North Korea's ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads and place them atop missiles with the range to hit mainland U.S. cities is a very large chicken coming home to roost courtesy of two world-class appeasers, President William Jefferson Clinton and President Barack Hussein Obama. One engineered a "nuclear framework" deal with North Korea. The other practiced "strategic patience" which loosely translated means "wake me up when they nuke Los Angeles."
Thanks largely to President George W. Bush and his push to fulfill President Ronald Reagan's dream, the continental United States and overseas allies are protected against missile attack by 36 deployed long-range Ground Based Interceptors (GBI), 32 Navy ships armed with over 100 SM-3 IA interceptors, and two dozen advanced SM-3 IB interceptors, dozens of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors, and eight X-band missile defense radars deployed abroad.
Sadly, it is not enough, and much less than President George W. Bush had in mind in fulfillment of President Ronald Reagan's dream of deterring nuclear missile attack rather than avenging it. We can hit their bullets with our bullets but the problem is that our adversaries collectively have too many bullets and sometimes our bullets miss.
Fortunately, there is a move in the Senateto upgrade and expand our missile defense, you know, the Senate currently on vacation as North Korea kicks its tires and lights its fires:
A measure in the Senate has more than two dozen co-sponsors and would upgrade the current ground-based interceptor system used to protect the homeland and also order concept work on a space-based sensor layer that can track missile threats.
Another plan, by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, calls for a space-based interceptor system to defeat the nuclear threat from North Korea…
A $696 billion NDAA passed by the full House last month requires the Pentagon to start developing "a space-based sensor layer for ballistic missile defense." The full Senate has yet to vote on the NDAA…
On the Senate side, Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is leading the bipartisan effort to potentially more than double the number of anti-ballistic missile interceptors in the nation's current GMD system…
At the same time, Cruz, the former GOP presidential hopeful, wrote in an op-ed in Tuesday's Washington Postthat the U.S. needs a space-based interceptor system to defeat the nuclear threat from North Korea. In 2009, the Bush administration advocated a space "test bed" of interceptors as a defensive layer but it ultimately was rejected.
President Reagan envisioned as part of his Strategic Defense Initiative a layered missile defense designed to track, target, and destroy incoming missiles in all phases of their flight. Destroying them in their boost phase is best, before the warheads and their decoys are deployed before reentry towards their targets. That included ground and sea-based interceptors. SDI also envisioned reusable missile defense, systems that could fire repeatedly, such as lasers, rather than one-and-done kill vehicles.
Recently, a missile defense test in which a ground-based interceptor successfully intercepted an ICBM over the Pacific was both a warning to North Korea and another indication America is back. The test was in the works before Trump took office but it comes in an administration welcoming improvements in missile defense versus the prior Obama administration that used back-channels to try to give it away to Putin and the Russians. As the Washington Examinerreported:
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency successfully shot down a dummy warhead in space over the Pacific Ocean Tuesday during a test of a missile defense system that would protect the country from intercontinental ballistic missiles like the ones being developed by North Korea.
"During the test, an ICBM-class target was launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands," said a statement from the agency. "A ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and its exo-atmospheric kill vehicle intercepted and destroyed the target in a direct collision."
The irony of the interceptor being launched from a facility with Ronald Reagan's name on it should escape no one. President Reagan dreamt of a multilayered missile defense most derided as "Star Wars". He dreamed of preventing or deterring a nuclear attack, not merely avenging one. Perhaps he might have also had in mind the danger posed from rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran.
We see Reagan's legacy in the Aegis missile cruisers and destroyers that can be deployed in troubled waters around the globe. We see it in the THAAD theater missile defense recently deployed to South Korea. All of this President Barack Hussein Obama opposed.
Missile defense systems are systems which President Obama has long opposed as "Cold War" weapons. Soon after taking office, President Obama scuttled plans for ground-based missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.
