US Ballistic Missile Defense to Enter New Domains


Much has been said about the US ground-based missile defense program and the sites in place or to be installed soon in Europe and Asia. But land is not the only domain where the effort it taking place. This is the time the priority is shifting to air- and space-based systems. The US officials and military leaders believe that space is now a warfighting domain on par with air, land and sea. This is one of rare issues the administration and Congress see eye to eye on.

On June 30, President Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the National Space Council – an executive agency with Vice President Mike Pence at the helm that will be tasked with guiding US space policy during the administration. The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, as well as NASA’s administrator, will serve on the council as well.

During the election campaign, President Trump said he wanted a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system with «a heavy emphasis on space-based early warning and missile tracking technologies». Defence Secretary James Mattis is known as an ardent advocate of bigger investments into space exploration for defense purposes. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson released a statement announcing the service’s pivot to space. In recent months, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has said he wants the USAF to be «the lead service for space».

Part of the new preparations for space combat is the creation of a new position called the Deputy Chief of Staff for Space Operations. According to US Air Force (USAF) Secretary Heather Wilson, the new position will be a three-star officer to provide advice and counsel to Wilson and USAF chief of staff General David Goldfein in all space matters. The USAF will stand up its new deputy chief of staff for space operations position (A11) on August 1.

In February, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, the Army Space and Missile Defense Commander, and Brig. Gen. Ronald Buckley, U.S. Northern Command’s deputy director of operations, talked about the importance of space for missile defense in speeches at the Association of the US Army’s missile defense conference in Arlington, Va. Dickinson said space is «fundamental for every single military operation that occurs on the planet today from satellites to GPS», and said the domain is a crucial part of connecting the battlefield and the backbone of the missile defense kill chain. «As long as we continue to solely focus and rely on terrestrial-based for our [ballistic missile defense] sensors, there will be gaps and seams in our coverage», Buckley said to substantiate his conclusion that «it’s time we take a hard look at space as an option».

The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty – an arms control deal reached in the heat of the Cold War – will be marked this October. The agreement bans stationing weapons of mass destruction in space but it does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons there. No international agreement on non-nuclear arms in space exists today because the idea is objected by some countries, including the United States. The draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT), by Russia and backed by China in 2008 was rejected by Washington. The Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) – a UN resolution that reaffirms the fundamental principles of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and advocates for a ban on the weaponization of space – has not come into force due to US objections. In 2008, Russia and China proposed a draft treaty to ban space weapons, which the US blocked from going forward in the consensus-bound committee on disarmament in Geneva. The US has never come up with an initiative of its own related to control of space-based weapons. Air-based systems are also not restricted by any international agreement.

The proliferation of air- and space-based weapons is changing the battlefield of the 21st century. The cost of stating missile defense assets in these domains may be mind boggling. A conflict sparked in space would inevitably ignite full-blown war on Earth. Adding air- and space assets to the BMD effort will have ramifications the US has given little thought to, at least publicly. After land and sea, the missile defense is to enter new domains: air and space.

Full article: US Ballistic Missile Defense to Enter New Domains (Strategic Culture Foundation)

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