Loren Thompson, Lexington Institute CEO, aptly observed in a recent Forbes article that our current Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) system and plans for its improvement do not provide much confidence for protecting the U.S. homeland — and that we need urgently to respond to the growing threat.
I agree with his assessment of our current situation and plans, but not with his recommendation to spend a lot of money to improve the current GMD system in Alaska and California.
We need to keep what we have until we can do better, of course. But we have much better — and less costly — alternatives to what I know of the so called "Next Generation Interceptor."
Those alternatives can rapidly provide added needed better ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability. Moreover, we have long understood those technical possibilities but have not exercised them — for political rather than technical reasons.
That past record should change!
Our near-term added homeland defenses can be much improved by simply training the crews of our Aegis BMD destroyers and cruisers to exploit their inherent capability in their normal operations areas, especially near and in our coastal waters (and in port).
Though the "powers that be" have long been informed of this possibility, little has been done to exploit it.
Now, we have about 40 such ships deployed around the world — and operational ground-based "Aegis Ashore" BMD systems in Romania and Poland, which could also be deployed at appropriate locations in the continental U.S.
I understand that such Aegis Ashore operations may be planned for protecting Hawaii, by exploiting the Kauai test range capability that has supported Aegis BMD operational tests for years. And Japan is purchasing this capability for its homeland defense.
This Aegis Ashore capability also could protect the continental United States, especially from attacks from our relatively undefended South — e.g., by ballistic missiles launched from vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Such a homeland defense capability could be quite affordably and rapidly deployed on U.S. military bases around the Gulf of Mexico.
In the longer term, a much more cost-effective BMD system can be rapidly developed and deployed in space — this capability was pioneered by President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
The first SDI Director, Retired USAF Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson, joined me over two years ago to emphasize this important current possibility that we pioneered over 30 years ago. In 1990, it became a formal, fully justified and approved Major Defense Acquisition Program.
That Brilliant Pebbles system was expected to cost $10-billion in 1988 dollars — now inflated to $20-billion — for full development, deployment, and 20-years operations. It was designed to intercept attacking ballistic missiles in their boost-phase while their rockets still burn, before they can release their decoys and other countermeasures — and throughout their flight, including high in the atmosphere on re-entry.
After surviving rigorous critical reviews, by both Pentagon and outside highly qualified and widely recognized expert technologists, it was disbanded by the Clinton Administration in early 1993 — and ignored ever since.
It’s long past time to revive that 30-year old concept, now with even more advanced technology, that should be even less costly. Based on that past experience, I believe we could deploy an operational capability within five years, if fully funded.
Such an initiative should be included in the deliberations of the Pentagon’s new leadership as they implement President Trump’s Space Force.
In particular, Gen. John Hyten, recently sworn in as the Joint Chief’s Vice Chairman, is well placed to lead such a renovation. As former Commander of Strategic Command and Space Command, he is well prepared to meet this challenge.
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. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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