Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Disaster that was the Precision Tracking Space System

Proponents of the Precision Tracking Space System were not shy about touting its supposed benefits.

The head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said PTSS represented an “unprecedented capability” to protect America and its allies against a nuclear attack by the likes of North Korea and Iran.

A key congressional supporter described it as “a necessity for our country.”

The planned network of nine to 12 satellites, orbiting high above the equator, would detect missile launches and track warheads in flight with great precision, the proponents said.

It would be able to tell apart real missiles from decoys — an elusive capability known as “discrimination.” It would help guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy incoming warheads. And it would do all this at a fraction of the cost of alternative approaches.

Based on those promises, the Obama administration and Congress poured more than $230 million into design and engineering work on PTSS starting in 2009. Four years later, the government quietly killed the program before a single satellite was launched.

The Missile Defense Agency said PTSS fell victim to budget constraints. In fact, the program was spiked after outside experts determined that the entire concept was hopelessly flawed and the claims made by its advocates were erroneous. It was the latest in a string of expensive failures for the missile agency.

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