Congress, Pentagon

Considering space-based missile defense

Tucked away in the Missile Defense Agency’s 2008 budget request is a small amount of money dedicated to beginning study of space-based missile defense component. Air Force Lt. General Henry “Trey” Obering III, director of the MDA, included this passage in his opening statement before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee earlier this week:

Finally, I am deeply concerned about future threat uncertainty and worldwide ballistic missile proliferation. I believe the performance of the BMD system could be greatly enhanced by an integrated, space-based layer. Space systems could provide on-demand, near global access to ballistic missile threats, minimizing the limitations imposed by geography, absence of strategic warning, and the politics of international basing rights. A space layer would apply pressure on launches from land or sea, depriving the adversary of free rides into midcourse with advanced countermeasures. While deployment of such a system must be preceded by significant, national-level debate, that debate must be informed by science. To that end, we are ready to begin a focused investigation of the feasibility of having an integrated space-based layer, and I am requesting $10 million for FY 2008 to begin concept analysis and preparation for small-scale experiments. These experiments will provide real data to answer a number of technical questions and help the leadership make a more informed decision about adding this capability.

This got major play in an article by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti yesterday, but little else, primarily because it’s a small part of a much larger program, with more concern about the status of near-term terrestrial elements. (And because the Russians have been beating the drum pretty hard recently about US proposals to place regional missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.) Space-based missile defense has been a sensitive issue for years, out of concern by some that the same system that could be used to knock down enemy missiles could also be used to disable or destroy satellites, hence the statement by Gen. Obering that any space-based system “must be preceded by significant, national-level debate.”

8 comments to Considering space-based missile defense

  • Adrasteia

    Look on the bright side. US Space based missile defence gives the Russians a good incentive to reactivate Energia and Polyus.

  • Anonymous8

    This is not going to result in anything. The problem with space-based missile defense has always been that in order to cover the launch sites you need a very large number of satellites. A large number of satellites translates into big costs. Ground-based NMD is cheaper.

  • richardb

    Its a measure of the confidence the Pentagon has in the national consensus of BMD that they are willing to have this debate when Democrats control the hearings. Considering how allergic Dems were to ICBM missile defenses from Reagan to Bush I thru Clinton I, this is a muscular display of Pentagon cockiness.
    Thank the following for godfathering this debate:
    China big props for dropping your benign mask on the peaceful uses of space
    Iran for continuing to be a genocidal wanna be
    North Korea for 50 years of being yourself
    Russia for showing how scared you are of American BMD
    Europe for showing how ambivalent you are to American anxieties.

  • Anonymous8

    “Its a measure of the confidence the Pentagon has in the national consensus of BMD that they are willing to have this debate when Democrats control the hearings.”

    Or it is simply another example of the administration being tone deaf and not realizing that the political debate, and the political environment, have shifted. Note that even after the Dems won the mid-term elections, there were still people at the Dept. of Justice blithely charging ahead with their plans to fire a bunch of US attorneys–as if such an action was not going to create problems on the Hill.

    But $10 million is nothing. All it will do is buy DoD a study with a predictable concludion: “space-based NMD is too expensive.” In fact, that could be the entire purpose of the study, to demonstrate that if you want the capability, you really do need a European launch site.

  • richardb

    I don’t get the logic of comparing a request for $10 mil to firing some presidental appointees. But the evening is early and I have yet to hit the Fat Tire cooling so maybe I’ll eventually see it.

    But from a small seed a oak can grow so my metaphor leads me to think from 10 mil a few billions can grow… time. Congress has a very long list of stupid pet projects costing billions, what’s wrong with another?

  • Anonymous8

    “Congress has a very long list of stupid pet projects costing billions, what’s wrong with another?”

    Great logic.

  • richardb

    Uh, it wasn’t written as a candidate for “great logic”. Sarcasm was the intention.

  • Bill

    Well I think a space based system is necessary for the overall protection ,not only of our citizens but of the almost complete vulnerability of our commercial and military satalites.As most of you know all it will take is one high atmospheric airburst over our country and our computer controlled and satalite relient infastructure will be back in the stone age.
    If you think adding a layer of defense in space will somehow start a space weapons race, you must not be been keeping up with the latest Chinese military doctrine and their obsession with ASAT and nanosatalite weaponry….AS far as the Russians go ,while we were mulling around the ABM treaty they updated and furthered thier ABM avoidence technology and are in the process of replacing all of their ICBM`s with Merv capable, highley survivable, high speed manuvering warheads…..

    We will control space or someone else will, you can sign all the treatys you want .

    Brilliant Pebbles is a good place to start.


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