‘Red Team’ Gets Into Soviet Frame of Mind in ‘Star Wars’ Planning

Associated Press

They don’t change their diets to cabbage and borscht or move to cold climates and wear fur hats, but they do read every Soviet scientific journal they can find and pore over satellite photographs of weapons testing sites in Siberia.

They’re the Red Team, a key element in Pentagon planning for “Star Wars,” and their job is to think how the Soviets could foil President Reagan’s dream of a Star Wars missile defense.

“We Red Team everything. Our job is to find if there is something that would prevent this program from being useful,” said Robert Perret, a scientist and Red Team member at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Scientists at Livermore, a federal weapons laboratory, are working in lasers, particle beams and other exotic devices that might be part of the ground- and space-based system envisioned for “Star Wars,” known formally as the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Soviet Technology

The main Red Team efforts, Perret said, are determining what technology the Soviet Union is capable of devising to outsmart potential U.S. strategic defense and what similar weapons the Russians would be able to deploy.


The results “are among the most closely held information in the ‘Star Wars’ program,” Perret said. The Livermore team started examining possible countermeasures to strategic defense even before Reagan called for stepped-up research in the area in March, 1983.

“Not that we don’t believe that the other side can’t figure them out for itself. But we don’t want to effectively help the other side find defenses against weapons that are in the development stage,” he said.

To play the game, the Pentagon enlists help not only from physicists at labs like Livermore, but also from experts at the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, and from political scientists at universities and research institutions.

Private Planning Firm

Helping to coordinate the overall effort is the Systems Planning Corp., one of whose top executives, Sayre Stevens, spent much of his 20 years at the CIA analyzing Soviet defenses.

“The first stage of Red-Teaming is to do an analysis that will look for fatal flaws, any real embarrassments,” Stevens said in an interview at his suburban Washington office. “You really need a bunch of inventors to focus on that problem.”

The next step is to have “the intelligence people look at what the Soviets are capable of doing now, what they may be able to do 15 years down the road, and what drives them” to make certain economic and security decisions, he said. “What the intelligence analysts cannot look at are unexpected technological breakthroughs or political changes.”

Countering Weapons

Once the inventors--people like the physicists at Livermore--have come up with gadgets the Soviets might use to foil “Star Wars,” American weapons designers figure out how to counter them. And so on, round and round.

Across the North Pole, in the remote steppes of the Soviet Union, Stevens said, “they are probably running the same kinds of studies, saying, ‘How can we beat this thing?’ ”

Pentagon consultant Sydney Drell, a Stanford University physicist who has criticized aspects of the “Star Wars” program, feels that the Red Team review is vital to make sure that missile defenses cannot be defeated easily and cheaply.

The team, he says, “has to be not only of high technical quality, it has to be a team that has independent backing” to prevent the Administration from putting forth its views without challenge.

Close Examination

Close scrutiny of the strategic defense program is important, Drell said, because “I don’t consider ‘Star Wars’ to be a technical problem of the usual sort, like putting a man on the moon. The moon didn’t mind being landed on. The moon didn’t have decoys or flares” of the sort that the Russians might use to confound missile defenses.

The head of the Star Wars program, Air Force Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson, said in his annual report to Congress that the main Red Team accomplishment so far has been an analysis of steps the Soviets could take to outsmart the High Endoatmospheric Defense System. The system is designed to spot and destroy warheads as they re-enter the atmosphere and close in on their U.S. targets.

Current strategy anticipates that the attacker will launch large numbers of decoys to fool the defender. Because the decoys are lighter than actual warheads, it may be possible to use lasers or infrared sensors to tell which is which.

Various Countermeasures

From April to November, 1984, the Red Team cooked up 28 countermeasures. In the following year the opposing Blue Team managed to come up with 15 counter-countermeasures, and through June, 1985, yet another group, the Umpire Team, mulled over the findings.

“The analyses have demonstrated that simple decoys or poorly designed, elaborate decoys will not work against the technologically sophisticated components used in the (Endoatmospheric) system,” Abrahamson said in his report.

According to the report, the “Star Wars” Red Teams have not tackled the problem of how an attacker might undermine what analysts consider to be most revolutionary aspect of Reagan’s vision of strategic defense: the systems designed to destroy attacking boosters as they break through the atmosphere and before they release their warheads and decoys.

‘Boost Phase’ Measures

Among the “boost phase” countermeasures that have been suggested in public debate are:

- Deploying enough missiles to overwhelm any defensive system. The best counter to this in the foreseeable future, the experts say, would be treaties limiting the number of offensive and defensive weapons on each side.

- Coating boosters with substances to deflect the heat of lasers that might be used to destroy them. However, these substances are heavy and would reduce the number of warheads each booster could carry.

- Developing “fast-burn” boosters that will reach altitude and release warheads more quickly, giving space-based defenses less time to destroy them. This too reduces the number of warheads each rocket can carry.

- Rotating the boosters as they lift off, making it impossible for lasers to focus on one spot to do their damage.

- Detonating nuclear devices in the vicinity of the satellites that would spot a massive launching of boosters.

The nuclear explosions could destroy the satellites outright or disable their electronic systems. Among the countermeasures suggested for this are satellites kept in orbit half-way to the moon, making them difficult to reach, “hardening” them against explosions, arming them to shoot at killer satellites, or surrounding them with attack satellites, much as a naval carrier is flanked by submarines, destroyers and airplanes to ward off the enemy.