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Military superiority, part II: Defense

A View From the Edge

The Space Development Agency (SDA), with help from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), will soon launch a batch of 40 interlinked satellites that will form a net of protection over the USA (at least). Much like castles in the Middle Ages that provided protection in times of conflict for the outlying villages, the USA space net may well provide (at a cost!) protection for other nations that agree to sign on — either as allies or paying customers. The new forms of tracking technology on those satellites will perform the challenging task of remotely targeting hypersonic missiles as they maneuver in the atmosphere hundreds of miles below.

And with targeting comes the defensive weapons to shoot down hypersonic missiles from enemies — ours and those of our “customers.”

Target? With what? Well, for starters, the MDA and DARPA have developed “kinetic and nonkinetic interceptor technologies.” Why have they already developed these defensive weapons when no one is yet flying hypersonic weapons? Oops, that was a slip up… in 2017 it seems we already had our own hypersonic missile and the Pentagon quickly realized that we had better have a system to defeat even our own hypersonic vehicles in the event that China and Russia (and Japan, etc.) all copy us. And sure enough, they have (see last week’s article).

The major issue comes with Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs) and cruise missiles that are designed to evade MDA’s already established network of ground and sea based detection based radars. HGVs skipping across the atmosphere are 10 to 15 times less visible (luminous, the Pentagon calls it) than MDA sites can handle when seen from below — and even almost invisible seen against the warmth of the planet below when seen from Infra-red satellite detection from above. The Pentagon has, therefore, begun an initiative, in earnest, to put that new satellite net in place that can see these HGVs early.

And that leads us to the cost. Already the budget calls for $10,000,000,000 for the three HGV detection systems in development (and you can multiply that by 10, at least, for actual production in numbers). The Pentagon is currently looking for an additional military spending budget of at least that amount to construct its net. So the MDA asked for and got — as a starter — a measly $400,000,000 this year to get started. And part of that deal is that the Pentagon will not include this net cost in its budget for the years coming, but will, each year, ask for an addendum payment.

Why? Partly because it is not sure how much this defensive system will cost, partly because it is not sure what leverage and co-payment it can extract from allies, and, not least, it is in MDA’s interest to make Congress allocate these funds outside of the main Defense Budget in order to avoid general Congressional oversight. It’s only small money, it’s necessary, it’s defensive… no need to ask further. Certainly not with this type of testimony: Gen. Paul Selva, then-vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Imagine if NATO attempted to blunt a move by Moscow to occupy a Baltic state, and Russian strategic forces responded by threatening to launch a Russian Avangard hypersonic missile. That a single Avangard could arc over the Arctic Ocean, and as it reached the northern tip of Hudson Bay, Canada, could change course. It could then veer to target the U.S. East Coast or  strike the West Coast.”

However, U.S. forces currently have no ability to deter or defend against such a capability. And the science is not there yet, despite the 40 satellites they are launching this year. 

SDA Director Derek Tournear stated: “…the jury is still out on whether [the satellite sensors] will be able to form a track that is high enough quality to actually give you that fire control solution so that you can fire [interceptors] on [a] remote [track].” 

Doesn’t sound optimistic, yet. More money and time will certainly be requested by SDA and MDA. Stay tuned.

(Quotes courtesy of AvWeek, June 2020.)


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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