In the 1980s, then-President Ronald Reagan approved funding for a space-based missile defense concept that was nicknamed “Star Wars” by critics, after the famous movie franchise.
Derided by critics as too expensive and Democrats as unnecessarily provocative towards the Soviet Union, the concept, formally called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and announced by Reagan in 1983, envisioned a space-based defense network capable of intercepting ICBMs well before they reached their targets.
SDI never became a reality and was abandoned after the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. However, the project did produce research which was utilized in current missile defense systems deployed with advanced militaries around the world.
However, a new threat has emerged — hypersonic missiles — that will make current ground-based missile defense systems obsolete. And as such, the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, will seek to revive a Reagan-era concept to meet this emerging threat.
On Thursday, the president will announce the ambitious new missile defense initiative at the Pentagon, the Epoch Times reported.
“Space, I think, is the key to the next step of missile defense,” said a senior Trump administration official on a background call with reports previewing the president’s announcement. “A space-based layer of sensors is something we are looking at to help get early warning and tracking and discrimination of missiles when they are launched.”
Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin says that space-based sensors are needed to detect hypersonic missiles, which are difficult to detect, track, and target with existing ground-based assets.
China and Russia have developed hypersonic glide vehicles and are currently testing them. Both are expected to deploy those systems by 2020. The U.S., meanwhile, is playing catch-up but the Air Force has taken on hypersonic development as a priority.
Defense officials say the space concept is only being studied at this stage. But they are aware of the missile defense challenges that will exist before any space-based array of sensors can be deployed. As such, the number of high-speed missile intercepters based at Fort Greeley, Alaska, are being increased from 44 to 64.
Those intercepters, however, are primarily designed to intercept single missiles or a small number of ICBMs launched by regional powers like Iran or North Korea. The U.S. relies on its robust nuclear arsenal to deter major powers like Russia and China.
The president is scheduled to deliver his speech just as North Korean officials are heading to the United States, perhaps to discuss a second summit with Kim Jong Un, according to South Korean media.