May 22, 2014—Will We Ever Learn?

May 22, 2014—Will We Ever Learn?

High Frontier

Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder

High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . . Reagan’s Vision Lives!

E-Mail Message 140522

Will We Ever Learn?

By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper

May 22, 2014

Recent Pentagon strategic guidance states that the threat of proliferating ballistic missiles with improved offensive countermeasures will defeat current and planned ballistic missile defense systems—suggesting major changes in direction are required. Actually, this situation should not be a surprise since the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) era recognized this potential problem and dealt with it—regrettably those initiatives were scuttled by the Clinton administration and have not been revived, presumably for political reasons because this condition need not be tolerated if we would simply return to the SDI vision and technology championed by President Ronald Reagan. Stay tuned.   

On May 1, the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering published his 11-page strategic guidance (Click here.) for the Pentagon’s approach to new technology to counter the top three threats to U.S. forces—identified as those associated with: 1) Electronic warfare, 2) Assured access to space, and 3) Proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles.

In brief, the guidance indicated that potential adversaries are gaining capabilities to erode the U.S. military’s ability to 1) “operate freely in the electromagnetic spectrum;” 2) interfere with our satellites using “both kinetic and non-kinetic” means; and 3) by proliferating missiles and introducing offensive countermeasures, to render our current missile defenses “no longer practical or cost-effective.”

None of these important threats should have been unanticipated—and more importantly all should have been accounted for in the design of our current systems so that we already have evolutionary counter-developments that can be implemented when needed. 

This is especially true regarding the third identified threat—to our ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems potentially posed by proliferating less expensive attacking ballistic missiles.  Hopefully, we are better prepared regarding the other two, because we have lost our way regarding the third. However, I would argue that cost-effective defenses are in fact practical.

In fact, the possibility of this threat was so well understood during the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) era, between 1983-1993, that Congress wrote into law that effective defenses would have to be able to survive direct defense suppression attacks and be cost-effective at the margin against attacking offensive ballistic missiles, including advanced offensive countermeasures. 

Amb. Paul Nitze, with whom I worked closely during the Reagan administration, authored this condition that stilled the arguments of many SDI critics, who thought this was an impossible objective—so, they thought that SDI would die in failing to meet President Reagan’s goal.

I often concurrently explained to the Soviet negotiators in Geneva that we were confident SDI’s research and development (R&D) would lead to truly effective defenses.  We invited Lt. General Jim Abrahamson, then the SDI Director, to brief the Soviets in Geneva and his briefing dazzled them with the potential SDI developments then also being given public acclaim by impressive demonstrations including hit-to-kill intercepts in space.

In particular, after conducting the first SDI intercept in space in September 1986, the Delta 180 team received a presidential citation, two DoD distinguished public service medals, and awards from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the American Defense Preparedness Association, and Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. It was even popularized in Reader’s Digest.

Whatever the critics may have thought, I think the Soviets believed American technology just might meet this admittedly difficult Nitze criteria—and that is why President Reagan’s refusal to give up on SDI at Reykjavik (the month after the Delta-180 demonstration) was such a turning point in our negotiations and in my opinion hastened the end of the Cold War.  That’s a story for another day.

In any case, this “Nitze criteria” served as a guidepost for the SDI R&D programs then directed at defeating a massive attack from the Soviet Union.  And the Soviets—and after them the Russians—worked hard on the next phase of their offensive ballistic missiles to defeat defenses that might come from the SDI effort.  

Russia’s current generation ballistic missiles—e.g., the Topol among several other Russian ballistic missiles—were clearly designed with this in mind.  (Click here for a discussion of a Topol-E test from Kapustin Yar earlier this week—and links to several other Russian ballistic missiles under development.) 

May 22, 2014 I
A Russian Army’s Topol intercontinental ballistic missile launcher rolls past the Kremlin on May 7, 2014 in Moscow during a rehearsal of the Victory Day parade. (Yuri Kadobnov / AFP)

Meanwhile, we ceased the SDI innovative R&D programs when then Defense Secretary Les Aspin, as he said, “took the stars out of Star Wars” in early 1993—as he renamed the SDI program that I left to the Clinton administration and made major cuts in all the ongoing programs.

He completely scuttled the maturing space-based defenses concept demonstration efforts, cut BMD basic R&D by over 90-percent, sharply curtailed all efforts to defend the U.S. homeland from ballistic missile attack, and even trimmed the Clinton administration’s so-called top priority Theater Missile Defense (TMD) programs by 25-percent.

I had hopes that the George W. Bush administration would reset the situation The sad thing is that in spite of his welcome 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty, which for thirty years prevented us from building truly effective BMD systems, little since has been done to revive the SDI era cutting edge technology efforts to take full advantage of that freedom to build truly effective defenses. 

