This morning’s Aviation Week Daily Digest led with an article that dovetails with my advocacy for reviving the most important system concept that was produced by President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that I was privileged to lead a quarter of a century ago. Its title essentially says it all, "Small Satellites Take on Big Missions."
This important article begins by noting that, between 2012 and 2017, over 1000 small satellites ("smallsats") were launched into orbit primarily for Earth observation applications. And the viability of such smallsats for other purposes is growing. For example, that introduction noted that the Federal Communications Commission has approved the deployment of 5264 small satellites from four companies to provide broadband communications from low earth orbit. And proposals from eight other companies are pending for other applications—many with business applications.
A number of conclusions might be drawn from these brief observations and the article itself, which is well worth reading. But, in my opinion, one of the most important is that the ballistic missile defense (BMD) "powers that be" should again recognize such advances made in the private sector can and should be incorporated in a space-based system like the "Brilliant Pebbles" space-based interceptor (SBI) system — that exploited commercial off-the-shelf technology (COTS).
I have repeatedly advocated this approach, including in my August 2nd Newsmax article that keyed on the continuing threat from North Korea, while our negotiations with Kim Jong Un continue, even as the House approved National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 (NDAA 2109) directed 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."
And as previously discussed, the finally approved NDAA-2019 directed (thanks to an initiative by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas) that the Pentagon provide a plan for building a SBI system.
I again emphasize that we understood how to do this 30 years ago, but have been blocked by political, not technical impedance.
My March 1992 SDI Report to Congress illustrated (in Figure 6 from page 20) shows that if we had deployed 1000 Brilliant Pebbles, they long ago could have provided over a hundred opportunities to 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.
Indeed, had we deployed Brilliant Pebbles once we were free from the ABM Treaty in 2002, North Korea (and Iran) might have been discouraged from developing nuclear armed ballistic missiles that pose the current threat. And we would have a much more effective global BMD system today.
The Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) approved the estimated cost for developing, deploying and operating for 20 years that Brilliant Pebbles constellation: $10-billion dollars in 1988 dollars — or about $20 billion today.
Today the cost of such a constellation should be substantially less, given the advances in COTS technology (and reduced satellite launch costs) that make possible the applications summarized in this morning’s Aviation Week Daily Digest article. Even a larger more capable constellation could be built for less.
Is it any wonder that the first four directors of what is today called the Missile Defense Agency long ago considered Brilliant Pebbles to be the most important concept to result from President Reagan’s SDI?
Three of us former SDI Directors (the fourth was deceased) and the Program Manager of the "Brilliant Pebbles" Task Force that led that important effort on Nov. 29, 2016 urged that President Trump revive "Brilliant Pebbles" and fulfill President Reagan’s SDI Vision. Hear! Hear!
Congress has done its part in the NDAA 2019. Hopefully, a modern Brilliant Pebbles initiative will be included in the pending Missile Defense Review, even while its important role in President Trump’s Space Force also is being considered!
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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