President Donald Trump plans to announce the findings of the first U.S. missile defense review in nearly a decade on Thursday, including a plan to study capabilities such as space-based interceptors and directed-energy weapons, a senior administration official said.
Trump will reveal the results at the Pentagon, where he’ll make the case for additional funding to expand the U.S. arsenal, the official told reporters Wednesday on condition of anonymity. The official emphasized that the administration views space as a key next step in missile defense, also noting the size and sophistication of China and Russia’s weapons.
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.
The strategy would make clear that the planned improvements in missile defense technology and operational concepts does not envision preemptive strikes to prevent an enemy missile launch.
(The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Photographer: U.S. Air Force via AP Photo)
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.
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, but Trump already announced that he wants to create a new branch of the military he calls Space Force.
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.