According to the February 11, 2020 Defense News, President Trump’s Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) budget request for 2021 includes steps that I very much applaud. But it omits at least one important initiative that, in my opinion, is key to very effective missile defense systems, especially to support the president’s new Space Force.
I trust Congress will carefully scrub this proposal and, while supporting key initiatives, also rectify at least one of its shortcomings. I especially hope Congress: 1. acknowledges the shortcomings of the current Ground Based Midcourse Defense, as indicated by the president’s budget that reinforces previous decisions canceling upgrade efforts for that deficient effort; and 2. enhances programs to provide more cost-effective ways to base our ballistic missile defense systems, as I have argued previously in these pages.
For decades, we have invested most of our missile defense resources in building the least effective, most expensive defenses against ballistic missiles — ground-based interceptor systems, while ignoring or short-changing much more cost-effective alternatives, especially those based at sea and in space.
This bias reflected the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that made protecting the American people illegal. And the ABM Treaty limited even those ineffective ground-based defenses.
In the mid-1990s, I chaired a Heritage Foundation "Team B" that reviewed the merits of the then extant and anticipated advanced technology for defending Americans at home and abroad, as well as our overseas troops, allies and friends. Our Team B panel included previous directors, program managers and technology leaders of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), members of congress, and private sector technical experts.
The Heritage Foundation published three comprehensive 1995-98 reports, all noting the deficiencies and expense of ground-based defenses and recommending building as quickly as possible more effective global defenses, "first from the sea and then from space."
And we argued the ABM Treaty should be abandoned as quickly as possible.
We strongly supported the sea-based Aegis BMD program, which began on my watch as SDI director. It focused on defending our troops, friends and allies against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles — a limited focus because the ABM Treaty banned space-based, sea-based and mobile land-based defenses to protect Americans in our homeland. That sea-based defenses could defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) was clear.
Thus, once the George W. Bush administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Retired Vice Admiral J.D. Williams (who was a member of the Heritage Team B) and I began advocating widely that the Aegis BMD system be given an ability to protect Americans in our homeland, including as a much less expensive way to defend the Eastern Seaboard than building a Northeastern ground-based BMD system..
Its first-generation Standard Missile-3 Block IA interceptor proved the merits of our case when, in a fast-paced effort from a standing start approved by Bush in 2008, Operation Brunt Frost intercepted a threatening satellite travelling faster than an ICBM. Its inherent capability has improved during the subsequent 12 years — as the Block IA morphed into the Block IB into the Block IIA, which is now operational.
But that inherent capability was not exploited to protect the American people at home — until now. Thankfully, President Trump's 2021 budget request explicitly seeks to exploit Aegis BMD, at least in a ground-based mode, to protect Americans at home.
This "Aegis Ashore" capability is being deployed to protect Hawaii (since it has been tested there for years) and is operational in Poland and Romania. It's about time we exploit it to protect the continental United States.
Aegis Ashore sites around the Gulf of Mexico to protect against launches from the vessels in the Gulf would be very important. We should also consider how to exploit the sea-based Aegis BMD system to defend Americans at home — say when our Aegis BMD ships are in American ports or near the American coasts. The cost of this defense should be less than building a dedicated East Coast BMD site like those in Alaska and California.
So — thanks to the president’s 2021 Budget Request, we could be on the verge of getting the first step of our Heritage Team B recommendation for a "Global Defense, First from the Sea and then From Space."
But there is no sign that the Trump administration is moving toward the second objective — space-based defenses. And such defenses will be essential to the viability of the president’s Space Force, as discussed previously. We emphasized we knew how to build such cost-effective global defenses 30 years ago — in response to Reagan's insistence that his SDI explore all technological ways to achieve such a capability.
We were on a path to success — until the Democrats in Congress and then in the Clinton administration cancelled those important activities that were producing convincing capabilities. Regrettably, Reagan's most cost-effective vision for defending against ballistic missile attack has remained dormant ever since — in both Democrat and Republican administrations.
Regrettably, President Trump's budget request for 2021 is no different in this regarsd than its predecessors. Will Congress address this failure?
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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