The Trump administration is considering ways to expand U.S. homeland and overseas defenses against a potential missile attack, possibly adding a layer of satellites in space to detect and track hostile targets.
The Trump approach is expected to include emphasis on stopping missiles either before they are launched or in the first few minutes of flight when their booster engines are still burning. Congress already has directed the Pentagon to push harder on this “boost-phase” approach, which might include the use of drones armed with lasers.
John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said last year that a space-based layer of missile-tracking sensors would not mark a big shift in American policy or as a security threat to others like Russia or China.
“It watches, it detects what others are doing. I don’t regard it as a provocative act to observe the missile flights of missiles that are potentially threatening to the United States,” Rood said in September. “I don’t think having a sensor capability is a sea change for the United States,” he added, without stating directly that the Trump administration will pursue this.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said he expects the missile defense review to endorse an expanded role for missile defenses to counter certain Russian and Chinese missiles, especially those that could threaten U.S. allies in Asia and Europe.
“This is likely to stimulate them to accelerate offensive missile programs, like hypersonic vehicles, that can evade our missile defense,” Kimball said.
Any expansion of the scope and cost of missile defenses would compete with other defense priorities, including the billions of extra dollars the Trump administration has committed to spending on a new generation of nuclear weapons. An expansion also would have important implications for American diplomacy, given longstanding Russian hostility to even the most rudimentary U.S. missile defenses and China’s worry that longer-range U.S. missile defenses in Asia could undermine Chinese national security.