Trump Pushes for Funding to Expand U.S. Missile Defense Program

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump called for additional funding to boost U.S. missile defense systems -- including the possible use of space-based sensors and directed-energy weapons -- as he unveiled the findings of the first review of the program in nearly a decade.

“Our goal is simple: to ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States,” Trump said Thursday in a speech at the Pentagon. “We must make sure that our defensive capabilities are unrivaled and unmatched anywhere in the world.”

The review, Trump said, calls for 20 new ground-based interceptors in Alaska as well as new radar and sensors to detect missiles. The president reiterated his call for a Space Force as a critical domain for missile defense.

“We must outpace our adversaries at every turn,” Trump said, adding that the U.S. would adjust its posture to defend against hypersonic and cruise missiles, not just ballistic missiles. “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.”

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report Wednesday saying China is likely developing a long-range bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons and a space-based early warning system it could use to more quickly respond to an attack.

A senior administration official said Wednesday that the planned improvements in missile defense technology and operational concepts doesn’t envision preemptive strikes to prevent an enemy missile launch. Yet Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, speaking prior to Trump, said the Pentagon is making a policy shift to integrate offensive and defensive capabilities.

“Missile defense necessarily includes missile offense,” Shanahan said.

Trump Pushes for Funding to Expand U.S. Missile Defense Program

The strategy would involve the possible use of stealthy F-35 jets if a conflict broke out with, say, North Korea or Iran. The warplanes would detect any missile launches and feed the coordinates to regional missile defense units for intercept -- or shoot down the missiles themselves. The Air Force, however, has yet to establish such a system.

The strategy also calls for assessing the practicality of developing and possibly fielding laser-armed drones flying at 50,000 to 60,000 feet that could strike enemy missiles during their ascent.

In addition, the plan would begin a six-month assessment into the feasibility of one day launching and orbiting non-nuclear missile defense interceptors mounted on satellites -- a variation of systems once espoused by the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. There is no near-term intention to spend money on research, development, or production on potential interceptors, however.

“Listening to national security experts, and the president’s own remarks, it seems clear that an effective high-tech missile defense system is a higher national security priority than building a wall across the southern border,” Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

The U.S. boosted missile defense spending in the current fiscal year about 25 percent to $9.9 billion, spurred by Trump and lawmakers amid concerns over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The increased funding is to pay for 20 new interceptor missiles and silos, a new homeland defense radar in Hawaii, and a salvo test to fire two interceptors at once at an incoming target.

Placing weapons in space has long been considered a controversial line for any nation to cross. Reagan considered spaced-based anti-missile weapons as part of his Strategic Defense Initiative, a program belittled by its critics as “Star Wars.” The idea was largely abandoned following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Trump said it’s time to view space as a new war-fighting domain.

Trump Pushes for Funding to Expand U.S. Missile Defense Program

The U.S. already has a space-based military footprint. The sky is teeming with spy satellites and other platforms that support government surveillance, communications, weather forecasting and other activities. The Air Force also has a top-secret aircraft, the X-37B, built by Boeing Co., which orbits the earth for extended periods.

Last year, U.S. intelligence services warned that both Russia and China could soon possess destructive space weapons. The two countries have been launching “experimental’’ satellites designed to counter other space infrastructure, the U.S. office of the Director of National Intelligence said.

A 1967 international treaty prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space or on the moon, but it doesn’t bar the use of conventional weapons in orbit.

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