Trump Unveils Ambitious Missile Defense Plans The strategy, reminiscent of the Cold War-era Star Wars program, calls for new sensors in space, updated missile interceptors and advanced weapons, including lasers.
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Trump Unveils Ambitious Missile Defense Plans

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Trump Unveils Ambitious Missile Defense Plans

Trump Unveils Ambitious Missile Defense Plans

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump was at the Pentagon today to unveil his administration's new strategy for missile defense.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our goal is simple - to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

SHAPIRO: Joining us to discuss how the president plans to meet this goal is NPR's Geoff Brumfiel. Hi, Geoff.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: So I guess the first question is, who is the U.S. defending itself against? What is the specific threat here?

BRUMFIEL: Well, the names are pretty familiar. There's Iran and North Korea. North Korea is still considered an extraordinary threat according to this report despite the recent overtures towards peace by the Trump administration. But then also, notably, this report explicitly calls out Russia and China. And this is really a bit of a change. Russia and China have sort of - U.S. officials have shied away from naming them as threats in previous reports.

SHAPIRO: Russia and China have lots of missiles obviously, so why weren't they already part of the strategy before now?

BRUMFIEL: Well, the problem with defending against their missiles with missile defense is they have so many. They could overwhelm the system. And so basically previous administrations haven't wanted to aggravate Russia and China. They haven't wanted to sort of provoke them. So they've always said this missile defense is about places like Iran and North Korea. Russia and China - we counter with all our missiles. If they fire at us, we'll fire at them. So, you know, that's sort of been the traditional way we talk about this.

And this report still does some of that, but here's the thing. Russia and China have also been developing missiles to specifically counter U.S. missile defenses. So these are things like hypersonic weapons that can travel over five times the speed of sound. And Russia has a design for a nuclear-powered cruise missile with infinite range, which is kind of a crazy thing. But they are working on it. And so now Trump said today that the U.S. would invest directly in countering these new systems. Critics worry this looks a lot like an arms race.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Those weapons sound potentially terrifying. What exactly is the U.S. calling for to counter that?

BRUMFIEL: Well, initially it's all pretty modest and kind of keeping with the normal line. They call for 20 new interceptor missiles at a base in Fort Greely, Alaska. It also calls for a new system to track missiles in space or from space using satellites. Further down the line, there's more advanced stuff, things like lasers to shoot down missiles. And it sort of sounds a bit more like Ronald Reagan's Star Wars program from back in the 1980s.

SHAPIRO: Missile defense has had a spotty track record in the U.S. To make all of this stuff and make all of it work, what - how many billions of dollars are we talking about here?

BRUMFIEL: There's not really a good estimate for what we're talking about today. The lasers and stuff is all R&D, so it's hard to know.

SHAPIRO: Well, what does Trump say about how this will be paid for?

BRUMFIEL: Trump has a great sort of Trumpian response to this. He suggests our allies might pay for it. Here he was earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We protect all of these wealthy countries, which I'm very honored to do. But many of them are so wealthy. They can easily pay us the cost of this protection.

BRUMFIEL: But the truth is that really it's going to be the Congress who has to pony up for this, and that may be difficult with Democrats in the House. They're longtime skeptics of missile defense.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel, thanks a lot.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you so much.

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