March 07, 2002



Scott, Scott, Scott... an army is good for many things. War fighting, peace keeping, bridge building, and keeping unemployed goombah teenagers from the backwoods from joining the Klan come to mind. But one thing defense tax dollars are certainly not meant for is subsidizing Hollywood producers' props budgets. Twit.

Posted by BruceR at 04:01 PM



Damian Penny's correspondent Aaron Dickey brings up the question of anti-aircraft missiles on the White House roof. Are there any? As a former air defence officer myself, the answer, it's safe to say, is no.

Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt the Secret Service has some Stingers in its armoury. But every serious report I have seen (the presence of Secret Service missiles has never been officially confirmed, of course) puts them across the street at the Executive Office Building, overlooking the White House. This is not surprising. Firing a shoulder-mounted SAM is a complex procedure. To do so from the White House itself while a plane was barrelling in would be almost certainly suicidal... not the ideal conditions for concentration on the task at hand.

If those Stingers had been deployed however, could they possibly have engaged successfully on Sept. 11? Again, almost certainly not. The Stinger is a horrible missile choice for warding off jetliners. Its range is too short, to start with... so you basically have to wait until the closing aircraft is on its approach run. And the warhead is too small to do any significant damage to a plane that's already planning to crash anyway (Taking out a single engine, which is all the missile would likely do, isn't going to change the equation.)

Stingers can be very effective against helicopters (actually, everything's effective against helicopters), or low-flying fast air... because a small jet hit by a Stinger is probably not going to finish its bomb run, and almost certainly won't get home. But the Sept. 11 bombers wanted to crash. They didn't want to get home. Losing a single engine on the approach would have been unlikely to change that.

What if the plane was circling, or still hadn't turn into its final run, yet? Stingers are still a horrible choice. They're fire-and-forget heatseekers: the other reason you wait for the approach run for such weapons, is against a crossing target they could end up acquiring all kinds of alternate targets: jets on the Reagan Airport tarmac, F-16s coming in. They are optimized for use in areas where there is no friendly air. In a city, you could never use them with certainty unless you were facing a hovering target, a plane coming right at you, or going straight away from you post weapons-delivery (which, again, was not an option in this case). Something like the British/Canadian Javelin, which is laser guided, and allows the operator to discriminate right up to the point of impact, would be a much better choice, frankly.

To really get a good ground-to-air solution for the problem, it'd be far better to have a Patriot battery with good sightlines somewhere overlooking the executive mansion. You could certainly get an effective "kill" in time that way. Or a good Combat Air Patrol by the local F-16s. But the White House Stingers on Sept. 11 could only have done more harm than good.

Posted by BruceR at 12:44 PM