A recent Missile Defense Review from the Department of Defense lays out the importance of space-based sensors to keep up with emerging threats. Russia and China have been investing heavily in the development of advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons.
Hypersonic weapons are capable of reaching speeds of up to five times the speed of sound, or around 1 mile per second. These weapons would fly at the “gaps and seams” of current U.S. Missile defenses, said Tom Karako, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
The WSJ points out that these missiles fly at much lower attitudes and are more maneuverable than traditional munitions, which would help them elude current U.S. missile defenses.
Another threat are hypersonic missiles in development by China and Russia, and the Pentagon notes that Russian leaders claim to have such a hypersonic glide vehicle. These missiles fly rapidly at lower altitudes and are more maneuverable, which would help them elude U.S. missile defenses.
The U.S. currently employs satellites that can track a fraction of a missile’s trajectory, and as Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies puts it: “If you can’t see it, you can’t shoot it.” A network of sensors in space could track the entire life of the missile and thus allow for more precise targeting from interceptors.
Yet this good idea has been trapped for years in the wet cement known as U.S. bureaucracy. The Obama Administration’s missile defense review in 2010 said space sensors would “greatly reduce the need for terrestrial sensors and the size of deployable missile defense systems,” while calling the project a “long-term effort.” Congress last year appropriated $120 million for space missile defense systems, a down payment the Pentagon shouldn’t waste on procurement or administrative bloat.
President Trump said at the review’s rollout that his fiscal 2020 budget will include money for the sensor layer, calling it “a very, very big part of our defense and obviously, of our offense.” But House Democrats want to cut defense spending and plow the money into infrastructure or green energy. The left will say the Pentagon needs better spending priorities, but the crucial political trade-off isn’t between more missiles or more ships, but between more spending on defense or more on the social programs and entitlements that have relentlessly been squeezing defense.
Read more here.The 2019 MDR_Executive Summary