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Trump to call for big boost in US missile defense capability during Pentagon visit

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing the Section 232 Proclamations on Steel and Aluminum Imports during a ceremony at the White House Thursday, March 8, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

President Donald Trump will visit the Pentagon on Thursday to announce the results of the Defense Department’s long-anticipated review of its ability to protect the homeland and forces abroad from missile attacks, senior administration officials said Wednesday.

Trump is expected to make a roughly 30-minute speech in the Pentagon auditorium in which he will outline that the United States is postured primarily to defend the homeland against potential missile attacks from rogue nations, primarily North Korea and Iran, which have ballistic missile capabilities, the officials from the White House said on the condition of anonymity. While the North Koreans have successfully demonstrated they possess weapons capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, Iran is only believed to be working on such missiles.

The president will “make a case for urgent investment in new and advanced anti-missile capability,” one official said. The Pentagon is expected to request more money for missile defense in its upcoming fiscal year 2020 budget proposal than the $15 billion that it received last year, an official said.

Thursday’s visit will mark Trump’s third time at the Pentagon as president and his first to the military’s headquarters in Arlington, Va. since his first defense secretary Jim Mattis resigned suddenly last month in protest over Trump policies, including the decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, among other top Pentagon and national security officials, is expected to attend Trump’s address.

The Missile Defense Review was ordered by Trump early in his presidency. It is the first official review of America’s missile defense posture since 2010, but its release has been delayed for more than a year, partially because officials expanded it to consider not only ballistic missile threats, but others including cruise missiles and developing hypersonic missiles capable of traveling in excess of Mach 5.

The United States’ layered anti-missile system includes land-, sea-, and space-based elements that detect, track and target incoming missiles and is capable of defending against a limited attack using intercontinental ballistic missiles, weapons that can travel more than 3,400 miles. But America still relies primarily on diplomacy and deterrence to dissuade attacks by more modern weapons under development by nations such as Russia and China, officials said.

“Effective deterrence is the preferred strategy to prevent missiles attack … however, a broader approach is required to address the increasingly complex missile-threat environment,” reads a summary of the report reviewed by Stars and Stripes before it was to be released Thursday.

Among the options under consideration to protect the United States from increasing missile threats are adding a third location of ground-based missile interceptors to the 40 in Alaska and four located in California, an official said. The United States is also working to advance its space-based, anti-missile systems to improve its tiered defense method.

The “multi-layers approach to preventing and defeating missiles attacks will move the United States towards a more flexible and balanced overall defense posture that provides the broadest set of options in a crisis or conflict and improve the overall likelihood to counter offensive missile attacks successfully,” the report states. “To do so, the United States will integrate active missile defenses with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and strike capabilities to counter regional offensive missile threats and rogue missile threats to the homeland.”


© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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