Trump’s New Missile Defense Strategy Eyes Leap to Space Age

Saul Bowman
January 18, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to boost America's missile defense systems, including by investing in technology to protect against the threat of sophisticated "hypersonic" weapons.

Mr Trump's long-awaited announcement at the Pentagon included "20 new ground-based interceptors" in Alaska to detect and destroy incoming missiles and "shield every city in the United States".

Trump unveiled US missile defense capabilities Thursday that aim to counter threats from North Korea and Iran while adapting to more sophisticated weapon systems being developed by Russian Federation and China.

While the Trump administration's strategy continues that focus, it adds a new objective as well: the defense of USA forces and allies from regional missile threats.

The Pentagon's last review of missile defense was conducted in 2010, under President Barack Obama.

Trump said a recent Iranian space launch vehicle test failed but that Tehran's rocket program could be used for future intercontinental-range missiles.

When pressed to elaborate on the possibility of a third interceptor site, the official stressed that no decision had been made yet.

As part of the new strategy, the Department of Defense will focus on tighter integration of offensive attack capabilities-both USA and allied forces-with existing missile defenses, with the goal of detecting and shooting down an incoming missile much earlier in its flight, according to the report.

Stronger missile defenses will protect the homeland, deter enemies, and protect allies, while helping the United States to project power globally in support of allies and partners.

Specifically, the United States is looking at putting a layer of sensors in space to more quickly detect enemy missiles when they are launched, according to a senior administration official, who briefed reporters on Wednesday. But Shanahan said that North Korea's missiles remain a "significant concern". Senior administration officials, asked whether there is still a threat from North Korea, deflected.

In many ways the review is a continuation of previous policies, including pressing forward with expanding the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system-currently the only USA missile defense system devoted to defending the United States from long-range ballistic missile attacks-and developing a new "kill vehicle" for its interceptors.

"While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, it continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the USA must remain vigilant", the review said.

"All over, foreign adversaries-competitors and rogue regimes-are steadily enhancing their missile arsenals", Trump said in an address at the Pentagon auditorium. The systems are also aimed at protecting against existing threats from Iran and North Korea.

A photo provided by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency shows the launch of the U.S. military's land-based Aegis missile defense testing system, from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii, on December 10, 2018.

Pentagon officials contend that United States missiles defenses are too few to be able to counter a first-strike on the USA homeland by a major nuclear power like Russian Federation or China.

China, in turn, has also alarmed the Pentagon with advances in super-fast "hypersonic" technology, which could allow Beijing to field missiles that are far harder to detect. In a report earlier this week that singled out the hypersonic threat, the Pentagon said China's military was "on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world". "Greely and Clear Air Force Station, who stand watch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, will help lead the way", Sullivan said following the President's appearance.

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