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New Space Treaty Could Kill Missile Defense

Treaty could scrap the "terminal high altitude area defense" interceptor.

11:30 AM, Jun 29, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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The THAAD (terminal high altitude area defense) interceptor has been maligned for years as a failed, overly expensive missile defense system. That's mostly due to the missile's volatile initial testing phases during the mid-1990s, when the program was wrought with failure after failure -- not unusual for the testing cycle of any new weapon system, particularly one as sophisticated as THAAD. In early 2000, Lockheed engineers went back to the drawing board, worked out the bugs, and were back launching the hyper-accurate interceptor by 2005. There hasn't been a test failure since (just yesterday there was another successful intercept), a record sturdy enough for the Army to stand up two batteries of the critical system in the past two years. The launchers were designed explicitly to intercept SCUD type missiles, and are also capable of killing an ICBM payload when it's in the terminal phase of flight. Given the widespread proliferation of ballistic missiles, the need for such a weapon is pressing.

It's a shame then, that President Obama could inadvertently ban the THAAD system through yet another constricting treaty -- and I'm not talking about the START follow-on. Yesterday the New York Times reported that: 

The Obama administration on Monday unveiled a space policy that renounces the unilateral stance of the Bush administration and instead emphasizes international cooperation, including the possibility of an arms control treaty that would limit the development of space weapons.

In recent years, both China and the United States have destroyed satellites in orbit, raising fears about the start of a costly arms race that might ultimately hurt the United States because it dominates the military use of space. China smashed a satellite in January 2007, and the United States did so in February 2008.

The new space policy explicitly says that Washington will “consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.”

The State Department says details are forthcoming, but this sounds like a veiled reference to the PAROS treaty (prevention of arms race in outer space) or--at the very least--a like-minded document. Because certain types of ballistic, air-launched, and ship-launched missiles can be modified to kill satellites, such a treaty would be devastating to the national security and military capabilities of the United States (and all but kill missile defense). THAAD interceptors, which meet their targets just outside the atmosphere, would almost certainly be banned by a PAROS style treaty. Like the START follow-on, we'd be doing most of the cutting, instead of powers like Russia and China--while entrusting our vast commercial and military space assets to the good faith of adversarial regimes. It would be best to kill any restrictive space treaty before it gets off the ground.

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