Pentagon Wants to Develop Space-based Interceptors, Lasers to Shoot Down Enemy Missiles

Citing increased threats from Russia, China and rogue nations such as North Korea, the Department of Defense (DoD) is exploring whether it can develop orbital interceptors and high-energy lasers to shoot down enemy missiles during the boost phase of their flights.

“:Developing scalable, efficient, and compact high energy laser technology holds the potential to provide a future cost-effective capability to destroy boosting missiles in the early part of the trajectory,” the DoD said in a new report, Missile Defense Review, that was released last week.

“Doing so would leverage earlier technological advances, including for example advances in beam propagation and beam control,” the report added. “DoD is developing a Low-Power Laser Demonstrator to evaluate the technologies necessary for mounting a laser on an unmanned airborne platform to track and destroy missiles in their boost-phase.”

The report also discussed space-based sensors and interceptors that could detect launches, attack missiles, and confirm that the vehicles were destroyed. The Pentagon said their investigation of these measures could include on-orbit experiments and demonstrations.

“With the Space-based Kill Assessment (SKA) program, DoD is deploying a network of space-based infrared sensors that will provide an improved kill assessment capability to the missile defense system,” the review stated.

The report said China and Russia are developing diverse suites of anti-satellite (ASAT) ground-launched missiles and directed-energy weapons that could be used to cripple U.S. defense spacecraft.

“China has conducted multiple ASAT tests using ground-launched missiles, and, in fact, destroyed a satellite in orbit in 2007,” the review stated.

China and Russia also are launching satellites that conduct “sophisticated on-orbit activities to advance counterspace capabilities,” the review said. This is apparently a reference to spacecraft capable of maneuvering to examine U.S.satellites in peacetime or cripple them during a conflict.

Space-based sensors will also be crucial for detecting the flights of hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV) and advanced cruise missiles that operate within the atmosphere.

“DoD is pursuing enhanced ways and options to collect and process information from existing space-based and terrestrial sensors to track current and emerging cruise missile and HGV threats, and warn of an impending attack,” the report said. “This effort, which is now regionally focused, is a first step toward modernizing the U.S. early warning system against advanced missile threats to the homeland.”

  • Jeff Smith

    The strategic defense of America is so important that it deserves its own initiative. I propose that we prepare for war among the stars. This initiative should have an appropriately august name – Star Trek!

  • Aerospike

    hahaha 😀

    to bad that “Star Wars” was already taken by some other initiative 😉

  • Robert G. Oler

    the fantasy continues…more billions down the tube

  • Jeff2Space

    Of course they do. This after spending how many billions of dollars on missile interceptor programs?

    Honestly, I don’t know why mutually assured destruction isn’t “good enough”. I know, “rogue nations” and all that, but seriously, if a North Korean leader is stupid enough to use nuclear weapons, they’re going to be hit very hard in a counter strike. All the generals in North Korea know this. I would think a good old fashioned military coup would be in order if such an “illegal order” ever came down from the top.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Don’t count on it as he regularly executes anyone he even suspects will not obey him.

  • Jeff2Space

    On this we agree completely.

  • Jeff2Space

    The choice is between possible death due to a failed military coup versus certain death by retaliatory nuclear strike.

  • Robert G. Oler

    the North Korean leader is 1) not crazy and 2) has no intent on launching a nuclear strike with 3) weapons he does not have but 4) even if he had them he would not launch a nuke strike because see 1)

    the North is the latest “bogey” man that the US has felt the need to build up and confront since we had a testosterone overdose on 9/11…its like Saddams WMD…its from that Queen song

  • Robert G. Oler

    the strange thing is that we are in my view likely doing today what we did in the 1980’s ie choking off a budding commercial space build up

    in the 1980’s the first commercial space boom tried to happen..and it floundered in large measure because 1) the space shuttle failed and 2) federal spending went to projects that were just totally useless but consumed it all. Star Wars was one of them. I cannot recall what the final tally was in 80 dollars but it must have been close to 50 or so billion and almost all for nothing…a few useless radars are really all that remain

    today federal spending in space has accomplished two useful things 1) it has given Musk a chance with Falcon and 2) has spawned Dragon 2 and CST…meanwhile endless spending occurs on rat traps like SLS and Orion …and we want to redo Star Wars. sigh

  • ThomasLMatula

    You have that reversed as it would actually be certain death from a military coup verses possible death from a nuclear strike. Remember, they have spent the last 70 years digging deep bunkers, command posts and fallout shelters for the elite and military units.

