Ronald Reagan had it right. His Strategic Defense Initiative showed that the technology was capable of ending America’s vulnerability to even a single ballistic missile. As the first Bush administration ended, SDI technology was ready to be fielded. However, the Clinton team killed the most advanced programs–by “taking the stars out of Star Wars,” as Defense Secretary Les Aspin derisively boasted. The Clinton years were spent “strengthening the ABM Treaty” that blocked even the testing of the most effective defense concepts.
Happily, those days are over. On December 13, 2001, President George W. Bush gave Russia six months notice that the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty. He was true to his word, and, on June 13, 2002, America was free for the first time in 30 years to employ its best technology to defend the American people from ballistic missile attack.
Finally, American engineers and scientists are free to press toward the vision, stated 20 years ago by President Ronald Reagan, to end America’s vulnerability to even a single ballistic missile and hopefully to leave the Cold War’s Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine in the ash bin of History, along with the Soviet Union. After 30, years during which the Treaty banned even testing space-based, sea-based, air-based and mo- bile ground-based defenses, we are free to develop, test, and deploy the most effective ways to defend America.
President Bush clearly seeks to fulfill his campaign promise to build effective defenses, “by the earliest possible date.” On December 17, 2002, he directed the Pentagon to field, by 2004-5, 16 ground-based interceptors in Alaska, 4 ground-based interceptors in California, and 20 sea-based interceptors on 3 Aegis cruisers.
The Pentagon’s current program is dedicated to testing in the Pacific Test Range, pri- marily in support of the ground-based interceptors to be based in Alaska. In conducting these tests, interceptors are being “fielded.” But they will provide little protection for Americans on the East Coast. As indicated in Virginia House of Delegates Resolution HR40, reproduced in the April 18, 2003, issue of The Progressive Conservative, sea- based interceptors could as easily be tested in the Atlantic Test Range, leading to early defenses for the East Coast. Otherwise, only the U.S. West coast will be defended by 2004-5. Hopefully, Congress will take these views into account as they review the Pres- ident’s proposed missile defense programs.
Perhaps the greatest challenge will be in reviving a serious program to field space-based interceptors, SDIs most advanced development effort. We must overcome the bureau- cratic impedance of 30 years when such defenses could not even be tested, and the col- lective amnesia resulting from the decade after the Clinton administration killed the SDI programs and purged the Pentagon of all who favored space defenses.
Recent statements by Pentagon officials suggest there are plans to employ a space testbed, presumably to take advantage of the new freedom to test space-based inter- ceptors. However, there is no sign that the most advanced technology resulting from the $30 billion investment of the Reagan-Bush I years is being revived, and the anticipated funding for the space testbed in the Pentagon’s proposed $9 billion budget for next year is infinitesimal by comparison.
This sad state of affairs is hard for me to understand. As readers of The Shield know, the most cost-effective SDI concept was the Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptor system, and it was fully approved by the Pentagon’s acquisition bureaucracy in 1991–the first of the SDI programs to achieve that status. The flow of cutting edge SDI technolo- gy was from space-to-ground, not the other way around as most people seem now to think was the case. In fact, in many ways first generation 1990-vintage space-based interceptor technology that was space-qualified by the 1994 Clementine mission to the Moon is still more advanced than that being currently used in fielding ground-based and sea-based interceptors.
Of some interest is the fact that a Clementine replica now hangs in an honored place in the Smithsonian Institute because of its scientific contributions in mapping the entire Moon’s surface with Brilliant Pebbles instrumentation–and finding water on the Moon’s South Pole. But alas, Brilliant Pebbles technology is not to be found in the Pentagon’s missile defense programs.
Why is not Bush II taking advantage of the best technology from Bush I? For two years, I believed it was because Bush II assigned the top priority to discarding the ABM Trea- ty, and wanted to avoid controversy that would result from reviving Brilliant Pebbles. While I did not agree with that position, I could understand it, and I rationalized an ex- cuse for the Pentagon’s focus on making marginal improvements to much more expen- sive ground-based system concepts designed more to be consistent with the Treaty than to provide an effective defense.
Perhaps I am rationalizing again in suggesting the culprit is collective amnesia of a Pen- tagon bureaucracy purged of space-defense advocates by the Clinton administration, though that purging surely occurred. But if that is not the Bush administration’s reason for not taking steps to revive the key technology by involving the people who developed it, what is the reason?
I am forced to consider a most troubling possibility–namely that, in negotiating with the Russians on reducing long-range nuclear missiles, a side deal was struck not to revive space-based defense programs.
Recall that Russian authorities, like their Soviet predecessors, resist our efforts to build effective defenses for the American people–and especially space-based defenses–even if they are built cooperatively, as we have proposed since 1985, when I began tabling such proposals in the Geneva Defense and Space Talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov today sounds the same themes of his Soviet predeces- sors–that, if we defend ourselves, it will be “destabilizing.” The only things they seem cooperative on are defenses against short-range missiles, which they are modernizing and selling around the world, of course. And to be sure, we have conducted several joint exercises with them during the past five years. But they speak positively only for de- fenses of the European part of NATO–not for defenses for the NATO contingent on this side of the Atlantic. And they are adamantly opposed to space-based defenses.
I hope my concern is misplaced. But the fact is that nothing serious is being done to revive the most effective defense concepts and associated technology developed by the Reagan-Bush I years. Until that is done, Ronald Reagan’s vision will not be realized.
We at High Frontier remain resolved to win this one for the Gipper. That means we will continue: (1) to remind all who will listen of the achievements of the SDI program, before the Clinton administration purged the system of the best and brightest and devoted its missile defense efforts to concepts designed to fail; and (2) to resist all attempts to bar- ter away America’s right to exploit our cutting edge space technology.
Military Weaponry & International Security
U.S. National Security Strategy
High Frontier is a non-profit, non-partisan, educational organization, all contributions to which are tax-deductible under Section 501(c)3 of the United States Internal Revenue Code.
Henry F. Cooper was SDI Director during the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, i.e., the Bush I administration.
Reprinted with Permission of High Frontier
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