Thus, is it any surprise that our current BMD systems likely have been outpaced by offensive countermeasures that Russia has continued to develop, and perhaps supplied to their allies—including China, North Korea and Iran? 

Meanwhile, we continue to spend most of the money we are investing in BMD systems on the least effective, most costly BMD system concepts, which do not meet the threat identified by the above referenced Defense Guidance. 

We need to “go back to the future” that was so rudely interrupted in early 1993, when Les Aspin and his colleagues scuttled the SDI program In particular, we need to revive the space-based defense concepts of the time, which I then believed could meet the Nitze Criteria, including against the responsive threat ballistic missiles now being deployed by Russia and perhaps being proliferated to others as mentioned above.

That belief was based on conclusions of the 1988-9 “season of studies” referred to in Don Baucomb’s history of the era, “The Rise and Fall of Brilliant Pebbles.” (Click here.) These studies included those of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board and the JASON, a group of respected academics not known for their advocacy for ballistic missile defenses, as well as the internal SDI studies conducted by my predecessor as SDI Director, Lt. General George Monahan, and my own 1990 independent review for then President George H.W. Bush and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

General Abrahamson and I wrote last year on the 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s speech initiating the SDI program that space-based defenses were one of the most important system concepts, if not the most important system concept, from the SDI era. (Click here.) We both believed when writing our end-of-tour reports, and continue to believe, that if the political impediments can be overcome, a cost-effective space-based interceptor system could be deployed within five years. 

Furthermore, I believe that if the SDI concept demonstration programs had continued in 1993, we would not be in the current fix described by the Pentagon’s strategic guidance.

Not only would we have an option to deploy an effective global space-based defense that would meet the concerns of the strategic guidance, other BMD system concepts could and no doubt would have taken advantage of the innovative technology maturing a quarter century ago—but terminated by the Clinton administration. 

Most important among those, in my opinion, would be the benefits of the light-weight kill vehicle technology that would significantly enhance the capabilities of our Aegis BMD system, now deployed around the world on at least 30 destroyers and cruisers.

Further, the added defense “footprint” would significantly enhance the capabilities of the Aegis Ashore system being deployed to defend our NATO allies from Iranian ballistic missiles—and potentially the United States, as we have written in several past reports. (Last Tuesday in Hawaii, there was the first launch of a Standard Missile from an Aegis Ashore site in Hawaii—the first operational site is due in Romania next year.)

The lesson we should take from the detour we have taken for over 20-years is that we should not let politics keep us from investing in truly innovative technology. That is how to meet the strategic guidance recently laid out by the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.  

For this to happen, we also need leadership such as that provided by President Reagan, who walked out of the Reykjavik summit because Gorbachev demanded that our space defense research be limited to the laboratory. 

We should revive serious R&D efforts on space-based defenses—which will help in countering the second of the threats identified by the recent strategic guidance as well as the third.

To modify an oft-employed quotation from the Clinton era, “It’s the politics, stupid.”  Hopefully, we will soon have leaders who recognize the realm of the possible and match it with the world of political possibilities. Stay tuned.

Near Term High Frontier Plans.

We will do all we can to encourage “the powers that be” to make the Navy’s Aegis BMD system all it can be” and to adopt the anti-FOBS strategy laid out in our recent email messages and above. We will also seek to revive a viable program to deploy space-based defenses. (FOBS stands for fractional orbital bombardment system, basically a nuclear armed satellite that is launched over the South Polar region to attack the U.S. from the south—against which we currently have no defense.)

We will continue our efforts to inform state and local authorities about the EMP threat and expand our work with the National Guard to help them gain knowledge and workable plans to help harden the electric power grid and counter the EMP threat. This work should go hand in hand with the efforts to gain support from State legislators to expand on the excellent work in Maine and Virginia, who have passed legislation requiring serious studies of the EMP threat and the needed countermeasures to protect the electric power grid.

The most recent bill passed in record time without single negative vote in Virginia can be used as a ready pattern.

We will continue working with South Carolinians to build a coalition to engage constructively with private citizens and their local and state representatives and other authorities to work with the SC National Guard in understanding and responding to this serious threat. We will expand this effort to neighboring and other states.

We are informing SC state legislators and senators about the threat and what can be done to deal with it—and hopefully they will follow Maine and Virginia in seeking to harden the electric power grid. We also expect support from Cong. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) whose district includes my SC farm—and who is a member of the Congressional EMP Caucus seeking passage of the Shield Act and the Infrastructure Protection Act, as well as other SC representatives.

We will be working with members of the EMP Coalition and others who are seeking to take our message across the country—especially with Bob Newman, a former Adjutant General of Virginia to help us link our SC plans more broadly and especially into Virginia and the National Capital region.

What can you do?

Join us in praying for our nation, and for a rebirth of the freedom sought, achieved and passed to us by those who came before us.

Help us to spread our message to the grass roots and to encourage all “powers that be” to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.

Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage, for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter!

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