Why No One (Especially Trump) Should Give A Fuck About Putin's Alleged "Unstoppable" Nuclear Missiles

Seriously, he might as well have said he built the Death Star on the dark side of the Moon.
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Seriously, he might as well have said he built the Death Star on the dark side of the Moon.

Early Thursday morning, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin bragged that Russia had developed new "invincible" nuclear weapons that couldn't be stopped by missile defense systems. In the name of peace, of course.

In his annual state of the nation address on Thursday, Putin claimed that Russia has tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with unlimited range that will be "invulnerable to enemy interception," rendering US anti-missile systems useless.

A nuclear-powered underwater drone, equally immune to interception, is also under development, he said.

You can already hear the hyperventilating from warhawks and cold warriors. Trump is almost certainly going to use this to justify blowing billions on our mostly unnecessary nuclear arsenal on top of the money he was already going to piss away on it. It may be time to replace Rick Perry with someone actually qualified to upgrade our nuclear capability.

But the real question surrounding Putin's big announcement is: So what? And I mean that literally. Let's say he actually does have missiles that cannot be stopped by our missile defense system. How is that any different than Russia's current missiles?

Or did you think our missile defense system actually worked?

The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars developing, testing, and fielding ballistic-missile-defense systems over the past few decades. But in tests, these systems hit their target only about 50 to 60 percent of the time.

And even this record exaggerates how they would likely perform in an actual conflict. In the tests, everyone involved knows ahead of time when, where, and at what angle the missile will be launched. Also, with only a couple of exceptions, the tests have aimed an interceptor against just a single target—whereas, in a real war, the attacker would almost certainly fire a volley of missiles. The real attack might even happen at night, whereas all of the tests have been conducted in daytime.

To be fair, this is not because of American incompetence. Nobody has built a working missile defense system that can stop more than a tiny percent of ICBMs. We haven't even figured out how to stop much slower missiles like the SCUD with any real accuracy. Shooting down a missile of any kind is a physics nightmare and we're simply not up to the technological task. Yet.

Obviously, this is not something the military advertises loudly but once you understand this, Russia's announcement that is has missiles that can't be stopped by American missile defenses becomes somewhat redundant. It's like bragging you've built a weapon that can destroy 40 city blocks decades after building one that can destroy 30. It's not exactly a game changer. And that's assuming any of this is actually real and not just Putin bullshitting his country or trying to one up fellow egomaniac Donald Trump. It's not like anyone can make him prove it.

Maybe next time, Trump can announce we've built a death ray on top of a volcano shaped like a skull and Putin can declare that Russia is now surrounded by an invisible anti-death ray force field....