Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder
High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . . Reagan’s Vision Lives!
E-Mail Message 140528
Revive Raptor Talon!
By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper
May 29, 2014
To counter the threat of proliferating ballistic missiles with improved offensive countermeasures, we need cost-effective defenses, well beyond the capability of our current systems. The best way to achieve this goal is with defenses that can intercept attacking ballistic missiles while their rockets are burning in their boost phase, before they can release their decoys that overwhelm our current mid-course defenses that work in outer space. We need to revive initiatives from the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) era that recognized this potential problem and dealt with it. The most cost-effective concepts, space based interceptors, remain controversial—but unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs) may be acceptable as launch platforms for boost-phase interceptors. Happily, that SDI-pioneered technology has survived, at least after a fashion, and could be harnessed to defeat today’s offensive countermeasures.
Last week (Click here.), I referenced the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering’s 11-page summary of his strategic guidance (Click here.) that identified, among the top three threats to U.S. forces, the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles with advanced offensive countermeasures—which was rendering our current missile defenses “no longer practical or cost-effective.”
No doubt, the Under Secretary’s assessment accurately reflects the current lamentable situation, which need not have occurred. Had programs pioneered by the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) continued, they would have produced truly cost-effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems that stayed ahead of the predictable—and predicted—offensive developments. It is not too late to recover, though time is no-longer on our side.
This Did Not Have To Be!
To repeat in summary: The Clinton administration totally scuttled the SDI’s space-based interceptor concept demonstration program and all its related key research and development (R&D) programs that would have kept ahead of the predictable—and predicted—development of stressful offensive countermeasures. Click here to review Don Baucomb’s discussion of the 1988-89 “season of studies” in his “The Rise and Fall of Brilliant Pebbles.”
Thus died the technology demonstration efforts that led President Reagan to walk out of the 1986 Reykjavik summit, because Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev demanded that they be limited to the laboratory. Reagan’s determination to support his SDI, as Margaret Thatcher and others have said, brought an “end to the Cold War without firing a shot” when it became clear they could not compete with American technology.
What Gorbachev could not achieve in Reykjavik was subsequently accomplished by congressional leaders and several administrations, especially beginning in 1992 when congress directed the curtailment of on-going key technology demonstrations. The coup de grâce was supplied in early 1993 when Les Aspin left his post as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee to become President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense—and from that post, as he bragged, he “took the stars out of Star Wars”.
Little has since been done to restore the most important of those abandoned key R&D programs that could have kept our missile defenses ahead in the inevitable offense-defenses measure-countermeasure competition . It remains to be seen whether current and future “powers that be” will revive the needed key technology, or whether we will abandon Ronald Reagan’s realizable vision of truly effective defenses—as implied by the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Development’s assessment.
This week, I want to recount the legacy of a notable exception to this truly sad story—which still is alive and offers a recovery pathway without the political trappings that have so far inhibited any serious R&D on space based defenses, as well as other defense concepts that could be advanced by currently ignored but possible technological innovation.
Time for Boost-Phase Defenses!
Since the earliest studies of ballistic missile defenses in the 1960s, we have understood that the best time to shoot down a hostile missile is during its initial “boost phase” after launch. It then moves slowly, is easy to see (because its exhaust plumes are so hot) and presents a big target (having not yet ditched its first-stage rocket). A bonus is that the debris may come crashing down on the country that launched it—our enemy, rather than on us.
Thus, SDI proposed space-based BMD systems, which could also intercept attacking missiles during their later stages of flight through space and during reentry into the upper atmosphere. But space-based defenses are not the only concepts that can accomplish this role.
Indeed, as my April 11th email noted, our currently deployed Aegis BMD ships can accomplish a boost phase intercept if they are close enough to the attacking rockets’ launch pad—as could be the case to counter North Korea’s fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS).
On April 17th, I noted that this also could be the case for at least one of Iran’s satellite launch sites. But for other Iranian satellite launch sites, it is not possible to get close enough to accomplish this objective with sea-based defenses. Furthermore, North Korea’s obvious offensive counter to its current vulnerability to Aegis BMD boost-phase intercept capabilities would be simply to choose an inland FOBS launch site, beyond Aegis’ reach.
So, we would be prudent to pursue alternative boost-phase intercept capabilities as quickly as possible—if not from space, then perhaps from the air—in 1992, the SDI program was considering two interesting alternatives:
- The airborne laser (ABL), which continued at a reduced level of funding over that past two decades and was recently canceled—as I understand it for lack of funds rather that a failure of technology.
