AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Netflix’s newest action flick Interceptor, released on June 3, has a 44% rating with critics and a dismal 25% score with audiences on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. But while the film doesn’t appear to be headed for any Academy Award nominations, it does, perhaps unintentionally and at times quite crudely, serve as one of the best recent on-screen depictions of missile defense systems – an often overlooked but increasingly crucial aspect of U.S. national security.
In the film, newly promoted Captain JJ Collins, played by Elsa Pataky, must defend an SBX-1 nuclear missile interceptor station in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean from a rogue band of terrorists bent on global annihilation. The terrorists, led by a man named Kessel (Luke Bracey) have stolen 16 nuclear missiles from a facility in Russia and have them aimed at cities in the United States – with only Collins standing in their way.
As is the case with nearly every Hollywood-style production over the last decade or so, the film is rife with cringeworthy references to modern gender politics, and its one-liners about Collins’ female empowerment and Kessel’s toxic alpha-male mentality feel clunky and forced. To make matters worse for the movie, the plot is laughably predictable, the dialogue canned, and the directing nonexistent. It’s the worst parts of every bad 80’s action movie with a healthy dose of modern left-wing gender politics.
There is one good thing about the movie, however: its depiction of missile defense systems is drawing more attention to a critical and often forgotten component of our national security. It’s perhaps the film’s only redeeming aspect. The movie accurately shows the military’s “layered defense system,” whereby different types of missile defenses work in tiers to combat missile threats.
Interceptor showcases two of the weapons used as part of this system, the Sea-based RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, known as the SeaRAM, and the Lightweight Short-Range Avenger Air Defense System, or simply Avenger for short.
The SeaRAM was developed in 2008 and modernized in 2013 to defend seaborne vessels against supersonic and subsonic threats, including cruise missiles, drones, and ordnance fired from enemy helicopters. It’s currently in use by U.S. forces around the world, and is one of the key pieces of armament for defending U.S. military assets like nuclear missile interceptor stations.
The Avenger is primarily an air-defense system that uses Stinger missiles mounted on a 360-degree turret. A versatile weapons platform that can be mounted on highly-mobile vehicles that perform in diverse terrains from desert to jungle, Avenger is deployed on dozens of air bases around the world and is even used in the Washington-D.C. area to protect important national security assets like the White House.
However, while Netflix’s effort to showcase real weapons systems is laudable, the film does get some key things wrong. As the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance has pointed out, the movie incorrectly shows the defense systems positioned on the deck of the SBX-1 radar station that Collins is defending from the terrorists. In reality, radar stations like SBX-1 serve only to detect and track missiles. Actually intercepting missiles and destroying them is the job of other platforms like the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
Furthermore, the Avenger weapons system is a ground-based system that is not designed for use on ships. To see both the Avenger and SeaRAM systems used in coordination with one another would be highly unlikely, and the two would never be found on an SBX-1 radar station.
But perhaps the biggest thing that Interceptor misses – and which Americans should understand about the true danger from ballistic missiles – is where missile threats to the United States are most likely to originate. While rogue terrorist organizations are always a concern, it is very unlikely that a single terrorist cell would have the resources and organizational capacity to pull off a stunt like the one seen in the movie.
The real threat is likely to come from China in the Indo-Pacific. In recent years, China’s development of hypersonic missiles has threatened to completely overwhelm U.S. missile defenses and leave the homeland dangerously vulnerable to an attack. The threat military leaders are concerned about is not a group of thugs taking over a radar station (such a scenario is highly unlikely given the immense security around such facilities that is not portrayed at all in Interceptor) but a supersonic nuclear warhead landing somewhere near an American city.
Thankfully, defending against such threats shouldn’t require the heroic actions of one individual determined to save the world. But it will require an awareness on the part of the American people, who should understand the threats facing their country, and demand their leaders invest the resources necessary to stay at the very top of the technology curve when it comes to missile defense technology.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.
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