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Flying high on the NMD

Your September "99 Red Balloons" editorial reminds me of my time in the Navy as a fire control technician. One of the shipboard defense systems that my group was responsible for was the CIWS (Close-In Weapons System). Also known as Phalanx, it is an independent system consisting of a 35mm Gattling gun, Doppler radar and a 6-axis stabilization platform.

The Phalanx system is designed to shoot down incoming missiles and planes, and operates automatically whenever incoming objects meet certain criteria pertaining to angle of attack, relative velocity and proximity. It is a highly sophisticated and reliable defense system. Unfortunately, certain sea gulls attempting to land on the ship have been known to meet the criteria for angle of attack, relative velocity and proximity. Once activated, the Phalanx shoots 35mm depleted Uranium rounds, which are 2.5 times denser than steel. Needless to say, it's quite a sight -- especially if you're a seagull.

--Gerald Jones, Cleveland, Ohio

Senseless sensors

I read your editorial and suspect that the problem is not so much that the BMDO teams settled for non-optimum equipment and sensors, as it is that NO known sensor can make the necessary distinction between warheads and balloons. This exact point was made back when Ronald Reagan proposed to put up a magic shield: physicists pointed out the impossibility of distinguishing between decoys and real weapons by any known technology. They also signed a document stating that they would refuse to work on any such project that was based on a total lack of understanding of the science and technology. More than 10,000 signatures were obtained.

The situation has not changed appreciably. Any conceivable sensing technology can be defeated under the prevailing conditions: distances on the order of thousands to tens of thousands of miles, velocities of thousands of miles per hour and objects whose size is unresolvable at that range even by diffraction-limited optics.

Yes, we need to be defended from our own defense system; it is not necessary to understand physics or engineering to become a successful military officer or politician, and so legitimate arguments by physicists, engineers, or others may not sway their path. Bureaucrats have even less need to possess scientific knowledge. Managers of large corporations have demonstrated their willingness to deliver useless or unsafe products if it results in a better bottom line. Thinking that they would take government money to "study" a problem, and to build quack devices isn't much of a stretch.

--Ronald G. Darner, Mechanical Engineer, Mortara instrument, Milwaukee, WI

NMD on a "need to know" basis

I am a master-degreed engineer with 25 years experience in microelectronics. Do you really believe that the extensive design teams behind this project really have such an obvious flaw? You present this like its a huge secret "find." It would appear to me as the first thing that everyone would look for as the weakness of the entire system. Could it be that this is represented this way because the appropriate people do not want to give out any more info than necessary?

--Anonymous, via email

NMD: All that wiggles is not jello

I read your September editorial and tried in vain to form an opinion. I also watched a documentary on TV about this subject a few months ago, and was equally perplexed.

Hearing about this defense system leaves me thinking that the people involved (at least those speaking about it) are "think tank" rejects. They either seem to miss the obvious, or they are just oblivious to what else is going on in the world. I found that to be unfathomable for a project of this nature, and ultimately decided that "all that wiggles is not Jello," and we're getting a good look at government at its deceptive best. I don't think we're being told anything of real value about the NMD system, as everything is scripted to obtain a specific effect. Heck, during the Reagan administration, the mere talk of such a system had the Russians leaning toward disarmament. And, at that time, such a defense system was pretty much a pipedream. But, technology has advanced then, and the sight of laser guided bombs on national television gets you thinking that NMD could be right around the corner.

--Dennis C., via email

Hate the editorials

Thanks for resisting the trend that seems to be sweeping design magazine editors off their feet. I speak of the "Problem Solving" exercises where readers are invited to submit solutions to such challenging questions as, "Why Can't We Make a Good Mountain Bike for Fleas?" These jejune, mindless exercises do nothing to strengthen the Design community; more likely, they contribute to its dumbing-down. They are a waste of ink, paper, time and money.

However, I must say your fine journal is at risk too. I am referring to the [1-page] non-technical content of your editorials. If you must have editorials (and that is debatable), then focus on design issues. I look to political publications for political commentary; to sports rags for sports news; to the Bible for spiritual guidance; and to trade journals like yours for a digest of changing technology.

Stay out of the subjective and the emotional. We readers look to the supermarket checkout-stands for that stuff.

--Ed Long, Design Engineer, Honeywell, Phoenix, AZ

Love the editorials

If it were not for your marvelous columns that are not 100% engineering I might not be so glued to you magazine. You have achieved a great mix.

The July "Notes from a Journeyed Man" editorial is great. There are a lot of things that make the US a fine place to live, but it would be nice if every American citizen could live abroad in another first world country to see just how much litigation lack of responsibility impacts our lives and makes them less fun to live.

-- Dennis Frost, engineering immigrant now living in Portland, OR

Why don't you just go home?

I enjoyed your [techno-ethic] editorial in the June issue and the "what ifs" involved for your three kids. Here's my "what if": What if my wife had to work while raising our five kids? What difference would it have been if our decision would have for her to work and put our little ones in someone's else care? Who could hold them when they fell and got a bump or rocked them to sleep? My youngest now at 17. The kids still today call out "Mom" when they come in the house looking for that comfort they have grown used to. It was a sacrifice for both of us to live on one paycheck. My wife to put her career on hold for a few years, to be creative, and have the ideals instilled that were important to us. I asked my wife if she ever regretted her decision, she said no and neither have I. Though everyone is different, what if those [your?] children had a homemaker and a mom?

--Bruce, via email
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Publication:Designfax
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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