Congress voted recently to approve $5 million for a study of space-based missile defenses, the first time the development of space weapons will be considered since similar work was canceled in the 1990s.
Appropriation of the money for the study was tucked away in a little-noticed provision of the Continuing Resolution passed recently by Congress and followed two years in which Congress rejected $10 million sought for the study. <
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and a key supporter of missile defenses, said approval of the study highlights the need to provide comprehensive protection from the growing threat of missile attack and to limit the vulnerability of vital satellites to attack.
“We have the potential to expand our space-based capabilities from mere space situational awareness to space protection,” Mr. Kyl said in a Senate floor speech.
“In the past 15 years, the ballistic missile threat has substantially increased and is now undeniable,” he said on Sept. 29.
A total of 27 nations now have missile defenses, and last year, over 120 foreign nations fired ballistic missiles, he said. North Korea and Iran both are developing missiles and selling the technology for them, he added.
Mr. Kyl also said the Pentagon’s annual report expressed concerns about accidental or unauthorized launches of long-range missiles from China and about the growing vulnerability of vital satellite systems to attack by anti-satellite weapons, as shown by China’s 2007 anti-satellite weapons test.
Mr. Kyl said he hopes Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will choose what government or private-sector agency will conduct the study, will choose the Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research center, to carry out the study.
A Senate report on the study stated that independent groups that could produce it include Energy Department national laboratories, or scientific and technical organizations.
A defense official said space-based missile defenses were last considered during the first Bush administration as part of its Global Protection Against Limited Strike, or GPALS, a missile-defense plan focused on then-Soviet missiles using a combination of ground-based interceptors, sea-based missiles and space-based interceptors. The Clinton administration canceled all work on space-based missile defense and focused instead on tactical defenses against short-range missiles.
The current Bush administration’s missile-defense program is limited to the deployed ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California and ship-based interceptor missile defense.
The defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said space-based defenses are needed for global, rapid defense against missiles. “It’s really the only way to defend the U.S. and its allies from anywhere on the planet,” the official said.
A military officer in Afghanistan says the threat from improvised explosive devices, IEDs, is real and growing as a combination of insurgents and other armed factions continue to pose a major challenge to U.S. and allied efforts to help stabilize the country.