MX: The little book that helped defeat a giant missile system…


Click here for htm version (.6 megabytes), here for pdf version (.4 MB).


Some background notes…


Back in the late 1970s, the US Department of Defense conceived a new ballistic missile system, called the MX system.  “MX” stood for “Missile Experimental.”  The Safeguard ballistic missile defense system had been abandoned as ineffective and obsolete a few years earlier, and was dismantled in 1976.  The MX system was to be the next phase in the US program of ballistic missile warfare.  This was several years before the “Star Wars” concept was introduced (on March 23, 1983) by President Ronald Reagan.


The MX system was one more step in the policy of “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD.  The MX missiles were not antimissile missiles (interceptor missiles) placed around potential US targets (cities or defense establishments).  They were large intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) aimed at the USSR to utterly destroy it in the event that it launched a “first-strike” attack against the US.  Although a MAD system is essentially an offensive system, it is often referred to as a defensive system, because it deters the enemy from attacking (since he knows that he will be destroyed if he does).  It should, however, more properly be referred to as a “deterrence” system, rather than a “defensive” system.


The MX system was to be built all over the Southwest United States.  It would consist of a number of large circular (or close-looped) railroad tracks.  All along the railroad tracks are missile sites, most of which are either fake sites or empty underground “silos,” and only a few of which contain missiles (intercontinental ballistic missiles, aimed at targets in the Soviet Union).  A train keeps moving the missiles from site to site in a manner such that the Russians don’t know which sites contain missiles.  The system was often referred to as “the racetrack system.”


I was convinced that the MX system had some serious drawbacks, but I was not really in a position to tell why.  I possessed very high-level defense security clearances, and this severely restricted my ability to publicly say anything credible on the subject of missile defense.  So what to do?


As it turned out, I (that is, my firm, Vista Research Corporation) won a contract with the Philippines Government (the National Economic Development Activity / Philippines Institute for Development Studies, funded by the US Agency for International Development) in the fall of 1978.  In September, I was in the Philippines, working on this job.  I had done some overseas work before this (Haiti, in 1975-76), but this was the first time I had worked so many time zones away from my home in Virginia.  Manila was a full twelve time zones away – halfway around the Earth.  Jet lag was a serious problem.  I simply could not sleep at night.  After you do a lot of multi-time-zone travel, your body learns how to readjust fast, but the first time out, it takes about a day per time zone in the new location before you are used to the new time.


So there I was, in the Manila Hotel (the grand hotel from which General Douglas Macarthur directed his operations after his dramatic return to the Philippines in World War II), wide-awake all night long (“sleepless in Manila”).  I decided to pass the time by writing a spy novel that would parody the MX missile system, as a means of defeating the system.  Every night for three weeks, I wrote prodigiously.  At the end of that time, I was essentially finished.  Upon my return to the US a few weeks later, I rented a “Vydec” machine – an early type of word processor, and finished the final editing.  I had a few thousand copies printed at a local printing company, and distributed copies to members of congress.  (As an example of how times change…. I wanted to quote Notradamus at the beginning of a couple of chapters of MX, so I looked for a copy of his book of quatrains in the local libraries and bookstores.  At that time, 1978, there were evidently no available English editions of Nostradamus’ prophetic quatrains available in the Washington, DC area.  I then proceeded to the US Library of Congress, and was permitted to look at an old French edition.  If the translations here are not “standard,” it is because they were done by me, with some help from my administrative assistant.  Today, there are hundreds of books on Nostradamus available in English, in any bookstore or local library – even at the checkout counters of most supermarkets.  How times change!  The “New Age” is upon us!)


Before long, the MX system fell into disfavor.


At this site is an abridged copy of MX.  I have removed sections that were particularly “sexy” or violent (I was 36 years old at the time (1978), and the blood flowing through my veins was a little hotter than it is now!).  To make the text a little more up-to-date, I have changed the wording in a few cases (e.g., substituting “computer monitor” or “screen” for “cathode-ray tube” or “CRT”; “printer” for “typewriter”; “jumbo jet” for “747 jet”; and “Russia” for “USSR” or the “Soviet Union”).


