“We propose to rebuild the key tools of missile defense, starting with the Navy cruisers that are the foundation of our missile defense capabilities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. As we expand our Navy toward the goal of 350 ships, we will also procure additional modern destroyers that are designed to handle the missile defense mission in the coming years.” Candidate Donald Trump, September 2016 Speech in Philadelphia
These words are music to my ears! Let me review a little history to explain why I’ve wanted a President on this wavelength for a quarter century, since I left the negotiating table with the Soviet Union after defending President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) for five years.
I began to advocate giving ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability to our Aegis cruisers and destroyers in early 1990, when I conducted an independent review of the SDI program under a mandate from President George H.W. Bush and then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. The concern was that, with the apparent end of the Cold War, many in Congress were losing interest in BMD, seriously cutting SDI appropriations and threatening the end of our major most important BMD research and development activities.
My primary March 1990 recommendation was to redirect the SDI away from its previous focus only on a homeland defense against a massive attack from the Soviet Union to a global defense against limited attacks from any of a growing number of states that were gaining ballistic missile capabilities. I also recommended that SDI focus on an accidental launch of Soviet/Russian ballistic missiles, or especially a deliberate unauthorized attack, such as one that might be executed by a rogue submarine commander. This latter focus recognized and accommodated the concerns of several key senators and congressmen who were concerned about the growing instabilities of the then crumbling Soviet Union, but who were less concerned about a major nuclear exchange.
We then had little reason to focus on any particular nation as a threat — hence the “global” focus. And we sought real “protection” for the people against the consequences of such “limited” attacks: e.g., a very high kill probability against up to 200 attacking warheads that might be controlled by a rogue Russian submarine captain.
Based on my five years in Geneva negotiating with the Soviets and protecting President Reagan’s SDI (from which we gained major negotiating leverage), I believed that the emerging Russian leadership could be interested in cooperating with the United States in building such a global defense against common adversaries — as we had been directed to seek in President Reagan’s instructions to our delegation. After all, the Soviets had long invested in building and maintaining extensive defenses including against ballistic missiles of all ranges — sometimes in violation of Treaties they had signed. (Less than two years later, Russian President Boris Yeltsin basically said “yes’ in a major speech to the United Nations, but our leaders were not able to close that important deal before the arrival of the Clinton administration — and it did not continue that same focus of the Reagan-Bush-41 years.)
The other primary reason for my “global focus” was a then-recent Defense Science Board (DSB) review of the troubling proliferation of ballistic missiles. That panel, led by Dr. Joe Braddock, provided compelling evidence that a couple of dozen nations were making serious advances in gaining ballistic missile capabilities — and we could not rule out the possibility that at least some of them might one day also gain an ability to mate these missiles with “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs), including nuclear weapons. We could not predict which nations might gain this capability first, nor what their targets might be for all plausible scenarios — hence, we needed a defense against launches from anywhere to anywhere else: A “global” defense.
So, we named this system concept “Global Protection Against Limited Strikes” or GPALS. Defense Secretary Cheney then asked me to lead the SDI program and “make it happen” — and I did my best in the time I had, but we only got a good start. President Bush called the system his own in January 1991, and then Assistant Defense Secretary Steve Hadley and I briefed the press on February 21, 1991. Click here for that annotated briefing and transcript from our associated Pentagon press conference — rotate clockwise for easy reading about the three GPALS components: Ground-based National Missile Defense (NMD); Theater Missile Defense (TMD); and space-based defense that could handle both homeland or theater missile defense missions.
You will find on Chart 45 a depiction of a sea-based component of the planned Theater Missile Defense (TMD) element of GPALS. This was the seed of what became Aegis BMD, then as a TMD system even though it was recognized by all who considered its technical merits to also have homeland or NMD potential.
Since most of the earth’s surface is water, it is obvious that such sea-based defenses could play a major role in defending not only our overseas troops, friends and allies, but also the United States homeland. But had we advocated that possibility in the 1990s, the arms control community immediately would have killed the system because Article V of the ABM Treaty banned development, testing and deployment of sea based defenses of the U.S. homeland. As a TMD concept Aegis BMD gained and retains wide and well deserved bipartisan support.
Regrettably, however, Aegis BMD has remained constrained to the TMD role even though President Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, and the always existing inherent Aegis BMD capabilities are now needed to help with a cost-effective defense of the U.S. homeland.
President-elect Trump’s statement last September suggests we can at last hope to make Aegis BMD “all it can be!” This welcome initiative would also set the stage for President Trump to return to the full GPALS vision. Given his comments in September, he is on the right path.
