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Trump Unveils Space-Based Missile Defense Strategy


President Donald Trump speaks about American missile defense doctrine, Jan 17, 2019, at the Pentagon.

President Donald Trump unveiled the military’s long-delayed Missile Defense Review (MDR), the first overhaul of U.S. missile defense policy since 2010.

Speaking at the Pentagon Thursday, Trump said his plan will allow the United states to detect and destroy missiles “anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”

“It is not enough to keep pace with our adversaries, we must outpace them at every turn,” he said.

Officials say the doctrine, initially expected in 2017, has been frequently rewritten to keep up with changing missile threats posed by North Korea, China, Russia and Iran.

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Trump added that the upcoming Pentagon budget “will invest in a space-based missile defense layer.”

The MDR orders a study of space-based technologies that officials have said are “key” to the next level of defense, including weapon sensors and interceptors in space.

These technologies could help detect an enemy missile launch sooner and shoot it down in space, or possibly even as the missile is launching.

The idea is reminiscent of former President Ronald Reagan’s so-called “Star Wars” initiative in the 1980s.

U.S. officials have said a space-based defense could help protect against weapons traveling at hypersonic speeds.

In a report released earlier this week, the Pentagon warned that China has made advances in hypersonic technology that, “in some areas” “already leads the world,” potentially allowing Beijing to develop weapons that are far more difficult to detect.

Defense at home and abroad

In addition to a space focus, the MDR breaks down the threat into two camps: protecting the U.S. homeland and defending U.S. forces abroad from any missile source.

Concerning the homeland, the U.S. had already announced plans to add 20 new ground-based interceptors, increasing the number positioned at Fort Greely, Alaska, from 44 to 64 by 2023.

“We are committed to establishing a missile defense program that can shield every city in the United States, and we will never negotiate away our right to do this,” Trump said Thursday.

Trump’s rollout of the Missile Defense Review comes amid reports of possible movement toward another meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Three North Korean officials are expected to meet with White House officials in Washington this week to discuss a potential second summit between the two leaders.

The increased defenses to the homeland are scaled with respect to projected threats from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, not the much more robust threat from China and Russia.

The United States will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence, the assurance that an attack on the U.S. homeland from a major power would insure mutual annihilation, to protect against large attacks from Russia or China.

Finally, to protect against adversary advances abroad, the MDR calls for “expanding and modernizing” regional missile defenses.

The review says North Korea is fielding regional missiles capable of threatening allies and deployed forces, while Iran has a ballistic missile force that could strike throughout the Middle East and southeast Europe.

Speaking ahead of the president Thursday, Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan said North Korean and Iranian missiles “remain a significant concern” across the globe.

“To our competitors, we see what you are doing, and we are taking action.” he said.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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