Tracking Mobile Missiles from Space | Thomas MacDonald

Tuesday, June 13, 2023
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

William J. Perry Conference Room

  • Thomas MacDonald

Seminar Recording

About the Event: Nuclear-armed states–including Russia and China–have sought to secure their nuclear arsenals from preemptive attack by deploying mobile ground-launched missiles. However, a spate of technological developments remote-sensing technologies has spurred a debate about whether nuclear arsenals will remain survivable. Current scholarship implicitly assumes that mobile missiles will be operated sub-optimally, vastly underestimating the difficulty of tracking mobile missiles and hence their survivability. In this paper, I introduce a qualitative model of tracking and use it to analyze how a set of remote sensing technologies, including space-based radar, could be used in concert to attempt to track mobile missiles. Using this model, I show that mobile missiles can be easily made survivable today using simple operational countermeasures. I then show how technological countermeasures, some of which are already deployed today, could allow mobile missiles to remain survivable into the near future, even as remote sensing capabilities continue to develop.

About the Speaker: Thomas MacDonald is a fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has an interdisciplinary scientific background which he applies to interesting technical problems which are interwoven with political concerns. His current research focuses on the verification of nuclear arms control and nonproliferation agreements. This work is along two tracks, developing verifiable and feasible arms control proposals to revitalize a flagging arms control establishment, and researching probabilistic methods to find novel approaches to stubborn arms control challenges.

He completed his PhD in nuclear science and engineering at MIT. His dissertation work studied the national security implications of advancing and emerging technologies, specifically remote sensing technologies used to track mobile missiles carrying nuclear weapons. He also completed a MSc in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Toronto where he synthesized nanoparticles for detecting and treating cancer, and holds a BSc in biochemistry from the University of Waterloo.


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