- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2008


The U.S. Navy missile streaked to an altitude of 133 nautical miles and slammed into a dying spy satellite traveling at 17,000 miles per hour with 1,000 pounds of deadly hydrazine fuel aboard. Various sensors on land, sea and in space noted the explosion. Initial reports said the satellite had been turned into what military analyst John Pike called “gravel.”

The ever-cautious U.S. military said we needed to take a deep breath and await complete computer analysis. The international news media erupted into an explanation of altitude, velocity, weight, payload, target angle and other details. But I could only think of one man: Ronald Reagan.

On March 23, 1983, President Reagan announced from the Oval Office: “I’ve reached a decision which offers a new hope for our children in the 21st century.” He explained his vision — and his defense budget’s inclusion — of the first funds to go toward this nation’s missile defense effort.

Liberals, and most of the media, derided the president’s project as “star wars.” Since 1983, America’s Missile Defense effort has become a multinational, multi-system effort: it has reached into space and it has come down to Earth and the sea.

Before President Reagan’s “new hope” the national military strategy of the United States and the Soviet Union contained an unwavering commitment to “Mutually Assured Destruction.”

Mutually Assured Destruction meant just one American or Soviet nuclear weapon-armed intercontinental ballistic missile headed toward the adversary would result in a violent and unstoppable response of hundreds and perhaps thousands of nuclear warheads. Millions would die in the exchange. The strategy became know as “MAD.”

Ronald Reagan, when briefed on emerging U.S. technology for missiles, sensors, lasers and other efforts, saw the future. He saw a new hope for our children and he committed himself — and his nation — to achieving that vision.

Ronald Reagan is gone. Many of the initial advisers, technologists and engineers have passed away. In Congress, the missile defense issue has been argued every year — and usually funding has been less than requested by the Pentagon.

Still, countless hundreds of thousands of people: engineers, technologists, scientists, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have continued the project, largely without complaint — continued to pursue President Reagan’s new hope and vision.

The U.S. Navy missile that slammed into the dead satellite, USA 193, was a product of those decades of effort. The modifications to the ship that launched that missile and the training absorbed by those wonderful sailors — products of an American youth criticized by their elders for their frivolous and careless ways — who carried out this mission all grew from President Ronald Reagan’s vision.

Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists. But the threat posed by missile-launched weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, chemical and biological weapons — clearly still exists. Russia still has a robust nuclear and missile arsenal. Add to that China. North Korea has demonstrated advancing missile and nuclear weapon technology. Pakistan and India have nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles. Iran has long-range missiles and the United Nations argues over how far Iran has advanced its nuclear weapon efforts. Terrorists have boasted they will have nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction that can soon wipe out Israel and threaten Europe and the U.S.

Missile defense, the vision of Ronald Reagan and source of America’s ability to destroy a potentially dangerous satellite, remains viable, important and necessary.

We hear a lot about the economy, health care and other domestic issues. No domestic programs count unless the nation can be defended.

We haven’t heard much about missile defense or other defense and international efforts in the current presidential campaigns but given the current state of affairs in the world, maybe we should.

John E. Carey is a former senior military officer who served in President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) and is president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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