US President Donald Trump began his presidency with a series of policy interventions. One of them was raising the prospect of a new US missile defence system.
In a separate statement on the White House website, the president said he intends to develop a «state of the art» missile defense system to protect against attacks from Iran and North Korea. He did not elaborate on what particular changes are planned to make the new system differ from the one under development.
During the election campaign, President Donald Trump emphasized the need to pursue space-based missile defense. In an October, 2016 memo, he backed the idea of a ballistic missile defense system with «a heavy emphasis on space-based early warning and missile tracking technologies». Still vague on many critical issues, the US president has an ambitious space policy.
Today, US defense officials are pushing to renew the effort to get missile-tracking sensors into orbit.
As Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space put it, «While the specifics are yet to be fully known about Trump and Republican Congress plans for space weapons, there are some very disturbing initial recommendations that have been surfacing».
The 2017 defense authorization bill contained a provision encouraging the Defense Department to start a research program for space-based anti-missile systems. Congress voted in December to expand the declared role of US national ballistic missile defense (BMD). According to the measure, 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». In a game changing development, the word «limited» was removed from the definition of US missile defense plans.
During the congressional confirmation hearing Secretary of Defence James Mattis called for bigger investments into space exploration for defense purposes.
Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, the Army’s new Space and Missile Defense Commander, and Brig. Gen. Ronald Buckley, US Northern Command’s deputy director of operations, talked about the importance of space for missile defense in speeches at the Association of the US Army’s missile defense conference in Arlington, Virginia, last month.
Trump policy advisers Robert Walker and Peter Navarro want the Star Wars back. They say that an increased reliance on the private sector should 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. It is widely believed that the inclusion of private sector – the high-tech leaders like SpaceX – can make the program much cheaper and more effective.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the House Armed Services Committee chairman, has called for increase in missile defense investment. According to Congressman Doug Lamborn of Armed Services Committee «Some of the technical issues around those concepts need to be researched, but there’s a lot of exciting options».
The Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance believes the US should spend $10-12 billion yearly over the next five years on BMD plans. According to it, «distributed lethality» should be introduced on 200 ships; homeland defense should be increased to 100 GBIs (Ground-Based Interceptors) with a combination of transportable launchers and multiple object kill capabilities on each kill vehicle. Full air and missile defense capabilities of all U.S. Aegis Ashore sites and Aegis BMD (ballistic missile defense) ships capable of defense against ICBMs in the terminal phase should be operationalized. The plans call for deployment of 10 THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) systems across the world.
The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to deploy a Space-based Kill Assessment (SKA) system by about mid-2017. The SKA system, which MDA describes as an experiment, will consist of small sensor packages deployed on a number of commercial satellite hosts. It is intended to demonstrate a capability to rapidly determine whether or not an interceptor has hit and killed its intended warhead target. The SKA program has received little public attention.
Two Space Tracking and Surveillance System demonstrators in low orbit intended to track a missile’s path from launch to intercept are planned to take place this year.
A ballistic missile defense (BMD) site is to be deployed on Polish soil in 2018. Another site is already operational in Romania. The Aegis Ashore systems use Mk-41 launchers capable of firing long-range cruise missiles instead of interceptors. This capability poses a threat to Russia’s key infrastructure installations located in the western part of the country. Moscow has no choice but to respond in kind.
Drone swarms – groups of small robots acting together under human direction – were tested last January. This is an important step on the way of creating a new system to counter an enemy’s strategic arsenal. A drone swarm could be delivered to the target by a missile to put out of operation the command and control system.
Another idea presupposes the use a tungsten projectile and a navigation system. Upon command, these ‘Rods from God’ would re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and strike a target. The concept envisions the creation of 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).
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 US has so far blocked all the attempts to prevent an arms race in space or, at least, introduce some restrictions on it.
In December, 2014 the UN passed a Russian resolution on banning arms race in outer space. It was adopted during the assembly's 69th session with 126 votes in favor and 4 votes against. Georgia, Israel, Ukraine and the US were the four countries that opposed it.
The Russia-China diplomatic efforts to have an international agreement to regulate space activities have been stymied by the United States. In 2008, Russia and China proposed a draft treaty to ban space weapons, which the US blocked from going forward in the consensus-bound committee on disarmament in Geneva.
Despite its enormous national debt of $20 trillion, the US is evidently reviving the idea of creating a missile defense to make it invulnerable to a retaliatory strike. Other countries will most certainly join the race working on systems to overcome the BMD. A global devastating arms race will start. The genie will be out of the bottle.
Many Donald Trump’s ardent supporters see him as the second Ronald Reagan. Let’s have a look at history. Upon taking office, President Reagan was determined to win the Cold War in part by outstripping the Soviet Union on nuclear arms. The Star Wars concept was part of the plan. A few years in office made him the most enthusiastic proponent of nuclear disarmament to occupy the White House.
Ronald Reagan is remembered for game changing treaties signed with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Both leaders discussed total disarmament at the 1986 Reykjavík summit. No terms agreed, they focused on drawdown of nuclear offensive forces to curb the devastating arms race.
If Donald Trump wants to go down in history as one of the greatest American presidents of all time, he should follow Ronald Reagan’s example.