Gordon Chang reported in an October 18 Newsmax interview that we are decades behind China in developing hypersonic missile capabilities that can threaten the U.S. with a nuclear attack that we can’t defend against. And the next day, an Epoch Times article by Andrew Thronebrooke quotes several authorities to make several important points, including:
- U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said that “Washington is concerned about China’s possible deployment of hypersonic weaponry” and that “the U.S. hadn’t developed a means of countering it.”
- Wood also noted that “Hypersonic technology is something that we have been concerned about, the potential military applications of it and we have held back from pursuing, we had held back from pursuing military applications for this technology,”
- And that “we have seen China and Russia pursuing very actively the use, the militarization of this technology, so we are just having to respond in kind … We just don’t know how we can defend against that technology. Neither does China, neither does Russia.”
I do not agree with this last point, as noted below. But Thornebrooke also quoted several other authorities, and it is worth your time to consider the implications of a number of our adversaries gaining this capability — including Russia, China and North Korea. And I would not leave out Iran that partners with North Korea on nuclear weapons and other technologies.
Included in the threats he and others have discussed is deploying this capability via a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS), first developed by the Soviet Union to attack the United States by launching an ICBM over the South Pole to attack the undefended U.S. from our South. One of the most authoritative accounts of this threat is a recent Center for Security Policy publication by Dr. Peter Vincent Pry.
Note that our missile defenses historically have been deployed to counter threats that approach the United States from over the North Pole — and we are not well prepared for ballistic missile threats that attack from the South — even if they do not employ Hypersonics.
See my December 4, 2017 Newsmax article that dealt with possible electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threats from North Korea — including threats in the South Pacific as well as to the United States — which is an existential threat.
Though this new development is obviously important, most of the Pentagon “powers that be” are reportedly staying “mum” on the issue.
From my perspective, such a development should not be so surprising, since President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) examined these technologies in considerable detail. Sandia National Laboratories actually pioneered such hypersonic technology, demonstrated it a decade ago and has been active in our recent hypersonic efforts. See the recent Congressional Research Report.
We just never have taken matters to the next step of development—and now we are playing catch-up rather than leading. Ignoring related existential threats is indeed dangerous and unnecessary.
The SDI effort also developed the means to defeat such capability by intercepting attacking threatening missiles in their boost-phase while their rockets are burning.
That was quite affordable 30-years ago, as Retired Lt. General Jim Abrahamson, the first SDI Director agreed. He joined me four years ago in writing an August 14, 2017 Newsmax article, urging that we revive the SDI’s most important effort (in my opinion) to develop space-based interceptors.
I’m sure, were he still alive, USAF Lt. General George Monahan, the second SDI Director, would have joined us in that article since he took the results from Abe’s highly classified effort and ran the Pentagon’s acquisition development gauntlet to get approved a full-scale demonstration-validation (DemVal) program — involving a down-select from a half dozen competitors to a competition between TRW-Hughes and Martin Marietta — a program I inherited as the third SDI Director.
The Pentagon’s Independent Costing Organization advised the top Pentagon Acquisition Authority that it would require $10 billion (in 1988 dollars — now about $20 billion) for full-scale development, deployment and operation of a constellation of 1,000 “Brilliant Pebbles” for 20 years.
Gen. Abrahamson and I also wrote in the July 21, 2017 Wall Street Journal to dispute much higher cost estimates that were still being propagated by less informed individuals. We also noted that Space X promised technology that would enable such a future constellation that would be even less expensive.
And now Elon Musk’s Space X has deployed over 10,000 small satellites for commercial purposes. Also, his reusable launch capabilities, now commonplace, were advanced from the SDI Delta Clipper effort. Perhaps the “powers that be” should turn over to the commercial sector building the missile defenses we need. You think?
Finally, I should note that the SDI also demonstrated that airborne “boost-phase intercept” capabilities are viable, if only the “powers that be” would take advantage of the efforts pioneered by SDI.
I co-authored another Newsmax article to discuss an airborne boost-phase intercept possibility via drones, with Dale Tietz, who led such efforts during the SDI era and afterward at NASA—and has been trying for years to get the “powers that be” to take advantage of that capability. Such boost-phase intercept capability also can be provided to our fighter aircraft, as was suggested as a way specifically to counter threats from North Korea.
Bottom line, there is absolutely no reason for the United States to be behind in dealing with the Hypersonics threat. But the “powers that be” must remove the arbitrary constraints that have limited U.S. development efforts for years.
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. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.
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