Which was heavily feared and anticipated among national security planners, the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile by Kim Jong Un’s regime poses the theoretical capability of striking Alaska. But with North Korea’s threats posing a much more serious threat than ever, the American approach of ICBM defenses could possibly be an approach of little consequence.
North Korea’s space-based missile defense has influenced political debates and faces discerning scrutiny up-and-down the halls of the White House ever since the severely unsuccessful Strategic Defense Initiative that by the Reagan administration, infamously referred to as Star Wars.
A reviving breath of fresh air has revitalized the concept in the midst of North Korea’s rapid pace pursuits of acquiring nuclear ICBMs, which have inspired more conversations about an increased missile defense strategy in general. Capitol Hill lawmakers viewed this crisis as an opportunity for the current year, which would encourage the encouragement of the long debated expansion of American missile shields in outer space, which would include sensors as well as interceptors that closely resemble those proposed by President Reagan.
The annual defense policy bills from both the House and Senate agree that the United States should pursue to secure an array of orbiting satellites equipped with sensors that would have the ability to collect high-quality launch information and ballistic missiles launched in the future from North Korea or even other adversaries, which is referred to by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, as the “unblinking eye.”
The tracking data collected could be employed in order to better navigate the existing defense strategies on the ground, including regional defenses conducted on the peninsula of Korea, such as the Lockheed Martin Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or even the West Coast interceptors that are ground-based. Sullivan diligently pushed forth legislation into the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act, which would have provided $27.5 million towards the creation, launch, and demonstration of the space-based sensor layer.
Kim Jong Un “is aggressively testing the frontiers of their capability and learning and we need to be doing that as well,” Sullivan reportedly stated to the Washington Examiner.
Sullivan was able to gather bipartisan support on his proposed bill and states that he has the support of generals of top ranking as well as military officials. Vice Administrator James Syring, whom is the recently departed commander of the Missile Defense Agency, has insisted that space tracking is a necessity, and commander in chief, at the time that he was a candidate, proclaimed he supported the introduction of missile defense capabilities within the outer space.
“At some point soon, our nation must commit to deployment of a global space-based sensor system with discrimination capability,” Gen. John Hyten, the leader of U.S. Strategic Command, testified in April to the Senate.
The Pentagon has been ordered by Trump to perform a Ballistic Missile Defense Review, which would most likely include space-based sensors, by years end.
Administrations in the past have come to recognize the need for sensors, but plans to construct the defense never made up last the planning stage, says Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I think this would be a tremendous step forward, and I think it’s important to keep in mind … space sensors are not just about long-range missile defense, but they would improve the lethality and effectiveness of every interceptor family in the ballistic missile defense system,” Karako said.
The land-based sensors that are now an integral part of America’s missile defense system are facing difficulties surrounding Earth’s curvature and acquiring visuals of threats that exist over the horizon. Utilizing space sensors “you get birth-to-death tracking … you get more specific tracking data to really help tell your interceptors where to go and what to kill,” he proclaimed.
Members of the House agree that lawmakers must take into consideration the new layer of missile defense, and have been commenced to go a step further. The House NDAA instructed the Pentagon to start conducting tests on the space-based interceptors, a concept initiated by Reagan and continuously pushed forward through rigorous discussions over the years in chambers.
“This is a profound step forward,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who sponsored the legislation, told the Washington Examiner. “This is a true paradigm shift in the direction of a new capability.”
The House NDAA committee have dedicated $30 million in order to create a “test bed” in order to test out hardware in the outer space that would have the ability to shoot down an incoming North Korean ballistic missile, which resembles the United States’ ground-based interceptors that already exists at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Karako, when asked to name the contractors that would possibly bid on the sensors and interceptors, said that at this point it is hard to say.
“It probably depends on how MDA shapes up the contract, and either way it would presumably be a competition in which most of the primes get involved. That might means Lockheed, Northrop, Raytheon, and probably others,” he said
For two decades, the United States has had its difficulties when developing its ground interceptor – and endowments often describe as striking a bullet with a bullet- with an accumulated amount of failures and adjustments along the journey. Back in May, the system successfully achieved the milestone by striking down an ICBM launched as a test, but developments are still in the works.
As a prominent member who has served decades in the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, Franks successfully secured an amendment that was included in the NDAA that permits the military to conduct additional tests of the technology in space, which he acknowledges as the “biggest step since Reagan“ towards preventing a nuclear strike on American soil.
“A space-based missile defense layer is an idea I think whose time has come, at least in terms of initiating it so that if the moment should arrive when we need that capability, and I think that’s where missile warfare is heading, that we have done our homework within the right timeframe,” he said.
The test bed and interceptors is a very familiar concept in the house, even Washington, and Franks says he has been participating in debates concerning the issue for longer than a decade. But by allowing the Pentagon to study the concept, Franks, along with other proponents, are able to make progress in the previous year’s NDAA.
“This year, we are actually starting to build and do some prototypes and some things like that to begin to see what we think is a tangible possibility for space-based missile defense,” he said.
There is a wide ranging and steadfast resilience of doubt concerning the viability of space-based interceptors. The Union of Concerned Scientists has particularly indicated that they would be exponentially expensive while ineffective at preventing a ballistic missile launched from Austria or by other adversaries from striking America.
“Many hundreds of orbiting space-based interceptors are required to defend against just one or two missiles — an extremely expensive approach,” according to the nonprofit advocacy group.
The last significant effort by the government to deploy interceptors was terminated during the Clinton administration, according to Michaela Dodge, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation with a specialty in missile defense.
“That’s over 20 years ago, so today we could do it much better if we wanted to, but so far we haven’t had political will to proceed with this type of deployment,” Dodge said.
This type of system would potentially permit the so-called kill vehicles, the area of the interceptor that is responsible for colliding with the incoming ballistic missile, to reach its designated target more rapidly than the interceptors that currently are part of the arsenal collection at Fort Greely and Vandenberg, she warns.
“Ultimately, we talk about a layered missile defense system, but the layer that we are missing is the space-based missile defense layer,” Dodge said. “So I think it’s a good thing that the House looks into that and takes a step to establish the test bed too.”