This still unrealized hope would reward the vision I have pursued with a number of colleagues since the mid-1990s, even after the Clinton administration killed essentially all SDI efforts except a reduced TMD effort that, happily, enabled Aegis BMD progress with continuing bipartisan support from Capitol Hill. In particular, our interests received a major boost in 1994, when a number of long-time SDI supporters gained the influence of a congressional majority, led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) in the new congress.
Dr. Lowell Wood (from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and the prime mover behind SDI’s Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptor concept) and I traveled to Philadelphia to meet on the margins of a conference of the recently elected House Republican majority with Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY) to urge that a “Team B,” distinct from the continuing Clinton administration, be established at the Heritage Foundation to help lay plans for such a revival. Jack, in turn, persuaded Heritage President Dr. Edwin Feulner to establish such a team, which I was privileged to lead for the next several years as a Heritage Visiting Fellow. Other members of the initial Missile Defense Study Team were:
- Lt. General James A. Abrahamson, USAF (retired), the first SDI Director under President Reagan
- Frank Gaffney, Former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy
- Dr. Edward T. Gerry, Former Deputy Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and SDI System Architect
- General Daniel O. Graham USA (retired), former CIA Deputy Director, DIA Director and then Founder of High Frontier
- Dr. William R. Graham, Former Director of White House Office Science and Technology, Acting NASA Administrator and Chairman of the SDI Advisory Group (and since then Chairman of the EMP Commission)
- Dr. Michael Griffin, Former SDI Director of Technology and NASA Associate Administrator (and since then, NASA Administrator)
- Dr. Jack Hammond, Former Director of SDI Directed Energy and Deputy Director of Kinetic Energy Programs
- General Charles Horner, USAF (retired), Former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Space Command
- The Honorable Fred Ikle, Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Director of the Armed Control and Disarmament Agency
- Sven V. Kraemer, Former Director of Arms Control, the National Security Council
- The Honorable William Schneider, Former Undersecretary of State and Chairman of the Arms Control General Advisory Committee (and since Chairman of the Defense Science Board)
- General Bernard A. Schriever, USAF (retired) , former Commander of Air Force Systems Command and father of Air Force systems
- Dr. William R. Van Cleave, Head of Ronald Reagan 1980 Defense Transition Team and SALT Advisor to the Secretary of Defense
- The Honorable Malcolm Wallop, former U.S. Senator from Wyoming
- The Honorable Vin Weber, former U.S. Representative from Minnesota
- Vice Admiral J.D. Williams, USN (retired) former Director of Naval Warfare, Commander of the Sixth Fleet and Member of the BMDO Advisory Group
Dr. Kim R. Holmes, Heritage Vice President and Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, summarized in his Preface to our 1995 report (Defending America: A Near and Long-Term Plan to Deploy Missile Defenses) our bottom line conclusion that the best approach to achieving the BMD capability needed by the nation was “to devise a BMD system that was deployed ‘first from the sea and then in space.’” We particularly called for building what we then called “Navy Upper Tier” to intercept ballistic missiles in outer space and then to restore and expedite development and deployment of space-based interceptors and directed energy systems.
Our 1995 report (above) argued that we should never give the Russians a “veto” over our missile defense programs; and we urged the Clinton administration in its negotiations with Russia to pursue a cooperative program what ultimately would include space-based defenses — as should fit with Yeltsin’s January 1991 call that we work together to build a “Joint Global Defense” for the world community. In our subsequent 1998 and 1999 reports, we called for the U.S. to declare the ABM Treaty to be “null and void” in the absence of our treaty partner, the Soviet Union, and for the United States “to build the best missile defenses that technology permits.”
We also again repeated our observation that our previously recommended “’first from the sea, then from space’ approach would create the most effective, complete and responsible global defense system for the United States.” This never happened during the remainder of the Clinton administration, and we were gratified when President George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002 — and thought we were on our way to realizing our long sought objective.
But we were to be disappointed. As we welcomed President Bush’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, we saw no revival of the key SDI programs that had led to “Brilliant Pebbles,” the most cost-effective concept of the SDI era between 1984 and 1993, when Defense Secretary Les Aspin — as he memorably stated — “Took the stars out of Star Wars.” Moreover, support for the Aegis BMD was lukewarm in Bush-43 administration as its focus emphasized responding to the 9/11 attack by al Qaeda.
Nevertheless, thanks to the efforts of then Assistant Defense Secretary J.D. Crouch and his Deputy Keith Payne, President Bush directed that Aegis BMD system development efforts be continued — but only for TMD applications, despite its inherent capabilities to provide homeland defense capabilities. And the Bush-43 Pentagon took further actions that limited the Navy’s efforts to build even the most effective TMD system, let alone to make Aegis BMD all it can be.
