The Pentagon has plans to deploy missile interceptors in space and Europe over the next several years, even though it requested little or no funding for these activities in its latest budget proposal in February.
Speaking April 11 to a Washington audience, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director lieutenant General Henry Obering said he did not know if space-based missile interceptors would work, but argued they are "worth the experimentation." The general asserted there was "a lot of attractiveness" about space-based interceptors because of the broad coverage they could provide and their potential quick-response capability to an enemy's missile launch.
Obering said MDA did not envision an extensive system of thousands of space-based weapons as that planned by the United States during the 1980s. Instead, he ventured that a possible system would number less than 60 space-based interceptors. He said fewer space-based interceptors would be required than previously conceived because they would constitute one layer of a multilayered U.S. defense, not the sole defense.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated in a report last July that a sufficient space-based system would require at least 130-1,800 interceptors to protect against missile launches from Iran and North Korea. Similarly, a study by the American Physical Society, which is the largest U.S. society of professional physicists, calculated in July 2003 that roughly 1,600 space-based interceptors would be required to provide full coverage against a missile launch by North Korea, Iraq, or Iran. (see ACT, October 2003.)
MDA is looking to begin exploring space-based interceptors in 2008. The Government Accountability Office, which conducts investigations for lawmakers, reported in March that MDA wants to conduct space-based intercept tests as early as 2012.
Two years ago, the Pentagon had estimated that it would try to have space-based interceptors available for testing by 2008, but then last fall called the concept "too speculative" to warrant consideration as part of an environmental impact …