As two of the world’s most rogue, isolated, and prolifically terror-supporting regimes solidify their hegemonic intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) ambitions — in the case of North Korea, with present technology, and in the case of Iran, with emerging (and, God-willing, thwarted) technology — it has never been more important for the United States to assure the operational sufficiency of its missile defense technology. The notion of morally repulsive, freedom-loathing regimes in possession of ICBMs, after all, has disastrous potential — but that downside risk can at least be mitigated if the United States has the functioning capabilities to shoot down those regimes’ ICBMS, if needed.
In a September 2017 piece at National Review, Henry F. Cooper argued that we effectively already possess the technology needed to shoot down a North Korean ICBM:
North Korea continues to test its nuclear weapons and its means to deliver them, including [ICBMs] that can reach America. We clearly need the best ballistic-missile defense (BMD) systems possible. …
We need to enhance our limited ground-based BMD system in Alaska and California. Aegis BMD ships deployed around the world can augment that homeland-defense capability. But a false narrative is being spread in numerous articles: that these ships cannot shoot down ICBMs, except possibly in their terminal phase as they approach their targets. …
[But] today … the Navy’s “launch on remote” and “engage on remote” capabilities can enable such intercepts and would be instrumental in defending against North Korean ICBMs. “Launch on remote” refers to the use of sensors to enable the captain of a given Aegis BMD ship to launch its interceptors before the radar on the same ship picks up the attacking target. “Engage on remote” refers to the fact that today’s interceptors need not be guided to their targets by the ship that launches them. …
President Trump should now direct his BMD team to ensure that Aegis BMD ships operate in locations from which they can shoot down North Korea’s ICBMs both going up and coming down.
But ICBM threats are, of course, not merely limited to those from North Korea and (potentially, but hopefully never) the fanatical Iranian regime. Perhaps even more indispensable for America’s comprehensive 21st-century geopolitical strategy is its ability to defend against the twin rising powers of China and Russia.
Today, in a piece at National Defense magazine, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) — who has taken key steps to solidify his unique foreign policy profile, of late — argues that what the United States needs to do, above all else in the area of missile defense, is invest in pivotal space-based interceptor (SBI) technology. According to Cruz, we do not presently possess the technology to fully operationally thwart both China and Russia’s current ICBM arsenals:
Three years ago, a usually obscure Chinese naval periodical, Naval & Merchant Ships, caught international attention when it published an article illustrating how a volley of 20 nuclear-armed Chinese ballistic missiles could be launched at cities across the United States to kill 50 million Americans.
One of the diagrams was a map of Manhattan overlaid with circles inside circles, narrowing down to a point in Central Park where an [ICBM] would be aimed to destroy the whole island.
Some parts of the article were speculative. At the time, the Chinese Communist regime had not yet confirmed the existence of its next-generation Dongfeng-41 (DF-41), which can carry 10 nuclear warheads, travel at 25 times the speed of sound, and hit almost anywhere in America. …
There is nothing our military planners have that can stop this new threat. Our existing missile defense systems, based on the ground and at sea, can intercept a missile if they have the time to track how it’s flying and pluck it out of the air. They can’t stop the DF-41.
Nor can they stop Russia’s new RS-28 Sarmat, which was unveiled last year by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Putin bragged that America’s missile defenses were technologically useless against the missile, and Russia’s state-controlled media bragged it can wipe out a landmass the size of Texas.
Cruz argues that, to best counter China and Russia ICBM threats, the United States needs to invest in SBIs, which “can look down on a missile in the ‘boost phase,’ as it’s being launched, and knock it out of the sky.” Indeed, as Cruz notes, ICBMs are most vulnerable during the “boost phase.”
Cruz concludes his piece by sounding the alarm for his fellow lawmakers:
SBI technology is within the grasp of American scientists. It has been stymied by bureaucratic inertia and poor planning, by inflated cost estimates, and by incoherent claims from opponents that leaving ourselves vulnerable actually makes us safer.
There is no time left for delay. America’s enemies are building their nuclear arsenals to circumvent the missile defense we already have. We need SBI to secure our homeland from very real threats around the globe today.
Hopefully, Congress is paying attention.