WASHINGTON — Fifteen House Republicans are urging U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to support plans for boost-phase missile defense and a space-based missile intercept layer backed by the 2018 defense authorization law.
“Mr. Vice President, as you know, a reliable boost phase missile defense capability will cause a paradigm shift in our strategic posture, dramatically strengthening the United States’ position with rogue nations such as North Korea and near-peer competitors such as Russia and China,” the letter reads.
“Furthermore, a space-based missile defense layer will provide the U.S. with the ultimate high ground,” the letter continues.
Signed by House Armed Services subcommittee chairs Mike Rogers, of Alabama, Mike Turner, of Ohio, and Elise Stefanik, of New York, the Dec. 7 letter was led by Trent Franks, of Arizona, before he resigned from Congress.
The language in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which Trump signed Tuesday, mandates the Missile Defense Agency begin research on space-based interceptors, focus on boost-phase defenses and reestablish the space test bed for demonstrating the relevant technologies — if such a program is consistent with the administration’s ongoing Ballistic Missile Defense Review.
Though President Donald Trump directed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in January to conduct the review, the letter asserts the review is under Pence’s stewardship. The signatories asked Pence — who chairs the National Space Council — to ensure the review “comes out strongly, and unequivocally, in favor of the boost phase missile defense plan and space-based missile intercept layer plan” outlined in the NDAA.
“Vice President Pence has consistently expressed an interest in improving national defense, missile defense capacity, and space-related matters,” said Rogers’ press secretary, Shea Snider Miller. “The letter was addressed to him in his role as a strong advocate in these overlapping issue sets.”
Other lawmakers have in recent days added pressure to develop future defense architecture in space as the missile threat from North Korea has reached new levels. Earlier this month, Pyongyang tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of ranges threatening America’s west and east coasts.
Senate Armed Services Committee members Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, asked lead Senate appropriators to designate $100 million for the rapid development and deployment of new kinetic boost-phase missile defense technology.
The two authorizers, in a Dec. 1 letter, said they want the money earmarked for a project for the high-altitude, long-endurance kinetic boost-phase intercept. The system could use existing long-endurance drones to shoot down North Korean ICBMs — and could be built within 12-18 months, they said.
Following a successful test in May of America’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense system — designed to defeat ICBM threats from North Korea and Iran — then-MDA Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring said the performance of the system allows the U.S. to outpace the threat from North Korea at least through 2020.
Still, Syring told lawmakers then that he was concerned with America’s ability to continue outpacing the growing threat from North Korea.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.