11 April 2005
U.S. Hasn't Ruled Out Space-Based Missile Defense
By Gopal Ratnam

After nearly two years of pushing off talk of space-based anti-missile systems, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) says it is open to experimenting with them.

“Emerging threats round the world indicate the need for developing a space-based layer” of defensive systems, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, the MDA director, said April 11 at the 3rd Annual Missile Defense Conference in Washington.

The agency would like to “maintain options for a space-based test bed” and begin experiments by fiscal year 2007, which begins in October 2006, he said. Such a test bed would be used to determine if viable anti-missile systems based in space can be developed, he said.

In the 2004 and 2005 budget requests, the MDA played down the role of space-based systems, and retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, the agency’s former director, said in interviews that he preferred to focus on land- and sea-based systems before turning attention to the more challenging satellite-based systems.

Asked if space-based interceptors could become a part of the MDA’s Ballistic Missile Defense System, Obering said, “I don’t know, but I’m willing to experiment … there is a lot of attraction to space-based interceptors.”

But starting experiments on space-based systems — which were first proposed as part of President Ronald Reagan’s expansive missile defense ideas in the early 1980s — is fraught with “a lot of emotionalism and religious argument” associated with weaponizing space, Obering said.

If and when the agency asks Congress for money to carry out such experiments, it will lead to a fierce debate, said Hugh Brady, a staff member on the House Armed Services committee advising Democratic lawmakers.

“It’s a redline issue for Democrats,” Brady said during a panel discussion at the April 11 conference.

Lawmakers also are keen to see the MDA carry out realistic tests of anti-missile systems that Congress has already funded, Brady said.

Though the Ground-based Midcourse Missile Defense system — the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s anti-missile programs — has failed in three consecutive tests in the last two years, Obering said the agency had demonstrated progress during that time. He pointed to deployment of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California and the efforts to get the system ready for operation and the commissioning of Aegis-class ships armed with interceptors and missile tracking radar as successes.

“We get caught up in looking at ourselves and criticizing,” Obering said. “But two and a half years ago, we had nothing. We had empty silos in Alaska and no ships marked out. … We have made absolutely tremendous progress since then.

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