SMDC History: December 7

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Historical OfficeDecember 6, 2017

SMDC History: December 7
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

"December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy…" -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a speech to the joint Congress, December 8, 1941. Even as President Roosevelt addressed Congress to ask for a declaration of war, he reassured the nation that "As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense."

Sixteen years later in the midst of the Cold War, the threat had changed with the introduction of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. In response to this threat, the Army Ordnance Corps authorized a new organization, the Redstone Anti-Missile Missile Systems Office tasked to develop the Nike-Zeus anti-ballistic missile system to provide a defense against this evolving threat.

Since its establishment in October 1957, then, the mission of this command has been to defend the nation with the development and deployment of a national missile defense.

As the needs of the nation have evolved, so too has the missile defense mission. In 1967, with the proliferation of both ICBMs and nuclear weapons, the nation's leaders decided to deploy a system (Sentinel) to provide a defense for 17 urban and industrial regions across the nation.

Two years later, following a strategic reassessment by a new administration, the deployment concept was revised and a new Safeguard program was developed which programmed 12 sites to provide a defense of the Air Force's Minuteman ICBM sites.

These were followed in the 1980s by the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, a non-nuclear multi-tiered concept designed to defend the nation from a large-scale, nuclear attack.

Even as the command developed the SDI's interceptors, sensors and radars, architecture studies were developed to address means to defend forward deployed sources for shorter-range tactical ballistic missiles.

In 1990, this theater missile defense concept was validated during Operation Desert Storm as many casualties were attributed to attacks by unsophisticated SCUD missiles. The missile defense mission would expand again in the 1990s to address the growing threat produced by the increased use of cruise missiles. The concepts of national missile defense and theater missile defense were soon well established.

By 2000, however, with the evolution and proliferation of technology, the circumstances had changed. As commanding general of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, Lt. Gen. John Costello noted, land attack cruise missiles and tactical ballistic missiles, launched from off-shore platforms could pose a threat to the nation.

Thus the weapons to protect against such a threat would be providing a national missile defense. Or to paraphrase one former commander, the only distinction between national and theater missile defense is where you are standing.

On December 7, 2000, then, speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium in El Paso, Texas, Costello introduced a new operational concept for a globally integrated missile defense.

Explaining that "the line between theater and global missile capabilities will become increasingly blurred as countries begin developing the delivery to reach the United States and threat our allies," he sought "to change the way we look at our ability to counter missile threats."

Costello noted that theater commanders and the U.S. Space Command already use the same satellite constellations and early warning networks to provide alerts on potential attacks.

He further added there was a "tremendous degree of commonality between tactical missile defense, cruise missile defense and national missile defense," but concluded that this was not enough. To be truly effective in the future, the nation needed to plan for a completely interoperable system of systems -- a globally integrated missile defense.

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