Thursday’s presidential visit to the Pentagon for the long awaited Missile Defense Review — the first such congressionally mandated assessment of the state of the nation’s defense systems since 2010 — gave Trump yet another chance to chastise NATO allies on his as yet unmet demand that they “step up” defense spending. He also hinted that he plans to stick by his recent deeply controversial decision to pull out of the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.
“We are committed to establishing a missile defense program that can shield every city in the United States and we will never negotiate away our right to do this,” President Trump said.
“We will insist on fair burden-sharing with our allies,” he said. “We’re protecting all of these wealthy countries, which I’m very honored to do, but many of them are so wealthy they can easily pay us the cost of this protection. So you’ll see big changes taking place.”
Foremost among the “big changes” Trump outlined during his formal remarks unveiling the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review are plans to implement a system of 20 ground-based missile interceptors to be placed in Alaska which could “shield every city” in the continental United States. The goal would be to “terminate any missile launches from hostile powers, or even from powers that make a mistake,” he said.
This is part of broader plans to be studied and developed that aim to “ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace.” Toward this end he outlined six major changes to Washington’s missile defense policy, including investment into “new technologies” such as space-based launch detection sensors, laser defenses, as well defending against hypersonic missiles, among other changes.
“The US will now adjust its posture to also defend against any missile strikes, including cruise and hypersonic missiles. And we are by the way very advanced also on hypersonic technology and missiles,” the president said.
And as expected, the most attention grabbing part of his speech, echoed in plans for research laid out in the Pentagon review, which will inform the White House’s Pentagon funding request for the upcoming fiscal year 2020 budget, involved comments on last year’s announced Space Force and integrating missile defense with space. He said the US must “recognize that space is a new warfighting domain, with the Space Force leading the way.” He further promised it will be a “very, very big part” of America’s future defense:
My upcoming budget will invest in a space-based missile defense layer. It’s new technology. It’s ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defense and obviously of our offence.
We will ensure that enemy missiles find no sanctuary on Earth or in the skies above. This is the direction that I’m heading.
Potential plans and areas of further research laid out in the Pentagon review include “early warning systems” in space that could track missiles as they are being prepared for launch, perhaps ever more crucial given current reports of Russian and Chinese rapid development of hypersonic threats.
Pres. Trump says upcoming budget will “invest in a space-based missile defense layer.”
— ABC News (@ABC) January 17, 2019
This will involve exploration of “a space-based interceptor that could fire rockets into space, directed at an incoming missile,” according to senior officials. This will also include study of the use of what an official described as “directed energy” against incoming missiles, possibly through laser technology.
On these and other technologies that sound straight out of Star Trek the concluding section to the now published Missile Defense Review itself reads as follows:
As rogue state missile arsenals develop, space will play a particularly important role in support of missile defense.
Russia and China are developing advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic missile capabilities that can travel at exceptional speeds with unpredictable flight paths that challenge existing defensive systems.
The exploitation of space provides a missile defense posture that is more effective, resilient and adaptable to known and unanticipated threats… DoD will undertake a new and near-term examination of the concepts and technology for space-based defenses to assess the technological and operational potential of space-basing in the evolving security environment.
Specifically the Missile Defense Review focuses in part on the capabilities and strategic intentions of rising threats like China and Iran, as well as North Korea and Russia. Trump’s remarks singled out Iran by name, also following similar words by Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, while noting “foreign adversaries, competitors and rogue regimes are steadily enhancing their missile arsenals.”.
During this part of the speech he invoked Iran’s failed missile launch test on Tuesday which Iran had long said is part of a peaceful, UN-allowed space program to put satellites into orbit.
Trump continued of the proposed Alaska-based expanded defense shield, which would eventually be tied into space-based sensors, “It’s ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defense and obviously of our offense,” and detailed, “The system will be monitored and we will terminate any missile launches from hostile powers or even powers that make a mistake. It won’t happen, regardless of the missile type or geographic origins of the attack.”
The president also boasted of American capabilities and his willingness to invest anything it takes to keep the homeland safe, saying, “We have some very bad players out there and we’re a good player, but we can be far worse than anybody if need be.”
But such advanced and futuristic sounding systems could still be a long way off before they’re realized, as the review lays out plans to study the possibilities of what’s tantamount to “weaponizing space” that will be years if not decades in research and development.
And no doubt, foreign nations and their defense sectors paid very close attention to Trump’s remarks and will be carefully studying the Missile Defense Review, especially competitors in Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang.