USs Star Wars anti-missile flop – what Biden could learn from failed Russia deterrent

Ukraine: Russian tanks appear to be struck by missiles in Kharkiv

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Russia has continued its unrelenting assault on Ukraine in May, with the conflict now approaching its third month. Western powers have helped shape the battle from afar, with countries sending technology and weapons to aid Volodymyr Zelensky’s fighters. Their actions have earned them backlash from Russian premier Vladimir Putin, who has raised the spectre of nuclear conflict.

Over the last few months, Putin has threatened western nations with “repercussions” for helping Ukraine and likened sanctions programmes to a declaration of war.

He has leveraged Russia’s status as a prolific nuclear power to muscle Ukraine’s would-be allies, triggering discussions about his country’s capabilities.

Russian officials have claimed they have a supply of “hypersonic” missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads at Mach 5, 3836.35mph.

No existing defence system could take down such advanced weaponry, leaving Putin’s enemies uniquely threatened.

They would have to utilise never-before-seen technology to intercept them,

In this case, they could look to the US for inspiration, as the country famously attempted to create a landmark system during the Cold War.

President Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defence “Star Wars” Initiative in 1983.

At a low point during US-Russian relations, he called on American scientists in a public address on March 23 to “give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete”.

His administration proposed a space-borne satellite system paired with US ground defences.

The proposal would see satellites track any warheads bound for America and feed information back to officials below.

After pinpointing them, US missiles would intercept the incoming objects before they could detonate.

Ultimately, this would leave Russia with a useless warhead stockpile, which at the time was in the five-figure range.

But the US dismantled the initiative in 1993 after evidence showed it had failed to dissuade Russia from developing its nuclear stockpile.

While the plans didn’t pan out, defence experts have brought up the need for western powers to alter their current approach with bold new initiatives.

Speaking from a conference discussing the threat of hypersonic missiles, Dr Tom Karako, a Senior Fellow in ISP at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), outlined how the US and its allies would need to change.

He told attendees on February 9 that the threat would require “considerable change” for the US military.

The solution to intercepting hypersonic missiles would include a need for “different defence designs, new sensing in our interceptor capabilities, different concepts, and doctrinal organisational changes” on top of “modified policy expectations”.

Dr Karako added that any work to create trailblazing technology for downing hypersonic missiles would need to be collaborative.

He said: “This is also not something that the United States can do alone.

“This is something we must do with numerous allies and partners.”

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