Good News. Defense News reports that, unlike the previous Air Force Secretary, currently Acting Secretary Matt Donovan supports President Trump’s Space Force initiative. And there’s potentially more good news associated with his arrival.
Several of my recent articles have lamented that my favorite service was slow-rolling President Trump’s Space Force initiative — in spite of support given by many former USAF and other leaders — witness a May 23, 2019 open letter by 43 of us saying it was prime time to make it so.
Even though Previous Undersecretary Donovan is only acting as Secretary, his advocacy is most welcome, and there are hopeful signals that the rumored Secretary to be nominated by President Trump, former Aerospace Corporation Chairwoman Barbara Barrett, will also be supportive.
Moreover, Donovan is quoted as wanting "to build a mesh network of inter-networked communications satellites, that’s absolutely foundational with what we’re trying to do with our advanced battle management system, which will lead us to multi-domain command and control."
At the recent Paris Air Show, he also noted his support for the new Space Development Agency (SDA) — opposed by the former Air Force Secretary—and its head Dr. Fred Kennedy, as well as Kennedy’s boss Dr. Mike Griffin, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.
From my perspective, these are very good signs, indeed — if Donovan and his follow Air Force leaders follow through.
I hope they will extend this advocacy for small satellite sensor constellations to reviving the most cost-effective product of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) —called "Brilliant Pebbles."
It was a network of numerous small satellites with onboard sensors, computers and also the means of propulsion to provide a global ballistic missile defense capability, including to intercept long-range ballistic missiles in their boost phase.
The sensor suite was to be sufficiently capable also to contribute tracking, discrimination and battle management information to support all other ballistic missile systems, wherever based—on land, at sea or in the air.
Even then — 30 years ago, the rapidly advancing capabilities of small hand-held computers with the capability of a Cray-1 super-computer could manage such a constellation of highly maneuverable, light-weight satellites to identify and track multiple ballistic missiles launches and plot an essentially optimum intercept strategy against complex attacks from anywhere in the world to anywhere else more than a few hundred miles away.
Today, children play with such small inexpensive computers!
And other technology has advanced through multiple development cycles. So this potential is available for any nation that seeks it. In a very real sense, applying this technology is among those where the Pentagon is playing "catch-up" with others who also understand this potential.
As previously reported, the Pentagon’s top Acquisition authority in 1990 approved a Demonstration and Validation (DemVal) program, conducted by two contractor teams (down selected from a competition of five) that could have produced such a capability before the end of the 1990s—had the then "powers that be" permitted it to continue.
In 1989-90, the "Brilliant Pebbles" system passed rigorous technical reviews by some of the nation’s top scientists and engineers, and the Pentagon’s top costing expert (independent of SDI) estimated research, development, testing, deployment, and 20 years of operation of a constellation of 1000 small very capable space-based interceptors would cost $10 billion in 1988 dollars (about $20 billion in today’s dollars).
That system could have defeated at attack of 200 reentry vehicles (including salvo launches) with a probability of over 95-percent. But in spite of this impressive promised capability, the Democrats in congress and the Clinton administration killed “Brilliant Pebbles” and related efforts in early 1993, and no subsequent administration has sought their revival—until now!
This history was discussed in 2001 by Dr. Donald Baucom, the SDI Historian who lived through that era, and should be, but may not be, well known. Even the then recently elected George W. Bush administration did not take steps to exploit that then cutting edge technology, which has continued to advance as is now evidenced by advances in our private sector and no doubt exploited by others including our adversaries.
Mike Griffin also was there during much of this important formative stage as the Deputy SDI Director for Technology—so he knows where the important skeletons are buried. This background knowledge no doubt is also a source of at least some his open ridicule of outrageously expensive cost estimates expounded by many uninformed critics.
Hopefully, Mike and Fred Kennedy can find a way to help Donald Trump reinstate the best products of Ronald Reagan’s SDI — that would be a real tribute to the Gipper!
SpaceX is already well on the way to providing the needed technology. Perhaps Elon Musk just needs a little nudge for the private sector to make it happen.
Hope springs eternal!
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 and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. 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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