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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Steven Lambakis

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Steven Lambakis

Last Build Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2007 07:18:02 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Missile Defense From Space

Mon, 19 Feb 2007 07:18:02 -0600

Yet given the efficiencies space offers, and given the unpredictable, catastrophic, and global nature of threats we expect to face, it makes sense to explore the possible benefits of taking other combat missions to space. Once the benefits of active space defense programs and operations are made plain, the support of the American people will be forthcoming. There are several space combat mission areas of interest to the future defense of the United States, including space control,3 offensive strike,4 and ballistic missile defense. Each combat mission offers very different operational and strategic possibilities, and each should be evaluated separately and judged independently. Recognizing that weapons that leverage Earth orbits can make different contributions to national defense strategy, lumping them together in order to draw a general conclusion about the prudence of deploying "weapons in space" makes little sense. Our progress in this area will depend greatly on our ability to mature our rhetoric so that we can make meaningful distinctions. So I will focus here on the possible advantages of adding a space-based layer leveraging hit-to-kill interceptors to the newly deployed U.S. missile defense system. Highly effective missile defenses would appear to offer a very significant payoff over the long term when one takes threat and national vulnerability to catastrophic attack into consideration.5 Missile defense The ballistic missile threat to the United States, its deployed forces, and allies and friends has been well defined.6 This is a threat we downplay at our peril. Nations such as North Korea and Iran -- which also have significant programs to develop nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons -- as well as nonstate groups can pose significant, even catastrophic, dangers to the U.S. homeland, our troops, and our allies. Russia and China, two militarily powerful nations in transition, have advanced ballistic missile modernization and countermeasure programs. Indeed, despite the reality that trade relations with China continue to expand, its rapid military modernization represents a potentially serious threat. Whether these nations become deadly adversaries hinges on nothing more than a political change of heart in their respective capitals. The intelligence community's ability to provide timely and accurate estimates of ballistic missile threats is, by many measures, poor. Our leaders have been consistently surprised by foreign ballistic missile developments. Shortened development timelines and the ability to move or import operational missiles, buy components, and hire missile experts from abroad mean the United States may have little or no warning before it is threatened or attacked. There is no escaping the uncertainty we face. And the stakes couldn't be higher. A ballistic missile delivering a nuclear payload to an American city would be truly devastating. For comparison, the Insurance Information Institute estimates total economic loss so far from Hurricane Katrina at more than $100 billion. By some calculations, it is going to take New Orleans 25 years to recover fully, and the cost of rebuilding the city is predicted to be as high as $200 billion. The direct cost to the New York City economy following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was between $80 billion and $100 billion. These figures do not include indirect costs or the incalculable human losses. Now just imagine the costs imposed by a ballistic missile nuclear strike against a U.S. city. The economic toll from a single nuclear attack against a major city, which would involve extensive decontamination activities and impact the national economy, could rise above $4 trillion.7 The economy could also be devastated by the electromagnetic pulse generated by a high-altitude nuclear explosion. The resulting electromagnetic shock would fry transformers within regional electrical power grids.8 The interdependent telecommunications (including computers), transportation, and banking and financial infrastructures that people and businesses rely on wo[...]