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.”