“We’ve been shockingly slow in coming back to space defense.”
Those were the words of Rep. Jim Cooper, D-TN, during the Defense One Tech Summit, held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on June 28. Cooper was joined by Trey Obering, former director of the Missile Defense Agency, on a panel focused on space, lasers, and missiles. For those in the room, the conversation was both sobering and reassuring when it came to America’s place in the new age Space Race.
If you’re of a certain age, you likely remember Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, which was dubbed the “Star Wars” initiative due to the popularity of those movies and public perception that war in space would only happen in a time far, far away.
It turns out that time has arrived.
In fact, Rep. Cooper referenced Reagan’s initiative when discussing how the United States’ interest in defending space was replaced by other, more pressing matters.
“We had 10,000 people devoted to this in the 1980’s, and now the total is only 600,” he said, referencing the 2000s War on Terrorism as a reason for the shift in priorities.
The biggest national security threat facing the United States in space, according to Obering, is the looming potential for Russia and China to use hypersonic missiles. The New York Times, in June, described hypersonic missiles as “unstoppable” and the catalyst for a new arms race.
In short, hypersonic missiles travel at 15 times the speed of sound with the maneuvering capabilities of a cruise missile. According to Obering, this is technology “the United States piloted while Russia and China weaponized it.”
This, of course, begs the question – what can the United States do about it?
“There’s no silver bullet here,” said Obering. “We must be able to track them before we destroy them.”
Both Obering and Rep. Cooper referred to emerging technologies that will aid in this cause, as well as the potential for satellites positioned around the world to help the Department of Defense track these hypersonic missiles.
“Our intercept has to be unbelievably quick,” said Rep. Cooper. “These missiles are guns that travel at light speed and fire infinite bullets.”
While that image is enough to scare anybody, both men said that there is positive momentum for the United States to combat the threat of hypersonic missiles and maintain its current position of dominance in space.
“We’ve been getting back to space defense slowly, but we’re getting there,” said Obering.
Rep. Cooper appeared to back President Trump’s decision to commission the Space Force, as a new branch of the military. He said the new Space Force would provide an avenue for those interested in space and defense to rise to positions where their expertise could help the United States improve our defense posture in space.
However, the most compelling part of the panel discussion may have come at the very end, when both men said there were technological developments outside of defense industry that were vitally important. When moderator Patrick Tucker, tech editor with Defense One, asked which industry, Obering responded, “Gaming,” over the stifled laughter of the audience.
“Gaming?” Tucker asked, incredulously.
“Absolutely,” said Obering, who cited the tremendous computing power being developed by video game consoles and companies to fuel increasingly detailed graphics in games. “We can harness that computing power, and translate it to our defense systems.”
Who knew the computing power of an Xbox may someday be used to protect our country from hypersonic missiles? It’s all part of the larger fight to ensure the United States remains dominant in space.