Just before leaving for its 11-day Memorial Day recess, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) passed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for 2019, including 30 important amendments proposed by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
In my opinion, the most important Cruz amendment directs the Defense Department to “develop a space-based intercept (SBI) layer, which can take out missiles when they are most vulnerable, during the boost phase.” Moreover, the SASC recommended ample funds to begin this important effort.
Assuming these provisions survive the Senate-House Conference, there should be no legal hurdle to deploying this needed protection quickly and inexpensively. But political resistance may continue, though not legal or technical problems.
As I wrote on May 11, the first four directors of what is now the Missile Defense Agency believed we knew how to build such a cost-effective SBI system 30 years ago. Moreover, Brilliant Pebbles became the first product of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to enter a formal Demonstration and Validation (DemVal) program, approved in 1990 by the Pentagon’s top acquisition executive.
Had the Democrat-controlled Congress permitted that effort to continue on my watch as SDI Director (ending on January 20, 1993), I believe we could have demonstrated the viability of a much more capable missile defense capability than any we have today, and for much less money than we have spent on our ground-based homeland defense.
But congress was then devoted to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which banned “testing, development and deployment” of space, air, sea and mobile land-based ABM systems. Never mind that our approved DemVal program employed Treaty-compliant technology demonstrations to prove the viability of the Brilliant Pebbles concept — consistent with President Reagan’s SDI vision.
Moreover, SDI opponents opposed efforts to “weaponize” space, as was their mantra. Never mind that the intended target ballistic missiles traversing space had crossed that line during World War II. I well understood this political obstacle from my involvement in the Reagan administration’s successful effort to overcome congressional attempt to block testing of the USAF F-15 anti-satellite (ASAT) system.
The Soviet Union incorporated an understanding of this political resistance into its arms control positions that we countered for five years in Geneva. The Soviets sought to ban so-called “space-strike arms” — defined to include ASATs and all ABM systems except those permitted by the ABM Treaty — most notably ground-based ABM systems such as their operational system.
SDI — and especially its space-based defense focus — was targeted by the Soviets, as made clear when President Reagan walked out of the Reykjavik Summit after Gorbachev demanded we limit testing of space-based defenses to the laboratory.
By the early 1990s, we had successfully resisted the Soviets and the Soviet Union dissolved. But congress still opposed any SDI effort to support building a space-based defense system — and blocked our efforts to demonstrate the value of such systems.
Congress directed us to remove Brilliant Pebbles from its fully Pentagon-approved DemVal status and severely cut the president’s budget requests. And congressional hearings signaled that, if President George H.W. Bush were re-elected, the Democrat controlled congress would starve even that limited Brilliant Pebbles effort.
As it turned out, President Bush was not re-elected and President Clinton’s Defense Secretary and former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Les Aspin, as he said, “took the stars out of Star Wars.” His directives completely scuttled all SBI efforts and curtailed all other SDI efforts.
This redirection reflected opposition to any threat to the 1972 Anti-ballistic missile (ABM) Treaty as the “cornerstone of strategic stability” — a phrase referring to the Cold War’s Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) mutual suicide pact between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The ABM Treaty permitted research (to include technology demonstrations) on space, sea, air, and mobile land based defenses of the U.S. homeland, but congress never bought into conducting such research, at least up to and including my watch.
Thus, in the summer of 1992 I sought an alternate way that could achieve political support to demonstrate key Brilliant Pebbles’ technology.
The upshot became known as the “Clementine” mission to return to the Moon for the first time in a quarter century, to map its surface, and then to “sling-shot” back by Earth into deep space and be “lost and gone forever” — per that ballad, “Oh My Darling, Clementine.”
The Naval Research Laboratories (NRL) led the Clementine system integration effort employing sensors and system mission command systems scavenged from Livermore National Laboratories’ theoretical and experimental explorations that led to Brilliant Pebbles. LLNL also supported the SDI effort to a down-select to two competing DemVal contractor teams.
We collaborated with NASA, and especially then NASA Administrator Dan Goldin (who led the Brilliant Pebbles effort at TRW — one of the two 1990 DemVal contractor teams). NASA launched the Clementine payload into space and it exceeded my hopes in space-qualifying all key Brilliant Pebbles sensor and operating command systems — and recording about 1.5 million frames of data in 13 spectral bands.
At a cost of about $80-million, Clementine achieved more information on the Moon’s surface than the entire Apollo program and discovered water in its polar regions — confirmed by subsequent NASA missions. The small Clementine team received awards from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences, and a replica hangs in the Smithsonian next to NASA’s Lunar Lander.
A follow-on mission was supported by Congress, but President Clinton vetoed that legislation because of its exploitation of SDI technology. Such was the abiding hostility to Ronald Reagan’s key initiative that among other things is credited with a major role in “ending the Cold War without firing a shot.”
Hopefully, we are beyond such political inhibitions. But forgive my hesitation in believing that is true.
At least Senator Cruz has the right idea. Hopefully, President Trump and his team will exploit his lead.
The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review report to congress is due shortly, and it will tell the tale.
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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