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Trump's Missile Defense Review Calls for Space Sensors, Drone Lasers

President Donald Trump speaks about American missile defense doctrine, Thursday, Jan 17, 2019, at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks about American missile defense doctrine, Thursday, Jan 17, 2019, at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump called for the best cutting-edge missile defense weapons and systems at the Pentagon on Thursday as officials unveiled the long-delayed Missile Defense Review, the latest Defense Department blueprint addressing how the U.S. can best defend against missile threats from any source around the world.

"We will ensure that enemy missiles know no sanctuary on Earth or in the skies above," Trump said during a speech before service secretaries, lawmakers, troops and press in the Pentagon auditorium.

"We have some very bad players out there. We're a good player, but we can be a far worse player than anybody," he said. "We have the finest weapons in the world, and we're ordering the finest weapons in the world."

According to the review, the Pentagon believes it will need a mix of ground, air and space capabilities to stay ahead of advanced threats:

Space-based sensors:

DoD officials have long touted the use of space-based sensors, which would be able to monitor, detect and track missile launches. The Pentagon aims to track missile launches in their boost phase "from locations almost anywhere on the globe," according to the report.

The sensors "enjoy a measure of flexibility of movement that is unimpeded by the constraints that geographic limitations impose on terrestrial sensors, and can provide 'birth to death' tracking that is extremely advantageous," the report states.

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Trump on Thursday said the Pentagon's 2020 budget proposal will include a space-based missile defense layer. While the DoD in recent weeks said it has solidified a top-line figure, the formal budget proposal has yet to be released.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter:

The Pentagon wants to equip its latest and most advanced stealth fighter "with a new or modified interceptor capable of shooting down adversary ballistic missiles in their boost phase," the report states.

While the idea has drawn skepticism, Northrop Grumman conducted an experiment with the Missile Defense Agency in 2014, saying the plane could be retrofitted to track intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

Drone lasers:

Developing scalable laser beams and mounting them on globally operated drones, which have expanded loiter time, could also aid in detecting missile launches. Directed energy-detection weapons, such as lasers, microwaves or even particle beams, could act as a complementary enhancement, according to the report.

"High-energy lasers, for example, could burn through a missile's critical structures, control surfaces, and/or control systems, causing the missile to structurally fail or become uncontrollable," said Henry "Trey" Obering, an executive vice president at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton who leads the company's directed-energy innovation team.

Speaking broadly about laser-enhanced weapons overall, "These weapons reach targets at the speed of light and have much larger magazines, cost less per shot, and track targets with precision far beyond traditional kinetic weapons," Obering said in a release following Trump's speech Thursday.

"In fact, they would be able to kill multiple threat missiles with a single magazine versus having to fire multiple kinetic interceptors to kill a single threat missile, which becomes 'cost-imposing' for an adversary," he said.

Interceptors in space:

According to the review, scientists will study other enhanced space technologies, such as space-based interceptors or using interceptors in Earth's orbit to shut down ballistic missiles. "New DoD analysis will evaluate the possible effectiveness of space-based interceptor technologies and their cost-effectiveness when compared to other systems based on land, sea, and in the air," the report states.

Cruise and hypersonic missiles:

The review says the Pentagon must invest more in its own hypersonic and cruise missile technology, as well as ways to counter hypersonic missiles from encroaching into U.S. territory.

For example, last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that his country has developed "invincible" new nuclear weapons, including hypersonic missiles, that can penetrate U.S. defenses.

While the Pentagon is investing greatly in its own hypersonic missile technology, officials have not found surefire ways to defend the U.S. against a hypersonic missile threat.

"We don't have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat," Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, warned lawmakers last March.

Ground-based interceptor fields:

The U.S. is already moving forward with 20 new GBIs to be stationed in Alaska beginning in 2023. But the United States may decide to further increase its capacity of the Ground-Based, Mid-Course Defense (GMD) "beyond the currently planned force size of 64 GBIs," the report said. "The missile base in Ft. Greely, Alaska, has the potential for up to an additional 40 interceptors. In addition, building a new GBI interceptor site in the continental United States would add interceptor capability against the potential expansion of missile threats to the homeland, including a future Iranian ICBM capability."

Should the Pentagon want to move forward, it will decide on a site selection based on emerging threat conditions, the report states.

Speaking during the Missile Defense Review rollout, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan pointed to Russia and China, which are making advancements in their missile strategies.

"The rest of the world is not developing fighter or bomber aircraft. They are developing missiles," he said Thursday. However, it has been reported that both China and Russia are developing additional heavy and possibly stealth bombers for their fleets.

But it's the development of new adversary missiles that will be "harder to track, harder to defeat," Shanahan said.

"Missile defense necessarily includes missile offense," he said, adding that the U.S. will not provoke adversaries like Russia or China, but it will not ignore their developments either.

"This is the department of 'get stuff done,' " Shanahan said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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