17 January 2019
Donald Trump will unveil a plan on Thursday for a major expansion in US missile defence that will rely on a new generation of space-based sensors.
The administration’s long-delayed missile defence review, which the president will present at the Pentagon, will call for the expansion of the US network of sensors and interceptors designed to identify and shoot down incoming projectiles from “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea.
Since the last review in 2010, a senior administration official said, “we have seen a really significant change to the threat environment”.
“What the missile defence review responds
to is an environment in which our potential adversaries have been
rapidly developing, and fielding, a much more expanded range of
new offensive missiles,” the official said. “These missiles are
capable of threatening the United States, threatening our allies,
our partners, and our US forces abroad.”
Trump is likely to present the review as a justification for his order for the creation of a new “space force” with its own command structure.
“Space is a very important point of emphasis for the president, the vice-president and the missile defence review,” the administration official said. “It is something that we want to invest in … Space is the key to the next step of missile defence.”
The review would commission further study of space-based interceptors and lasers but would not direct the production or deployment “of anything specific”.
“That is an area that we are studying but not one we have made a concrete decision on whether or not to deploy yet,” said the official briefing reporters ahead of the review’s launch.
The official insisted the expansion of the system would not be aimed at Russia and China, and the US continued to see nuclear deterrence as the best defence against the threat from those major nuclear weapons powers.
“They have very large, sophisticated arsenals and we are postured to rely on our [nuclear] deterrence to deter Russia and China in that area,” he said.
Stephen Young, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “I am quite surprised that there is no terrible news there.”
“These are relatively sensible choices. They are not trying to use missile defence to address Russia and China and they are not pursuing space-based interceptors.”
On the other hand, he added: “They are going to spend a lot more money on things that don’t work very well, and Russia will be upset because of the expansion of the system.”
Young said the review was expected to order a major expansion of the US fleet of sea-based Aegis interceptors, upgraded so they are capable – at least theoretically – of shooting down intercontinental ballistic missiles.
That is likely to be seen by Russia and China as a move to blunt their own nuclear deterrent, and therefore destabilising.
The deployment of missile interceptors in eastern Europe is a major and longstanding source of tension between Washington and Moscow.
The senior administration official said: “With respect to relations with Russia and China, the president relies on having good relations with the leaders of those countries.
“Our defence capabilities are purely
defensive. The United States has been very transparent in the
development of its missile defence capabilities, about what they
are postured to defend against and our missile defence
capabilities are primarily postured to stay ahead of rogue state