Similar to the much touted 1980s “Star Wars” space defense program, but envisioned as a cutting-edge surveillance tool rather than an offensive weapons platform, the network would seek to “develop a space-based sensor layer for ballistic missile defense,” according to a subcommittee of the US Armed Services Strategic Forces, cited by Defense News.
The orbital ballistic-missile surveillance network would provide “precision tracking data of missiles beginning in the boost phase and continuing throughout subsequent flight regimes,”and “serve other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements; and achieve an operational prototype payload at the earliest practicable opportunity,” according to the proposed legislation.
The legislation, if passed, would allow the US Defense Department one year to specifically outline the technical elements, estimated cost and projected timeline of a new space-based surveillance system to track ballistic missile launches around the world, as well as pinpoint the life-cycle of the program and predict maintenance and operational costs.
According to the proposal, existing technologies would be favored over developing new out-of-the-box tools, although there would be a budget for as-yet-undeveloped technologies, according to Defense One.
At a missile defense conference held earlier this year, several US defense officials, including Army Space and Missile Defense Commander Lieutenant General James Dickinson and US Northern Command Deputy Director of Operations Brigadier General Ronald Buckley, observed that it is necessary for Washington to quickly deploy missile-tracking sensor arrays into orbit around the Earth.
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The control of near-Earth orbital space is “fundamental for every single military operation that occurs on the planet today from satellites to GPS,” asserted Dickinson.
“As long as we continue to solely focus and rely on terrestrial-based sensors, there will be gaps and seams in our coverage,” Buckley added, cited by Defense News.
“Our adversaries are actively working to exploit any of these gaps and seams. I’m not saying that space isn’t without its flaws,” the general added. “But I believe it’s time we take a hard look at space as an option.”
The five previous presidential administrations have supported proposals for a space-based missile sensor network, but those proposals have never made it past the drawing board, primarily due to the lack of available proven technologies and a dearth of ready-money to develop those tools.