When President Obama took office in January, 2009, sitting on his desk were President George W. Bush's plans for the deployment of ground-based missile interceptors, such as are deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska, in Poland as well as missile defense radars in the Czech Republic, As Investor's Business Dailynoted over a year ago, President Obama had other plans and his betrayal of our allies was ironically exquisite:
Yet within hours of Medvedev's election as president in 2008, the Russian announced that Moscow would deploy SS-26 missiles in his country's enclave of Kaliningrad situated between our NATO allies Poland and Lithuania.
He wanted the U.S. to abandon plans to deploy missile interceptors in Poland and warning radars in the Czech Republic designed to counter a future threat from Iran.
What did President Obama do? He caved in and notified the Poles in a midnight phone call on Sept. 17, 2009 -- the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's invasion of Poland -- that we were pulling the plug on that system due to Russian objections.
Putin then watched in 2012 as Obama promised Medvedev at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, that after his re-election he would have more "flexibility" to weaken missile defense, which would help him fulfill his dream of U.S. disarmament.
Obama opposed any modernization or expansion of U.S. defenses against missiles or anything else. In his eyes, weapons caused wars just as guns cause crime. Reagan had a mantra of we win, they lose. Obama's mantra was don't attack us and we won't defend ourselves. He laid out his philosophy in a 2008 campaign video:
In a video made for the group Caucus for Priorities, Obama pledged:
"I will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons. To seek that goal, I will not develop new nuclear weapons; I will seek a global ban on the production of fissile material; and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBMs off hair-trigger alert, and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenals."
It is one campaign promise he has kept.
One of the missile defense weapons systems we could dearly use now that Obama opposed was the Airborne Laser or ABL. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently spoke on the need to revive missile defense in all its form as a way of getting a nuclear edge over North Korea:
First: We have to develop two new kinds of anti-ballistic missile systems. One is to take the experiments we've had with airborne lasers... so that any time we're worried about a North Korean launch, we can kill it on the way up...
Second, we should reach back to the Reagan years, take the space based concept, which was then called Brilliant Pebbles... You want to have more than one shot...
You need some kind of space based system where you can get 30-40 shots at this thing as it goes through the whole ballistic parabola.
Why try to hit a bullet with a bullet in the first place? How about deploying the missile defense version of body armor combined with a Gatling gun? The Airborne Laser or ABL would be a mobile and reusable missile defense system deployable in every crisis in every corner of the globe.
The ABL was a modified Boeing 747-400F equipped with a megawatt-class, high-energy Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) designed to destroy ballistic missiles in their very vulnerable boost phase, missiles such as Iran's North Korea's. Imagine the shift in the strategic balance in our favor with them patrolling the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait, or off the Korean Peninsula.
Anyone who witnessed the tragic launch of the shuttle Challenger in 1986 can see the vulnerability of missiles in their launch phase. ABL aircraft would patrol in pairs at 40,000 feet, flying in orbits over friendly airspace or international waters, scanning the horizon for plumes of rising missiles. The ABL would acquire and track the missile with a tracking laser while computers calculate the distance to and trajectory of the target.
A second laser with weapons-class strength would fire a three- to five-second burst from a turret located in the 747s nose, destroying the missile over its launch site. The ABL's big chemical oxygen iodine laser is designed to reach out over 200 miles, maintaining beam focus and stability, and still have enough power to heat a ballistic missile to destruction.
Unlike its fixed site cousins, the ground-based interceptors deployed at Vandenberg Air Force base in California and at Ft. Greely, Alaska and (hopefully) Europe, ABL aircraft can be deployed where and when needed and are reusable. Not only can they patrol off unfriendly nations, they would be quite useful patrolling our shores.
At the initial rollout ceremony for the ABL system, Lt. Gen.Try Obering , the former director of the Missile Defense Agency, addressed the comparison of missile defense to Star Wars:
Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said he embraced early critics' comparison of the laser-equipped plane to the "Star Wars" movies.
"I believe we are building the forces of good to beat the forces of evil... We are taking a major step in giving the American people their first light saber," Obering told dignitaries and employees gathered for the ceremony.
May the force be with us.
Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor's Business Daily, Human Events, Reason magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.