Jan 17, 2019 | 21:01 GMT

2 mins read

U.S.: An Updated Missile Defense Strategy for a New Arms Race

The Big Picture

Russia and China are developing cutting-edge weapons technologies as part of an emerging great power arms race with the United States. The Trump administration's Missile Defense Review arrives as the United States increasingly focuses on bolstering its defenses against this emerging great power competition.

What Happened

U.S. President Donald Trump introduced the latest U.S. Missile Defense Review during a Jan. 17 visit to the Pentagon. The review, which initially was expected to be released in 2017, has been described as a "try everything" approach to expanding the nation's missile defenses. It calls for additional testing of the ground- and ship-based SM-3 Block IIA interceptor (part of the Aegis program) to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles, evaluating the feasibility of using the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to track and hunt mobile missile units, exploring the use of directed-energy weapons to destroy missiles during their boost phase with high-energy lasers or high-powered microwaves and expanding the use of sensors in space to detect ballistic missile launches. The new missile defense strategy also seeks a six-month study to examine the use of space-based interceptors.

Why It Matters

Detecting, tracking and destroying incoming missiles from Iran, North Korea and other regional threats are key elements of U.S. missile defense strategy. The Trump administration's review also looks at new investments in technologies to defeat Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles and other next-generation weapons. Missile defense is expensive, technologically difficult and imperfect. This is especially true when applied against Russia and China, both of which can simultaneously launch multiple ballistic missiles to overwhelm U.S. defenses. But the latest Missile Defense Review reflects an evolving U.S. missile defense strategy that is part of a wider arms race within the great power competition between the United States, Russia and China. Moscow and Beijing have historically been paranoid about U.S. missile defense capabilities; an expanded missile defense strategy will galvanize them to further develop and expand their own weapons capabilities.


The last Missile Defense Review was released in 2010. The Trump administration's review follows a report released on Jan. 15 by the Defense Intelligence Agency warning that China was leading in the development of hypersonic weapons, which can beat all forms of current missile defense technology.

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