Thursday, President Trump vowed to respond to the growing threat of medium and long range missiles with a space based missile defense system.
President Trump called Thursday for dramatically broadening U.S. defenses against missile attacks, outlining a costly and scientifically unproven plan for developing lasers and space sensors to defend all of U.S. territory from ballistic missile threats.
“Our strategy is grounded in one overriding objective: to detect and destroy every type of missile attack against any American target, whether before or after launch,” Trump said at the Pentagon as the administration released its long-awaited missile defense strategy.
Trump’s expansive vision of an impenetrable U.S missile shield — one first envisaged by President Reagan 35 years ago — goes well beyond the Pentagon’s technical and scientific capacity, the reality that grounded most of Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative.
The plan also does not reflect the Trump administration’s near-term goals, which remain focused on developing the capability to knock out limited missile strikes by Iran or North Korea and, at least theoretically, new short- and medium-range weapons being developed by China and Russia that could threaten Europe and Asia.
When Trump attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) for opposing the border wall and said Democrats had been “hijacked” by the “fringe” and “radical left,” the audience of uniformed military officers and Defense Department officials sat silent.
Democrats in Congress, even some who have backed the development of the current limited U.S. missile defense system, questioned Trump’s vision of a vast shield over the nation.
“An effective missile defense system can serve as a deterrent to conflict, protect our forward-deployed forces and the homeland, and create an opening for diplomacy,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee. “But it’s not a magic bulletproof shield, and it comes with a considerable price tag.”
The Pentagon has built a growing capability to target medium-range weapons with advanced radars and interceptors from Aegis-class warships in the western Pacific and eastern Mediterranean. A U.S. medium-range interceptor site is also operational in Romania while another is under construction in Poland.
U.S. officials say those defenses are aimed at Iran and North Korea.
Russia has complained for years that the U.S. system could in theory target its missiles and have vowed to respond if the U.S. goes ahead with the two sites in Eastern Europe. That stance is likely to harden with the U.S. now explicitly vowing to develop a system capable of targeting Moscow’s missiles.
Shanahan acknowledged that the expanding U.S. defenses were a major factor driving Russia and China to build faster and more survivable missiles.
Russia, in particular, has developed a new SSC-8 ground-fired cruise missile that U.S. officials say violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice. The Trump administration has threatened to pull out of the INF treaty as a result.
“Frustrated by our mid-course defenses, they are aggressively pursuing new technologies to circumvent today’s systems,” Shanahan said.
The administration plans to add more interceptors to the existing missile defense sites at Ft. Greely in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc. The report calls for studying the option of adding a third interceptor site on the East Coast, an idea aimed at bolstering defenses against a possible limited missile attack from Iran.
Even an expanded missile shield would not be capable of stopping a major attack by Russia or China, U.S. officials said.
Both countries have large arsenals of intercontinental ballistic missiles topped with nuclear warheads that U.S. officials say could overwhelm an expanded U.S. system in a large-scale nuclear exchange.