DIY Cruise Missile Grounded

10 Jul, 2004 | TdpGlobal Politics

I've just been reading about Bruce Simpson, the guy who is attempting to build his own cruise missle for $5000 while documenting it on his web site. I've read about him before, but a new post over at slashdot caught my attention.

It seems that Simpson was shut down by the New Zealand governmont weeks, perhaps days, from finishing the project and launching the missle to test it. He claims that the IRD (New Zealand's Inland Revenue Department) purposefully made him bankrupt to scupper a deal he had struck with a US firm to manufacture his X-Jet pulsejet engines, an unrelated venture he was hoping to use in the drone market.

This gains some credence when, in a NZ news story, it was openly stated that Simpson's work voliated international treaties and the US government would have had no problems expressing this to the the NZ government.

Simpson claims he's building the missle as a proof of concept to try and wake the world up to the fact that you can build a weapon like this with parts that aren't on any government's restricted list and can be readily bought over the internet (see his previous article). There's been some dicussion as to whether this is feasible or not, but I have to say that it certainly sounds like it, and the thought's scary. Why? Well think about it, a missle, flying a few hundred feet off the ground (I doubt he'll achieve proper cruise missile heights of 50ft or so) at (he reckons) 380 mph with a minimum range of 100 miles. It's next to unstoppable. Nobody has an effective cruise missile defence system, and by the time you know it's coming, you'd never have time to react, it would reach you in under 20 minutes. It's moving too fast for light arms fire, too low for AA fire. The only thing that stands a chance of stopping it is a radar guided gatling gun that some warships use, and then you'd need clear line of site and a ring of the suckers around any potential target.

It only carries a 10kg payload, and someone on slashdot points out that a truck with explosive would be more successful. Added to the stated limited accuracy of this missile and you may not hit your target, and even then with a warhead too small to do much damage, but who cares? Trucks and suicide bombers can be stopped by cordoning off an area, if the truck's 100m away, it's failed. A cruise missile can't be stopped, and the people who fire it are already 100 miles away, in any direction, making it next to impossible to catch them.

Now this missle has limited accuracy because it's using a commercial GPS system, and we already know the US can switch even that off in an area if they wish, but it's designed with a backup navigation system. Anyone who survived the blitz will tell you how frightening being under permanent threat of V1 rockets was, now imagine that a terrorist group says it plans to attack New York using homemade cruise missles, a couple land and you've got panic, whether they hit targets or not. People will be walking around with one eye to the sky. With some tweeking you could improve the accuracy, or just throw enough of them in the air, and you can hit big targets. Imagine if someone decides to take out the White House, what's to stop them?

And all this with off-the-shelf technologies, and for less than $5000. Hell, for $10,000 you can probably get a) a bigger payload and b) improved accuracy, especially if you've got government links. With the going rate of a Tomahawk somewhere between $600,000 and $1 million, you could have a handful of these and still have change. The reason I say this is because Simpson is now offering his services to the highest bidder, excluding terrorists. I imagine someone like Taiwan, with the Chinese threat just over the water, the technological know-how and a fear of invasion could offer him a competitive deal, they could then afford to throw $10,000 missiles at China all day long rather than burning a who lot more money, plus they produce them in-country (no worries regarding trade embargoes) and would no doubt get a substantial market share via export.

I think it's time we took this threat seriously, time someone got on Simpson's side and tested his theory and if it proves right, asked him what we should do about it (he's got to have some ideas, even if it's trade limitations). At least he's starting to achieve his aim: to point out to the world that this can be done by anyone, let alone nations with proven scientific excellence such as Iran, Iraq, China and Pakistan.

By the way, check out Raytheon's datasheet on the Tomahawk Cruise Missle. I just love the sales pitch:

Tomahawk is the nation's "weapon of choice" for critical, long-range, precision strike missions against high-value, heavily defended targets. Tomahawk has played a crucial role in several theater operations including: Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Iraq in 1993, Bosnia in 1995, Iraq in 1996, Operation Desert Fox in 1998, and Operation Allied Force in 1999.

It's a CRUISE MISSILE, who the hell do they think is going to read this page? I can't see foreign defence secretaries with a shopping list trying to figure out the best value for money cruise missile on the market, can you? Gee, that Tomahawk's getting great reviews, and just look at that history, hell, they've been in every major conflict for a decade. I wonder if they offer bulk discount?