No credit is taken for our ability to deploy up to 14 MIRVs on an ICBM based only at sea, in comparison with a 10-MIRV land basing of the MX. These last two factors alone would reduce the cited acquistion cost to $17 billion and would bring the operating cost below that of the MX-MPS system, even ignoring what seem to be overstated costs for electronics and bases.
The vulnerability of 50 or 100 fuel-cell-powered submarines close to U.S. shores differs from that of large nuclear-powered submarines -- lower generated noise, smaller reflecting area for active sonar, 100-fold less heat rejected from the power plant, greater accessibility to protection by U.S. military and legal means and the like.
Woolsey says that "our submarines are likely for the foreseeable future to remain as invulnerable as weapons ever get," but warns against putting "too many eggs in the ocean's basket."
Should we prefer a costly and defectively MPS basket for our MX eggs?