Scrap the MX and get on with a SICM
President Reagan has a great opportunity to have his strategic cake and eat it too. With one simple proposal he can seize the high ground in United States-Soviet arms control negotiations and begin pulling himself out of the quagmire of the MX missile decision.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The President should announce that the US is willing to scrap the MX missile system - and ban all future deployment of multiple-warhead missiles based on land - if the Soviets will join the US in a genuine phased reduction of existing MIRVed ICBMs to some common low ceiling. If the Soviets are willing to go all the way down to zero, we should be prepared to match them in this destabilizing category of weaponry.
For the US this proposal would mean forgoing both the MX missile system in its current design and the possibility of replacing some single-warhead Minuteman II missiles with triple-warhead Minuteman IIIs. For the Soviet Union this scheme would reverse the buildup of land-based MIRVed missiles and redirect any further effort to smaller, mobile, less theatening single-warhead missiles. For the Reagan administration this proposal has a number of virtues, not the least of which is that it offers a way out of the self-inflicted problem with MX.
By now it is apparent that the MX missile is a strategic orphan, a 190,000 -pound monster missile with no place to call home. Jimmy Carter's system of road loops in the Western desert was technically sound but crushingly expensive, and in any event was unacceptable to ecologists, the Mormon Church, and the local populace. Almost no one likes the current plan to house MXs temporarily in existing Minuteman silos. After all, it was the vulnerability of such silos which gave rise to MX in the first place. Few find any appeal in the future basing mode which Defense Secretary Weinberger is said to find most attractive: putting the missiles on far-ranging, slow-moving, fuel-efficient airplanes.
The plain fact is that the big multi-warhead MX missile was a bad idea from the start. Making a 190,000-pound missile mobile is about as simple as constructing a movable football stadium. Putting 10 warheads on the missile simply gives the adversary a greater incentive to try to find it. In the end, if the MX is ever deployed, it will almost certainly be housed in fixed silos (for want of any reasonable alternative), and it will be protected by an ABM system. This alternative may avoid the expense of a complex mobile basing mode, but it will require the purchase of a ballistic missile defense - and the renegotiation or abrogation of the 1972 ABM Treaty.
At this point President Reagan and his national security team probably wish that the MX would go away, that they could start anew on the design of a mobile missile system. What the US really needs is a whole new missile--smaller, cheaper, and more mobile than MX. In mobile missiles, big is bad and small is beautiful.
The idea of a small intercontinental ballistic missile--''SICM'' for short, or perhaps ''Midgetman''--has been around for some time. A SICM could be designed to weigh about 20,000 pounds, about a tenth the weight of the MX, and carry a single warhead in contrast to the 10 on MX. It could be carried on a truck or railroad car, giving the smaller missile a versatility and mobility which would be impossible for MX.