The juxtaposition of two important recent events herald the importance of a new ballistic missile defense (BMD) initiative to build as quickly as possible a capability to intercept attacking missiles in their boost phase, while they are most vulnerable as their rockets burn to lift them from their launchers:
- Recent reports that North Korea continues to build threatening ballistic missiles —raising international doubts about Kim Jong Un’s alleged commitment to his agreements with President Trump at their recent summit; and
- Wednesday’s overwhelming U.S. Senate vote (87-to-10) approving the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 (NDAA-2019), with the anticipated President’s Signature, to become the law of the land.
By pressing ahead rapidly with the second, we can provide important leverage to support President Trump’s efforts to reach agreement with Kim Jong Un to end North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Note: Our intelligence community has estimated North Korea already has up to 60 nuclear weapons and has demonstrated an ability to use its existing ballistic missiles to reach any American city — once they have an ability to reenter the atmosphere.
Moreover, they already could easily detonate a single nuclear weapon in space over the United States, using satellites like those they demonstrated years ago.
The resulting electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could take down indefinitely our critical infrastructure, particularly our vulnerable electric power grid. According to the recent Congressional EMP Commission, the resulting loss of electricity could lead to the death of most Americans within months due to starvation, disease and societal collapse.
Thus, working to protect against this truly existential threat deserves a very high national priority. Happily, the NDAA-2019 provides Congressional initiatives supporting programs to do so—about which I have recently written.
In particular, among the details of this $717 billion NDAA-2018 (summarized by the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee) is a directive that requires the director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to, "establish a boost phase intercept program using kinetic interceptors, initiate development of a missile defense tracking and discrimination space sensor layer, and continue efforts to develop high power directed energy for missile defense applications."
A boost phase intercept (BPI) capability can be provided quickly with existing operational aircraft and improved a few years later with High Altitude Long Enduring (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and eventually by a global space-based intercept (SBI) capability, also mandated in the NDAA 2019 as discussed earlier this week.
Consider our near-term options. Almost a year ago, my August 28, 2017 Newsmax article proposed, in two stages, that:
- For this BPI mission, we immediately exploit the existing Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), used by fighter aircraft deployed by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and 25 allied nations to attack other aircraft. They can be rapidly modified to enable fighter aircraft to accomplish the BPI mission, provided they fly sufficiently near the North Korean launch site.
- Shortly thereafter, we can and should deploy defenses that can be launched from high-altitude long-enduring (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as also has been discussed previously. General Atomics’ Reaper HALE system can rapidly be empowered (within a year?) to enable this capability against North Korea.
These systems are well developed and battle seasoned. They should be empowered immediately in a highly demonstrated way to impress Kim Jong Un.
In addition, our widely deployed Aegis BMD ships can be brought into play rapidly to counter North Korean ballistic missiles. While they cannot perform a BPI mission, nearby Aegis BMD ships can intercept North Korean ballistic missiles as they rise above the atmosphere and more distant Aegis BMD ships can intercept the descending North Korean missiles as they approach the United States.
The crews simply need to be trained and ready to accomplish this mission, as was discussed in some detail last September 8.
Finally, as discussed earlier this week, I applaud the NDAA-2019 direction that the Pentagon provides a plan for building a space-based intercept (SBI) system. Thirty years ago, we understood how to do this, but have been blocked by political, not technical impedance.
Such a system could intercept North Korean ballistic missiles beginning in their boost phase and throughout their further flight until after they begin their reentry into the atmosphere over the United States. Over a hundred independent intercept opportunities would be provided, as was reported and illustrated in Figure 6 from page 20 of a March 1992 Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Report to Congress.
This now publically available report provides a window into the global defense concepts and capabilities we were seeking 30 years ago — and should more than suggest that we can "Go back to the future!" to reach President Ronald Reagan’s SDI vision.
The NDAA-2019 couples well with President Trump’s instructions to the Pentagon to come up with plans for a Space Force, separate from and equal to the Air Force.
In any case, Congress and the White House agree that we should move out to provide an ability to intercept North Korea’s capability to attack the U.S. with their ballistic missiles, if Kim Jong Un decides to continue developing them.
Indeed, a crash program to provide air- and space-based boost phase intercept capabilities also would add to President Trump’s negotiating leverage to persuade Kim Jong Un to end his ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
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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