Congress is ordering the Pentagon to immediately begin construction of space-based missile interceptors to counter increasing threats from North Korea, Iran, and other countries with advanced missile technology, according to new legislation viewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
The space-based interceptor program—a plan for the United States to deploy satellites into space capable of destroying ballistic missiles before they even take flight—has been on ice for years due to repeated delays by the Pentagon.
Congressional frustration over the issue has been mounting for some time, leading Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to push a new legislative measure to cut through the red tape and order the Pentagon to immediately begin construction on the advanced missile defense system.
Cruz is the author of an amendment to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, a mammoth yearly spending bill that funds American national security priorities, ordering the Pentagon to begin building space-based interceptors within the next year, according to a copy of the measure obtained by the Free Beacon.
The measure alters current legislation on the books to push the Pentagon into beginning work on the project on a more immediate timeframe.
Cruz told the Free Beacon that congressional gridlock handicapped the program for too long.
"The Defense Department has long recognized the benefits of intercepting missiles during their boost phase, including and especially nuclear ICBMs that could be used to threaten the American homeland," Cruz said. "For the last several years, however, partisan division and bureaucratic inertia have prevented us from taking the critical steps to develop this technology, which is necessary to protect the American people from the weapons being stockpiled by our adversaries at this very moment. I was deeply gratified that both Republicans and Democrats joined me in removing these barriers and paving the way for effective space-based missile interceptors."
Cruz has been leading efforts to cut through red tape delaying the program for several years, even petitioning Secretary of Defense James Mattis as recently as February to expedite work on the interceptors.
"I remain concerned that we have not developed or fielded the requisite capabilities to intercept ballistic missiles in their most vulnerable stage of flight," Cruz wrote in the letter. "In order to credibly reinforce deterrence in the twenty-first century, America must deploy a space-based intercept (SBI) layer that can look down on the ascending threat from the moment of launch, feed information in real-time, and engage the ascending missile during boost phase. This will present more time and intercept opportunities to the United States."
Growing threats from China, North Korea, and Iran require the United States to go further in its missile defense. Employing a space-based interceptor would provide the United States with the ability to counter a ballistic missile in the early stages of its flight path, making it easier to destroy the weapon before it comes close to American territory.
"Given the metastasizing nuclear threat from North Korea, Iran's pursuit of atomic weapons, the growing development of anti-access/area denial capabilities in the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea, and great power competition in space, the case for urgently pursuing a space-based intercept capability has never been stronger," Cruz wrote in the letter. "Recent investments from China and Russia in missile technology like hypersonic glide vehicles that circumvent our current missile defense architecture further underscore the potential value of a space-based layer for boost phase."
Rebeccah Heinrichs, a national security and missile defense expert at the Hudson Institute, noted in a recent essay that the weaponization of space is already underway, with America's enemies looking to exploit the country's failures in this new area.
"Adversaries are exploiting U.S. vulnerabilities in space in a variety of ways but in particular, adversaries are advancing in the area of missile development including direct-ascent anti-satellites," wrote Heinrichs, also the author of a recent Hudson Institute report urging the United States to move quicker to install systems such as the space-based interceptors backed by Cruz. "Indeed, this is a new missile era. Adversaries are heavily investing in missiles including of particular concern, hypersonics."
"To close the gaping holes in U.S. defensive capabilities the United States must fully utilize space across domains to protect what the United States values most: the U.S. homeland, deployed forces, allies, and assets located in space," Henrichs writes. "Specifically, it is time for the United States to move from a policy of providing a limited missile defense capability to one that is robust, and the most effective ways to do that is to deploy a satellite constellation in space that provides sensor coverage as well as a kinetic kill capability."
Update 4:09 p.m.: This piece has been updated with comment from Sen. Cruz.