On November 17, 2020, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) conducted a very consequential test of the Navy's Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) capability — more consequential than is generally understood.
The Navy's public release of this test includes an excellent descriptive video that demonstrates how the operational crew of the USS John Finn Destroyer (DDG-113) operating near Hawaii intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) target launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, over 2,000 miles away on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific.
Not only was this an important BMD "intercept" demonstration against an ICBM, it also validated the "launch-on remote" capability of the nation's global (ground, air, sea and space) Command and Control Battle Management Communications (C2BMC) network of sensors to support BMD interceptors, wherever based.
This network can provide critical warning and tracking information to enable such a global BMD system against ballistic missiles of any range more than a few hundred miles — and our 40 or so Aegis destroyers and cruisers can provide that intercept capability if they can get close enough to the attacking missile.
Immediately, it was widely understood that this Aegis BMD capability will enhance our homeland defenses, potentially even against hypersonic missiles that are currently of great concern. Moreover, there has been international recognition of its importance, as illustrated by The Economist.
But I think key aspects of this global defense capability still are not fully understood, though this test encourages a welcome awakening.
Lest we forget, note that these possibilities were explored in considerable detail by President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) — particularly during and following my early 1990 presidentially-initiated review of the SDI program.
I recommended to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and President George H.W. Bush that the SDI be redirected away from its initial focus on deterring a major ICBM attack on the U.S. homeland to providing a global defense against ballistic missile attacks on our homeland and our overseas troops, friends and allies. They agreed and asked me to become the third SDI Director and "make it happen."
Thus began an emphasis on Theater Missile Defense (TMD) systems and a limited but effective homeland defense against all ballistic missiles. We called this capability Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, or GPALS.
Any informed consideration of achieving a global defense would recognize that the majority of the globe is covered by water. That fact led me to seek interest from the Navy to develop a sea-based missile defense capability — and it was immediately apparent that the Aegis system was inherently capable of meeting that objective.
I partnered with Vice Admiral J.D. Williams, then the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Naval Warfare, to persuade the Chief of Naval Operations Frank Kelso to initiate what became the Aegis BMD program with SDI funding.
We understood the Aegis defense could be developed to intercept ICBMs, but the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty would have banned development and testing such a sea-based ABM system.
Thus, Aegis BMD efforts were focused on building a sea-based TMD system, while leaving its potential anti-ICBM capability for future initiatives.
But that constraint continued even after the President George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002 — when Admiral Williams and I began our unsuccessful efforts to get the Pentagon to give the Aegis BMD system its inherent anti-ICBM capability.
Nevertheless, this inherent capability was demonstrated in 2008, when President Bush chose the Aegis BMD system to shoot down a dying satellite filled with toxic fuel that upon reentry threatened to disperse that fuel on populated areas.
The impressive success of that "Burnt Frost" mission clearly demonstrated the inherent "anti-ICBM" capability of even the then still relatively untested first generation Standard Missile-3 Block IA interceptor.
And by twice intercepting a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) in its ascent phase, the Aegis BMD system has illustrated its inherent anti-ICBM capability. But there was no serious effort to develop its potential anti-ICBM capability, until now.
Last year Congress directed MDA to conduct the recent test, removing all doubt that the Aegis BMD system, now deployed on 40 or so destroyers and cruisers around the world, can shoot down ICBMs — provided adequate numbers of interceptors are deployed and the Aegis crews are appropriately trained.
Thus, Congress should provide funds to purchase more Block IIA interceptors as quickly as possible, especially to defend against the growing threat from North Korea and Iran.
I addressed how best to deal with this apparent threat over three years ago in a series of Newsmax articles on August 24, 2017, August 28, 2017, September 5, 2017 and September 8, 2017.
I urge the "powers that be" to integrate the recently demonstrated Aegis BMD sea-based defenses with air- and space-based BMD capabilities to intercept such threatening ballistic missiles beginning in their boost phase, as they rise from their launch pads and are most vulnerable.
They quite affordably — and quickly, could more than supplement our current limited homeland ground-based defenses in Alaska and California; not to mention our operational Aegis Ashore sites. Then, we also would have the makings of the GPALS system we conceived and sought 30-years ago.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.
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