A key proponent for space capabilities on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is pushing for the Pentagon to more rapidly go after space-based missile defense capabilities required to match peer competitors’ increasing investment in hypersonic weapons. 

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) told attendees at a Thursday Defense One event there’s bipartisan HASC support for the Pentagon to continue exploring high-energy directed energy weapons and networked satellite systems required to take down next-generation missile threats.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.)

“We are not rushing to militarize space. Things like China’s [2007 anti-satellite missile test] really put us on notice, and we’ve been incredibly slow to react,” Cooper said. “We are coming to space defense slowly and reluctantly, and we’re not pursuing space militarization except really as a defensive means.”

Cooper noted hypersonics weapons’ maneuverability factor that will force the Pentagon to go after space-based tracking capabilities that were necessarily required for the straight trajectory for ballistic missiles. 

“Well-positioned satellites, probably a network of them, are going to be super important. DARPA and other agencies have been working on this for some time. It’s imminently achievable. We need to rush the timetable so that we are fully protected,” Cooper said.

HASC matched the president’s budget request for missile defense spending in its proposal for the next defense policy, with Cooper citing the committee’s bipartisan agreement on space-based capability concerns.

“The big story here is how little division there is between the two political parties on these issues. The president’s budget requested $11.4 billion for missile defense, and even the Democratic House Armed Services Committee gave $11.3 billion,” Cooper said. “No nation is dominant in this, so far. We need to make sure that we become dominant in time, and I believe there’s still plenty of time to do that.”

Trey Obering, Booz Allen Hamilton’s [BAH] lead executive for directed energy and a former director of the Missile Defense Agency, joined Cooper on his panel and reiterated the need for a space-based layer of defense with high energy lasers to protect against future missile threats.

“Ten years ago, I could not tell you I see a path ahead for a space-based laser. I can see that today with the technologies that are emerging from our companies as well as our national labs,” Obering said. “I think we are five to 10 years, at the most, from being able to do that, and I think it solves a lot of the problems that we’re going to be facing as we meet these peer threats.”

Obering said he has seen particular advances from the private sector in laser power scaling and beam quality for directed energy weapons. 

Cooper said in the short-term, the Pentagon should explore using drones equipped with laser capabilities for missile takedowns and expand the number of ranges used for testing hypersonics technologies. 

“You need, essentially, a gun that has infinite bullets, and bullets that travel at light speed. That’s what a laser does,” Cooper said.