- Unpiloted air vehicle (UAV) interceptor launch platforms for kinetic kill vehicles (KKVs), a concept dropped at the beginning of the Clinton administration, even though interest in UAVs was then growing.
Reconsidering both possibilities would be prudent. In particular, the UAV option could bear very near term fruit because the technology development maturing two decades ago has continued even after the Clinton administration scuttled the Pentagon’s most pertinent programs—and they remain dormant.
But friends were eventually able to transfer two initially SDI-sponsored UAV development activities at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL) to NASA and elsewhere, where the two important concepts matured through a significant testing phase.
One demonstrated the feasibility of two inexpensive Burt Rutan designed high-altitude (65,000 ft.) UAV platforms (called Raptor) that, at a then anticipated million-dollars-a-copy (in 1992 dollars) price, could be affordably proliferated to overcome defense suppression countermeasures. (Rutan is best known for his SpaceShipOne flights, the first private spacecraft and winner of the first X-PRIZE.) The other (called Helios), powered by solar cells and batteries to stay aloft for long periods, set a high-altitude record (almost 97,000 ft.) in 2001. Both are depicted below.
Either concept could be configured to support he boost-phase intercept mission as a launch platform for a light weight KKV (called Talon) based on the then (in 1992) maturing Brilliant Pebbles technology. Raptor-Talon was conceived as a near-term option, with an expectation that eventually a longer endurance solar-battery powered UAV might replace Raptor. The light-weight Talon technology development was scuttled along with other SDI technology development programs and needs to be revived.
Then Air Force Lt. Colonel Dale Tietz was the excellent project manager for these SDI UAV efforts; and, after the Pentagon abandoned the SDI vision and technology, he stuck with developing the technology by whatever means have been available over the years.
Dale is appropriately referenced in the May 17, 2014 Economist article, “Star Wars 2: Attack of the Drones” which discusses a revived UAV-launched interceptor idea, there proposed to launch multiple KKV interceptors from the fully developed and deployed “Global Hawk” that can stay aloft for 30 hours. This is a good idea as far as it goes, especially since Global Hawk was recently deployed from Guam to Japan and could help in defending against North Korean ballistic missiles launched to either the North or South.
But Global Hawk costs orders-of-magnitude more that did Burt Rutan’s UAV which was quite adequate 20-years-ago to carry then designed Talon KKVs. The current KKVs are heavier and cost more than then envisioned for Talon. Perhaps another challenge to “go back to the future?” I think so.
Reviving the Raptor-Talon concept could be important to stay ahead in the inevitable measure-countermeasures competition, as mentioned in the Economist article and emphasized in the Under Secretary of Defense’s assessment.
Not only would the Raptor be much less expensive than Global Hawk, but lighter weight relatively inexpensive KKVs as envisioned for Talon would enable a resilient defense architecture that keeps system costs low by employing a single less expensive Talon interceptor on each of a set of proliferated Raptors.
Finally, I would note that the Economist article falsely claimed that the Reagan space-based boost-phase intercept concept “cost a packet, didn’t work and was scrapped in the 1990s.” As discussed in my last email, the truth is the contrary on all counts—it was the most cost-effective concept developed during the SDI era (from 1983-1993), judged by a number of competent technical reviewers to have no technological show-stoppers, and was cancelled for political reasons—first by congressional cutbacks in 1992 and then by the Clinton administration in 1993.
No doubt these decisions were made because fully developing, testing and deploying space-based systems required withdrawing the ABM Treaty—which the “powers that were” in congress and the Clinton administration did not wish to do.
Happily, the Bush administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, but little has since been done to revive the technology for either Raptor-Talon or space-based interceptors.
So, let’s indeed “go back to the future”—first by rapidly reviving the technology to enable Raptor-Talon and then to support a viable space-based interceptor program.
Back to the Future!
These same technological innovations would enable lighter weight KKVs for Aegis BMD interceptors to achieve substantially greater velocities, giving them a larger defensive footprint. The area of that footprint increases as the square of the interceptor’s velocity.
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 laid out by the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering as discussed last week.
The Economist article suggests that at least there is growing interest in moving in the right direction toward a return to a viable boost-phase defense capability.
Hopefully, we can and will build the needed momentum to turn such possibilities into reality consistent 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 Raptor-Talon and 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, www.highfrontier.org for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter!
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