‘Fire and Forget’

Extract from a report on current US naval capabilities (from the TOI May 30 2013.)

‘To date, the ships have executed just one missile launch that was not a test. In a mission code-named Operation Burnt Frost, the guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie sailed out into the Pacific and on Feb. 20, 2008, launched a strike that blew apart a disabled US spy satellite that was tumbling in orbit at more than 17,000 mph (27,357.58 kph) about 130 miles (209.21 kilometres) above the Earth.

The actual target, Navy leaders said, was a spot on the satellite the size of a postage stamp. And the missile, travelling at about 30,000 mph (48,278.08 kph), hit it directly, destroying the satellite’s on-board tank of about 1,000 pounds (453.6 kilograms) of toxic hydrazine fuel. Officials had been worried about possible injuries, including from the hazardous fuel, if the satellite came down in a populated area.’


Now normally this type of information is only of interest to certain military personnel, one or two branches of engineering and a small coterie of rocket scientists. But this recalls for me my own days as an engineer and the standards of precision demanded by the equipment I worked on back then.

That a mere machine can be made to hit so distant a target, so accurately and at such speed tells me that ‘feedback’ must have played a large part in bringing both missile and satellite together in one last, fiery embrace. Even the fastest interception on this scale needs rapid and constant updating as to where and when everything is positioned in the sky. At any given moment, so many variables enter into the equation that continuous feedback is absolutely vital to compute and compensate for all the changing trajectories and velocities encountered.

The same reckoning might be extended to the Arab-Israeli conflict and its very own elusive target, this being that of a settled and final peace process. Various salvoes have been fired off in its general direction but none have hit home, not even this latest one, rumoured to be carrying a $4 billion dollar payload.

Why is this? After all, it’s been well in excess of six decades and there’s still been no hint of any solid contact with peace in all that time.

Maybe the ‘feedback’ circuits carried on our next mission to seek out this errant ‘peace’ projectile will need to be of much more dependable design, far better able to cope with anything the journey can throw at it.

This would be very like a ‘fire and forget’ missile; nothing could then stop it from acquiring its objective.

And hasn’t that been the whole object of the exercise thus far? 

About the Author
Engineer, Virgo - now retired having worked 30 years in the field of medical diagnostic imaging for a major German multinational. Based in UK .