Monday 15 July 2019

Trump unveils plan for space missile system to defend US

Denials: President Donald Trump after being introduced by Vice President Mike Pence, left, at the Pentagon yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Denials: President Donald Trump after being introduced by Vice President Mike Pence, left, at the Pentagon yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Chris Riotta

Donald Trump has unveiled a revamped US missile defence strategy involving a new layer of space-based sensors to detect and track enemy missiles.

The president announced the results of the review, the first compiled since 2010, during a speech at the Pentagon.

He called for an investment into new missile defence technologies and pointed to the development of advanced weapon systems by both China and Russia.

It drew comparison to Ronald Reagan's costly and ambitious project to create a space-based anti-missile system at the height of the Cold War in the Eighties, which was derisively dubbed "Star Wars" by critics.

In the review, US intelligence agencies also warned Iran and North Korea's missile capabilities present existing threats to US and global security.

"The world is changing and we're going to change much faster than the rest of the world," the president said. "The United States cannot simply build more of the same or make incremental improvements ... We must pursue advanced technology and research to guarantee the United States is several steps ahead of those who wish to do us harm."

Mr Trump outlined six major changes to the current set-up, calling for 20 new ground-based missile detectors, new radars and sensors to detect foreign missiles launched by "rogue states" and a new system that could potentially shield all major US cities.

Speaking about the possibility of the new "space-based layer" of the nation's defence capability, the president said: "It's ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defence and obviously our offence."

"The system will be monitored and we will terminate any missile launches from hostile powers, or even powers that make a mistake," Mr Trump continued.

"The stronger you are, the less you will need whatever that strength may be."

Pentagon officials have previously said the US has too few resources to counter a first strike on the US homeland by a major nuclear power - with Washington believing deterrence a more worthwhile strategy.

Acting defence secretary Pat Shanahan said competitors such as Russia and China are aggressively pursuing new missiles that are harder to see, harder to track and harder to defeat. The new proposals come on top of previously announced plans to increase the number of ground-based interceptors over the next several years, lifting the number positioned at Fort Greely, Alaska to 64 from 44.

The new review is likely to stoke tensions with Russia, which views US missile defence advances as a threat.

The chair of Russia's upper house defence and security committee, Viktor Bondarev, said that the new US missile defence strategy would ramp up global tensions, Interfax news agency reported.

China, in turn, has also alarmed the Pentagon with advances in super-fast "hypersonic" technology, which could allow Beijing to field missiles that are far harder to detect.

In a report earlier this week that singled out the hypersonic threat, the Pentagon warned China's military was "on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world".

"In some areas, it already leads the world," the report said.

US officials, including under-secretary of defence for research and engineering Michael Griffin, believe a space-based sensor layer could help to detect missiles moving at hypersonic speeds.

However, seemingly recognising the potential concerns surrounding any perceived weaponisation of space, the strategy pushes for studies. No testing is mandated, and no final decisions have been made.

For Mr Trump, who is trying to revive efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal, the report's release comes at an awkward moment.

Three North Korean officials, including the top envoy involved in talks with the United States, are booked on a flight to Washington, suggesting possible movement toward a second summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to South Korean media.

"While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, it continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the US must remain vigilant," the report said.

"Space, I think, is the key to the next step of missile defense," a senior Trump administration official told reporters ahead of the document's release. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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