National Defense online posted an important article on Monday with a most welcome title, “SPECIAL REPORT: Pentagon Reexamining Space-Based Interceptors
While much of the article is informative, it misled uninformed readers on a very important fact: It aired numerous excessive Space-Based Interceptor (SBI) cost estimates that ranged up to several hundred billion dollars.
It did provide a contrary quotation from Michael Griffin, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, who months ago said at a Capitol Hill roundtable:
“I get tired of hearing how it would cost $100-or-more billion to put up a space-based interceptor layer. The entire cost of a system with 1,000 SBIs could come in at about $20 billion. We’ve paid a lot more [for other technologies] and gotten a lot less in the Defense Department over the years.”
Indeed, my articles have repeatedly challenged these exaggerated cost estimates since before USAF Lt. General James A. Abrahamson, the first Director of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), joined me in my first Newsmax article almost two years ago with a title that the recent National Defense seems to herald a welcome echo, “Opinion: America Must Revive Space-Based Interceptors.”
Moreover, we had recently reported in The Wall Street Journal that “the Pentagon’s acquisition authorities estimated that system would cost $10-billion in 1988 dollars — now inflated to $20-billion — for full development, deployment, and 20-years operations. It was designed to intercept attacking ballistic missiles in their boost-phase while their rockets still burn, before they can release their decoys and other countermeasures — and throughout their flight, including high in the atmosphere on re-entry.” Just as Mike Griffin claimed.
Gen. Abrahamson well understood the issues and maturing technology. He initiated the Brilliant Pebbles SBI program as a “special access program” to evaluate the ideas of Dr. Lowell Wood at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL). Notably, the private sector is now, 30 years later, exploiting these ideas as low-altitude satellite systems now promise important innovative capabilities at very affordable costs.
Were he still living, I’m certain USAF Lt. General George Monahan, the second SDI Director, would have joined us, since he led the 1989-90 “season of critical reviews” of Brilliant Pebbles that ended up not only endorsing Dr. Wood’s ideas, but as a culmination of those reviews with the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition approving a formal Demonstration and Validation (DemVal) program.
He also in effect fired the Air Force for its inept SBI efforts, and formed a Brilliant Pebbles Task Force reporting directly to him to manage those critical reviews and the approved DemVal program that involved a competition between five contractor teams, from which two were selected, TRW-Hughes and Martin Marietta.
Gen. Monahan recruited USAF Col. Colonel Rhip Worrell to lead that Task Force — including on my watch as the third SDI Director. He also supports the cost estimates claimed by Mike Griffin, first Deputy for Technology who knows this history first hand.
In another article, Rhip also joined me and my Deputy SDI Director USA Lt. General Mal O’Neill, who also had to pick up the pieces as Director of the renamed Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) after President Clinton’s Defense Secretary, Les Aspin, memorably “took the stars out of Star Wars.” The Chairman of the Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, Dr. Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, also joined us in that November 29, 2016 National Review article: “How Trump Can Fullfill Reagan’s Vision.”
Notably, we reported a year before the reference noted above: “Rigorous cost analyses conducted by the head of Pentagon acquisition programs in the late 1980s (independent of the SDI) estimated Brilliant Pebbles would cost $10 billion in 1988 dollars — about $20 billion today — for research, development, deployment, and 20 years of operations. A new Brilliant Pebbles program should cost even less while providing greater protection than all current U.S. land- and sea-based missile defenses.”
Again, just as Mike Griffin claimed.
But the Pentagon “powers that be” in early 1993 not only gutted Brilliant Pebbles, but also all the SDI efforts, so adamantly was opposition to Ronald Reagan’s SDI efforts.
They even ordered the return from Huntsville to several contractors their proposals to execute a fully-approved DemVal program for a Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) system approved by Congress. And they even made major cuts in Theater Missile Defense (TMD) development efforts in spite of claims that TMD was their top priority.
Instead of building needed defenses, they declared their allegiance to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty as the “cornerstone of strategic stability.” That treaty made vulnerability a virtue — and regrettably that perspective remains alive and well, even though President George W. Bush withdrew from its terms in 2002.
No doubt that perspective still underpins much of the exaggerated claims of high costs for building the most cost-effective product of the SDI era (1983-93).
A new 21st century Brilliant Pebbles program at even less cost should provide greater protection than all current U.S. land- air- and sea-based missile defenses, while protecting the U.S. homeland, our overseas troops, and our friends and allies against ballistic missiles of all types — including against EMP attacks.
It would invert the current, pricey dynamic that favors our enemies’ less expensive offensive technology. Moreover, it would enhance our deterrence policy, particularly as a central element of “deterrence by denial” (the ability to defend and protect vitally important targets).
Moreover, Brilliant Pebbles would also support other vital U.S. national-security missions and protect the critical space assets on which practically all U.S. military operations depend.
Reagan understood missile defense would help make America as great and safe as it could be. President Trump’s Space Force should follow through on that vision, and other powers that be should follow his lead.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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