Recently in the print edition of Space News, Mike Gruss wrote a piece entitled, “Space-based interceptors still far, far away.” where he stated that “MDA is clearly not interested in travelling this path [toward space based missile defense interceptors], the little amount of work they’ve done thus far, beginning concept definition, is simply checking a box for Congress.” I think it would be well for those interested in topics such as these to understand a few things about the arena of space agencies and their support for, or lack thereof regarding programs.
First, let me start off by saying that just because Vice Admiral Syring, the MDA Director is quoted as having “serious concerns about the technical feasibility of the interceptors in space, and [he] has serious concerns about the long term affordability of a program like [this]”, does not necessarily mean that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director personally doesn’t like the idea of the program or that the engineers and scientists and military professionals within the agency are not supportive of pursuing test demonstrations of space-based interceptors, making a statement that broad without much context may give readers a false assertion that only a few Congressmen and Senators want these defense systems tested and eventually deployed. It does mean however, that as a head of a DoD agency with equity in the space policy and budget arena, has to work within the strategy and policy constraints provided by both the President’s administration as well as the budgetary constraints provided by the proposed president’s budget request (PBR) and what Congress actually provides each year. Agencies and services within the space arena of the Defense and Intelligence arena keep close watch on those two areas because of a few things. 1) Agencies do not want to be seen as mismanaging what they already have or appear to be constantly asking for budgetary increases, especially in an age of sequestration and HQ manpower cuts. 2) As a politically appointed military leader (as is the case for his senior appointed deputies) he has to operate as the leader of an agency designed to execute national policy, not to push his own agenda. Some might find that a bit strange, but if a senior leader hasn’t been given the green light and the budget to move ahead with ideas for space defenses, they are not usually going to speak for a program that the Commander in Chief and Secretary do not support, not if he wants to keep his job.
Second, I know from experience working with the various space agencies and services that there is interest to get more involved in space related missile defense missions in many areas lower on the totem pole, but for decades since the first Bush and later Clinton Administration (and without broad Congressional support till about 1996) throttled back on space based layer for strategic missile defense. National policy has prevented the U.S. from pursuing this so far. Technical feasibility has always been an excuse for naysayers who aren’t particularly keen at deploying missile defenses into space, despite several successes in previous testing. Some groups such as High Frontier have been promoting it, and others like Secure World Foundation are mostly opposed to such things. So, just because one day an Admiral states that he has “concerns” does not mean that MDA will never been doing these things. If Congress puts this money and policy language into a bill that the President signs, things could change. Especially with all that has been happening in space and in the proliferation of missile borne threats.
We will see how this plays out, but I don’t think its as cut and dry as Mr. Gruss paints it in his article.