For example, the Bush-43 Pentagon purged all efforts for Aegis BMD to include key SDI technologies pioneered in its Brilliant Pebbles program under Presidents Reagan and Bush-41, even though the Navy’s BMD program office conducted detailed studies that demonstrated how those technologies could enable a much lighter Aegis BMD kill vehicle and provide a much greater defense footprint than was then the school solution.
An exceptional team of engineers and scientists had space-qualified those technologies in the mid-1990s on the Clementine Mission conceived as one of my last acts as SDI Director. That mission employed scavenged Brilliant Pebbles sensors and other technology from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and under program integration leadership from the Naval Research Laboratory returned to the Moon in the mid-1990s for the first time in a quarter century, mapped the entire Moon’s surface in over a million frames of data in 13-spectral bands, discovered water in the polar regions, and received well merited awards from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences. A Clementine replica now hangs in the Smithsonian next to the Apollo Lunar Lander.
Nevertheless, lack of Pentagon support put such research and development out of business and dispersed the technical team that had pioneered this important work, illustrating again that “no good deed goes unpunished” when it comes to building truly effective defenses.
That same technological capability not only would have enabled a viable sea-based homeland defense, much less expensive and more effective than the ground-based defense that became the Bush-43 hallmark. It also would have set the stage for reviving the Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptor program — development of which was no longer constrained in any way after 2002 by the subsequently defunct ABM Treaty. And it would have revitalized our Heritage Team B recommendation “First from the sea, then from space.”
Moreover, I believe that the Bush-43 Pentagon would have killed the Navy’s BMD program in its cradle had Japan not actively engaged in our Aegis BMD development activities and brought funds to help develop the systems now also deployed on several of Japan’s Aegis BMD ships and about 35 of ours. They correctly insisted that the Standard Missile-3 interceptor fit in the existing Aegis infrastructure rather than to develop a new larger diameter interceptor as some of the Pentagon leaders wanted (not the U.S. Navy) — leading to requirements for major infrastructure modifications, and the cost of those programs would have escalated and the Navy would no doubt have abandoned the program.
It should be noted that in 2008, the first generation Aegis BMD system was chosen by President Bush as the best system for shooting down a dying National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite, indicating again the inherent capability of the Aegis BMD system to perform a homeland defense mission against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMS). A mission still not included in Obama administration plans.
Beginning early in the George W. Bush administration, the Independent Working Group (IWG) was formed under the sponsorship of Dr. R. Danial McMichael of the Scaife Foundation, led by Drs. Robert Pfaltzgraff and William Van Cleave, and involving individuals from numerous conservative organizations, including High Frontier, which I then led.
The IWG took an important next step beyond the Heritage Team B and critically reviewed the technical and especially political issues that had until then limited the development of truly effective BMD systems, and continued to do so even during the Bush-43 administration.
Click here for my March 24, 2015 discussion of some of this history, including Clementine and how we got on the wrong track building the most expensive, least effective BMD systems while sharply curtailing the SDI programs aimed at the most effective, least expensive BMD systems—at sea and in space. And click here for more discussion on the IWG and links to its 2007 and 2009 IWG Reports, which among many other things discuss initiatives with several states that led to requests for more effective defenses, including for citizens near our mostly undefended the East Coast. Most notably, we worked with New York State Representative and Chair of the Veterans Committee Ron Tocci who tried without success to prevail on the “powers that be” to improve our East Coast defenses.
The Washington establishment has largely ignored these recommendations. Neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration took many helpful steps toward the goal advocated by the Heritage Team B and continued by the IWG.
Now we are less than sixty days from the beginning of a new administration — and President Elect Trump’s words again encourage those of us survivors of the 1995 Heritage Team B effort and the battles of the Clinton, Bush-43 and Obama administrations, to think that maybe, just maybe, our recommendations will be headed this time: “First from the sea and then in space.”
This fits with President Elect Trump’s projection don’t you think?
“We propose to rebuild the key tools of missile defense, starting with the Navy cruisers that are the foundation of our missile defense capabilities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. As we expand our Navy toward the goal of 350 ships, we will also procure additional modern destroyers that are designed to handle the missile defense mission in the coming years.”
Candidate Donald Trump, September 2016 Speech in Philadelphia
High Frontier will certainly be pressing the “powers that be” to support President-elect Trump’s vision and will do all we can to see it implemented. Making America Great Again. What about you?
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