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Weaponizing space & dreams of new tech: US missile defense review in a nutshell

Weaponizing space & dreams of new tech: US missile defense review in a nutshell
A bombastic speech by President Donald Trump marked the publication of a new missile defense strategy for the US, which seeks to eliminate all constraints, weaponize space, and conjure an impunity shield through new technology.

“We will ensure that enemy missiles find no sanctuary on Earth or in the skies above,” Trump declared, speaking at the Pentagon on Thursday. How, exactly, the US intends to do that is unclear, however. Neither the 100-page Missile Defense Review (MDR), nor the 24-page executive summary offer much in the way of details, only hand-waving and talk of new, better technology.

Oh, and weaponizing space.

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“We will recognize that space is a new war-fighting domain with the Space Force leading the way,” Trump said. “My upcoming budget will invest in a space-based missile defense layer technology. It's ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defense and obviously of our offense.”

Before anyone brings up the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and how it precludes the deployment of weapons in earth’s orbit and beyond, the MDR is quite explicit about how the US “will not accept any limitation or constraint on the development or deployment of missile defense capabilities,” whether to protect the homeland – or allies and US troops deployed all over the world.

The announcement comes a day after the US confirmed it would initiate withdrawal from the 1987 INF treaty, which sought to de-escalate the Cold War by limiting intermediate-range missile deployments in Europe. The pretext is US accusing Russia of developing a missile system in violation of the treaty, offering no evidence to support the claim. Visiting Moscow in October, however, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton openly spoke about the INF treaty being just as obsolete as the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty that Washington repudiated in 2002.

Anyone thinking that Washington, whether under Trump or someone else, will have reservations about trampling the Outer Space Treaty next has clearly not been paying attention.

Though the MDR prioritizes threats from what it calls “rogue” countries – specifically naming North Korea and Iran – it also brings up Russia and China, daring to consider US military operations a threat to their security, and their growing missile capabilities as preventing Washington from acting like a global hegemon. Or as the MDR summary puts it at one point:

The United States and allies can no longer assume the capacity to concentrate forces in secure, forward locations and launch military operations against adversaries from these secure locations.

So, how is the Pentagon planning to counter this and preserve what it terms US and allied “freedom of action”? Through a combination of existing weapons systems, theoretical new tech advances, and nothing less than changing the way the Pentagon thinks and operates.

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Much has been made from Trump’s announcement that the US would be deploying 20 additional interceptor missiles at the main Ground-Based, Mid-Course Defense (GMD) facility in Fort Greely, Alaska. The under-reported detail is that this expansion will begin “as early as 2023.”

Another tidbit from the MDR concerned arming the missile facilities in Romania and Poland – part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) – with new Aegis SM-3 missiles. Although the facility in Romania is currently operational, the one in Poland is not yet complete. Moreover, the SM-3 Block IIA has not yet been tested against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) – the first test is planned in 2020, according to the MDR. Of the two SM-3 tests last year in the Pacific, only one was successful.

Ultimately, the Pentagon hopes to develop “scalable, efficient, and compact high energy laser technology” to destroy missiles in the boost phase – the capability envisioned in the 1980s 'Star Wars' missile defense program that remained largely on the drawing board.

Until these magical new weapons appear, the Pentagon intends to  place its hopes on the F-35 stealth fighter. Lockheed Martin’s trillion-dollar boondoggle can supposedly “track and destroy adversary cruise missiles today,” and could be equipped with “a new or modified interceptor capable of shooting down adversary ballistic missiles in their boost phase” in the future. If it stops suffocating pilots and sorts out fatal computer errors, that is.

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The final bit of wishful thinking involves having the Department of Defense “adopt processes and cultures” that would enable the Missile Defense Agency and service branches to “streamline and refine acquisition processes, ensure flexibility in the development, testing, and fielding of missile defense,and swiftly adapt systems once fielded.” Nothing less than changing the culture of how the Pentagon interacts with the US military-industrial complex – piece of cake!

In the meantime, the MDR makes is clear that Washington reserves the right of mounting “attack operations to defeat offensive missiles prior to launch.”

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