This week Donald Trump will reveal a plan for a significant expansion in US missile defence that will depend on a new generation of space-based sensors.
The President will present this long-delayed missile defence review at the Pentagon. The review will call for the expansion of the US network of sensors and interceptors aimed to detect and shoot down incoming projectiles from “rogue states like Iran and North Korea.
The last review took place in 2010, and since then a senior administration official said they had seen a drastic change to the threat environment.
The official added that what the missile defence review is addressing is an environment where their potential adversaries have been rapidly developing, and fielding, a much more expanded range of new offensive missiles. Missiles that are capable of threatening the United States, their allies, partners, and the US forces abroad.
It is likely that Trump will present the review as a justification for his order to create a new “space force” with its own structure of command.
The official explained that space is a critical point of emphasis for Trump, Pence, the vice-president, and the missile defence review. It is something they want to invest in because space is the key to the next phase of missile defence.
The review would commission a further study of space-based interceptors and lasers but would not direct the production or deployment of anything specific.
The official briefed journalists ahead of the review’s launch by explaining that it is an area that they are studying but not one they have made a concrete decision on whether or not to deploy yet.
The official also emphasized that the expansion of the system would not target Russia and China, and the US continued to see nuclear deterrence as the best defence against the threat from those major nuclear weapons powers.
He went on to say that China and Russia have vast, sophisticated arsenals and thus America relies on their nuclear deterrence to deter these countries in that area.
Stephen Young, a senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: he was quite surprised to see that these are relatively sensible choices. They’re not trying to use missile defence to address Russia and China, and they are not going after space-based interceptors.
However, Young added that they are going to spend a lot more money on things that don’t work very well, and Russia will be angry with the expansion of the system.
Young stated that the review was expected to order a significant expansion of the US fleet of sea-based Aegis interceptors, upgraded, so they can – at least theoretically – shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles.
That is likely to be viewed by Russia and China as a move to blunt their nuclear deterrent, and therefore seen as destabilizing.
A significant and longstanding source of tension between Washington and Moscow is the deployment of missile interceptors in eastern Europe.
The senior administration official also said that concerning relations with Russia and China, Trump relies on having good relationships with the leaders of those countries.
He added that America’s defence capabilities are purely defensive. The United States has been very transparent in the development of its missile defence capabilities, about what they are postured to defend against and that their missile defence abilities are primarily postured to stay ahead of rogue state threats.