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.”