  • duheagle

    The nascent commercial space industry of the 80’s and 90’s died because NASA wanted a monopoly for Shuttle and ruthlessly expunged any upstarts who would compromise that. Even Challenger only resulted in DoD payloads being allowed to fly on other rockets. It wasn’t until Columbia that NASA’s shuttle monopoly was buried.

    “Star Wars” was only “for nothing” because the technology developed during the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations was abandoned, undeployed, by Bill Clinton. Had it been deployed in the 90’s we wouldn’t now be in the condition of acute space asset and general strategic vulnerability we currently “enjoy.”

  • Jeff2Space

    So you think NK could launch a nuclear missile at a nuclear power and the military leaders would survive the counter strike?

  • Robert G. Oler

    thats fantasy…sorry I am working to get ready for a Cuba flight so I’ll just go to the last

    nothing developed in the Star Wars era was deployable…they tried a lot of systems but all of them failed, the airborne laser was the last gasp…it had no chance of working. all that remains is a few bulky and near useless radars that would be overwhelmed in a heart beat by any sustained attack.

    and besides who needs it …MAD works

  • gunsandrockets

    The collapse of the price of space launches (because of SpaceX) combined with the march of Moore’s Law now puts space based defenses into an entirely plausible economic realm. A radical difference compared to the environment of 1983.

  • duheagle

    There’s a fellow who has tangled with you repeatedly over on The Space Review who maintains that the particle beam weapon he worked on in the 80’s was both functional and deployable. Given that the Clinton administration disbanded SDI and declined to deploy any space-based systems derived from it, the question of whether or not any of its technologies would have “worked” can hardly be realistically said to have been settled.

    Whatever the virtues of MAD anent prevention of generalized nuclear war among the nuclear-armed nations of the world, that doctrine pretty clearly doesn’t apply in the far more restricted regime of defense of orbital space assets. Our enemies have functioning ASAT weapons and we don’t. That needs to change and soon.

  • Robert G. Oler

    He is making the claim it worked when there is nothing in the public realm to say it did…and if Clinton had cancelled such a weapon that worked some right wing nut job would be screaming loud and long with a lot of technobabble “proof”. As for an asat. We have the same capability that every other nation has. AEGIS cruisers have engaged and destroyed satellites. The rest of your post is less

  • ThomasLMatula

    The real question is do they believe that. Remember, before you are able to hit them you need to know what hole they are hiding in. Look at how many times they tried to get Saddam Hussein before some ground troops finally found him. By contrast the military leaders know by experience how quickly they will be grabbed and shot if they are even suspected of disloyalty.

  • Jeff2Space

    The US has 4,018 active nuclear warheads in its stockpiles. Let’s say the US retaliates with a mere 5% of that stockpile. I’m assuming that a sane NK general would be able to do this sort of math.

  • duheagle

    An Aegis cruiser destroyed a satellite that was already falling out of orbit so its altitude was, if anything, a bit lower than what a ballistic missile warhead’s would have been if intercepted by the same Standard missile. Both Russia and China have demonstrated vehicles that appeared to be direct-ascent anti-satellite test articles and which have achieved altitudes of operation all the way up to GEO. Then there are the mysterious Russian “creepersats” that sidle up to other satellites and fly in formation with them – also at all altitudes up to GEO. We have nothing in our current inventory that’s remotely similar to either of these. Our space-based assets all face Assured Destruction in the event of war, but there won’t be anything Mutual about it because we can’t return the favor.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Neither the Chinese or the Russians have demonstrated anything we dont have or could have rather quickly (like in a few weeks)…as for creep sats…we have those….they are all over GEO.

  • duheagle

    You live a rich and full fantasy life sir.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I think that if the U.S.A. hit North Korea with a couple of hundred nuclear weapons the Chinese, Russians, Japanese and South Koreans, who would all be down wind of the fallout, will not be pleased. One or two, maybe. But 200? What are you smoking?

  • Robert G. Oler

    To most people including I am sure you…what I do is fantasy. In two hours I’ll command my triple back to Istanbul after a wonderful day in Cuba…so from your perspective yes mine is rich 🙂

  • publiusr

    We got Clementine out of SDI after all.

    It amazes me how rock steady a rocket can be in a hover test.