The US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) has never been really forgotten since the time it was announced by Ronald Reagan in 1983. The program was suspended as not directly feasible for operational status with existing technology. In 1993, the focus shifted from global national ballistic missile defense (BMD) to regional coverage theater BMD. But the dream fueled by some emerging threats to have a robust national missile defense was never dead. Missile defense and military space programs are likely to get a substantial funding boost under the current Republican-dominated administration.
Experts believe rogue states and even terrorists have or could soon have the ability to knock out the American electric grid, using a nuclear weapon detonated high above the United States. Many months of outage caused by such an electromagnetic-pulse (EMP) attack would return life in the US to the 18th-century conditions, without the benefits of the then-existing agrarian society — leading to the death of most Americans from starvation, disease, and societal collapse.
40 ground-based interceptors (GBI) deployed in Alaska and 40 in California are nowhere near up to the task. Security could come with the advent of capability to strike incoming missiles right after launch when the targets are most immune. The concept includes ‘Rods of God» – secret space weapons deployed on orbital kinetic weapon platform that could achieve a velocity of about 11 km/s (around 36,000 feet per second).
It reminds of Reagan’s «brilliant pebbles». But some people believe that today the inclusion of private sector – the high-tech leaders like SpaceX – can make the program much cheaper and effective. The temptation to try it again is hard to resist. The analysis of what the president, his advisers and US lawmakers say makes believe the United States is heading for a vast space weaponization program.
Such weapons could be used against terrorists. The Trump administration is to consider the options to intensify the fight against the Islamic States (IS), including the capabilities in cyber and space. Military chief are preparing their reports. No one has made precise how exactly space capabilities could be used against the IS but US defense Secretary Ashton Carter has urged the military space community to «join the fight».
Trump policy advisers Robert Walker and Peter Navarro call for bringing the «Star Wars» concept back. They want Donald Trump to make the US lead the way on emerging technologies that have the potential to revolutionize warfare.
According to them, an increased reliance on the private sector will be a cornerstone of Trump space policy. Launching and operating military space assets is a multibillion-dollar enterprise employing thousands, spurring innovation, spinning off civilian applications like GPS, and fueling economic growth.
Riki Ellison, chairman and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes anti-missile systems, said his organization responded to a request from the Trump campaign for a briefing earlier this year and has had extensive consultations. Ellison believes the Pentagon programs coming down the line include lasers and weapons capable of being launched either from or into space.
Referring to anti-satellite and anti-missile weapons in space, Congressman Doug Lamborn of Armed Services said: «Some of the technical issues around those concepts need to be researched, but there’s a lot of exciting options».
According to Blasting News, «One of the significant changes that the incoming Trump administration is contemplating in defense is the development of space-based weapons». It adds, «One idea that has kicked around for decades is a system that would consist of a tungsten projectile and a navigation system. Upon command, these ‘rods from God’ as they are poetically called would re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and would strike a target».
During the congressional confirmation hearing General James Mattis (retired), the Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defence, called for bigger investments into space exploration for defense purposes. If confirmed, he’ll have vast opportunities to influence the president.
It’s not about weapons only. In the Reagan’s days, many supported the SDI because they believed it would be an important factor to weaken the Soviet Union.
Donald Trump has stated many times he wants to boost military spending. He considers economy as a powerful instrument of foreign policy. The combination of both could become the means to exert pressure on other countries. The «Star Wars» concept is the way to do it, especially if one believes that a new space program would be an incentive for high-tech economic progress.
With Donald Trump’s views still vague on many critical issues, the new US president has a detailed and ambitious space policy.
The ground-based BMD systems, the X-37B spacecraft and Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) platforms could be repurposed into instruments of war in space.
The Russia-China diplomatic efforts to have an international agreement to regulate space activities have been stymied by the United States. The United State has refused to join the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space Treaty (PAROS) of 1967.
Last year, Republicans included into the 2017 defense authorization bill a provision to encourage the Defense Department to start a research program for space-based anti-missile systems. In a significant departure from long-standing US policy, lawmakers voted in December to expand the declared role of US national ballistic missile defenses. The measure states that it shall be «the policy of the United States to maintain and improve an effective, robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat». The word «limited» was removed from the definition of US missile defense plans.
Nothing gives a reason to believe the program will produce any real results. There will be nothing left for Russia and China but to respond in kind. The cost of the plans will be enormous and the president has declared that he intends to reduce taxes on corporations. The burden will be unbearable at the time the US national debt has risen to $20 trillion. The plans will result in an arms race in space. There will be no winners, only losers.
This year the world marks the 50th anniversary of the Outer Space Treaty. It’s time to look back and make conclusions. Arms control is always better than an unchecked rivalry. «Good deals» on arms control were reached in the heat of the Cold War to benefit all. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in his annual press-conference that Moscow expects to have a dialogue with the Trump administration on space weapons. Hopefully long-awaited negotiations will be launched to prevent the arms race scenario.