Although the book was originally written about the MX missile system (a MAD-based offensive system), the concepts would apply to any missile system, particularly a missile defense system, such as the currently proposed National Missile Defense (NMD) system.  If anyone reading this knows John Travolta, please mention this book to him.  He could play the part of Juan Carrera very well, in a movie version.


When I wrote the book, I had plenty of experience both in MAD-based (offensive) missile warfare and in ballistic missile defense.  Although I was essentially parodying the MAD-concept MX system, I incorporated many concepts associated with ballistic missile defense (such as Star Wars, and now NMD, in which the system includes missile interception devices such as antimissile missiles, or kinetic energy weapons, or beam weapons, that are intended to destroy attacking missiles).  The MX story, in fact, involves the use of beam weapons of the type that are currently under development.  Since I have not engaged in classified work for over a decade, my knowledge of current weapon systems and concepts is based on the open literature (e.g., Time magazine and The Economist), and I feel quite comfortable that I am not divulging any military secrets.


Afterword (a comment on National Missile Defense)


I will take this opportunity to cite, once again, my objection to the currently conceived NMD system, based on the concept of attempting to destroy missiles after they are in space.  I have previously written several articles on this subject.


The currently conceived NMD system will not work, for a number of reasons.  A major problem is the task of tracking incoming missiles.  Not only does the task of tracking a large number of missiles require massive computing capability, but it is very difficult or impossible to do if the enemy uses various countermeasures – penetration aids (“pen aids”) such as decoys, chaff, or the “ladder down” attack.  (In a “ladder down” attack, the attacker detonates a warhead in space.  This warhead creates a massive burst of electromagnetic energy (an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP), that disrupts all communications (tracking, control) or noncommunications (radar) activity.  This explosion is characterized as a “cloud” through which our radars and ground controlling equipment cannot see.  A short time later, another of the attacker’s missiles comes soaring through the “cloud.”  It gets somewhat closer to the US (before it can be destroyed by an antimissile missile), and then it detonates.  This process continues, with a succession, or “ladder” of clouds.  Eventually, the clouds are so close to the US that the main attack comes through, and they are now so close to the US that there is nothing that the US can do to defend against it.)


I have done a lot of work in missile defense, both for offensive systems and defensive systems.  I have also done a lot of work in correlation/tracking, both for ballistic missiles (Advanced Ballistic Missile Defense Agency, or ABMDA), for ocean vessels (for the Navy Satellite Ocean Surveillance system, and for aircraft (for the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in air traffic control (ATC) of commercial aircraft).  I was an expert in statistical models for estimation, prediction, and control of stochastic processes.  I developed and marketed the first commercially available Box-Jenkins time series package (TIMES), several years before publication of the now-classic text, Time Series Analysis, Estimation, Prediction and Control.  The Box-Jenkins method required far less computation than the Kalman-Bucy filter, but it did not overcome the serious computational problems inherent in correlation/tracking a large number of reentry vehicles (RVs).  After I left Lambda Corporation in 1972, work was done by Hugh Everett and Gary Lucas on a nonlinear Bayesian filter (the so-called E-filter, or “Cassandra”) for tracking reentry vehicles.  That approach dramatically reduces the amount of computation from the level required by the Kalman filter.  (The E-filter was considered for use in estimating “turning points” in the stock market, by Morgan Guaranty Trust Company (who also used TIMES), but that is another story.)


If the US ever gets serious about missile defense, it will consider a system such as I describe in my article A Winning Strategy for National Missile Defense (NMD), in which we destroy any unauthorized missiles being launched from any location.  Once missiles are in space, it is too late to do very much.  And, as I have noted earlier, the major threat to the US is now internal.  Now that we have allowed mass immigration and have open borders, even a small terrorist organization can destroy the US using suitcase bombs.  Missiles and aircraft are no longer required.  If the US gets really serious about defending itself, it will close its borders, and repatriate all immigrants arriving since 1965.


Copyright Joseph George Caldwell.  All rights reserved.  Posted at Internet web sites and .  May be copied or reposted for noncommercial purposes, with attribution.

1 September 2002