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Ballistic Missile Defense - 1974 to 1983

On 20 May 1974, the Army established the Ballistic Missile Defense Advanced Technology Center (BMDATC). The same General Order established. The BMDATC, a field operating agency under the BMD Program Manager replaced the ABMDA. On 1 March 1975, the BMDATC received its own mission, to "formulate and execute approved BMD programs of exploratory and advanced development in BMD technology within the guidance and direction of the BMD Program Manager."11 In addition, it would "(a) provide the advanced technology foundation for improving ballistic missile defense capability; (b) provide a measure of the BMD technology art to avoid technological surprise by an adversary; and (c) assist in the development and assessment of future U.S. strategic offensive systems." Specifically the BMDATC focused on five technology areas: discrimination, data processing. optics, radar, and interceptors.

The period between 1974 and 1983 began with declining interest in BMD initiatives as demonstrated by the decision to cancel the SAFEGUARD program and to redirect the Site Defense program. The decision was also made to move the Homing Overlay Experiment (HOE) into "high gear" and accelerate development of a defense for U.S. ICBMs.13 Although no longer in the forefront of military proposals, the BMD effort was not totally abandoned. In 1976, Secretary of Defense Schlesinger testified to the Senate that "we must continue a BMD effort of significant breadth and depth to ensure that we can keep pace with the continuing Soviet BMD efforts and improvements." He added, "Our continued effort is essential not only as a hedge against a sudden abrogation of the ABM Treaty, but also because our demonstrable competence in this field will continue to motivate the Soviet Union to negotiate additional limits on strategic arms."

Two years later, amid growing concerns about Soviet missile capabilities, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Research & Engineering (Strategic and Space Systems) placed specific emphasis on "near-term defense concepts and technologies applicable to defense of our land-based missile forces in the 1980s." At the same time, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, in his report to Congress, observed, "An aggressive BMD R&D program is vital to this nation's interest." Brown added that the technological base developed by the Systems Technology and Advanced Technology programs provided cost-effective alternatives for "maintaining survivability of our strategic retaliatory elements in the ICBM threat environment."

The BMDO subsequently received orders to conduct a Minuteman Defense II study. While briefing the U.S. Congressional Budget Analysts, the BMD Program Manager explained, "The restrictions on deployment previously were thought to be such that a treaty-limited deployment would not be worthwhile. However, due to advancing technology, this is no longer true and a limited deployment can be useful." Meanwhile, BMDO summarized their program as an effort "to provide a hedge against the strategic uncertainties associated with the ballistic missile threat to the United States." They further explained that BMD research and development served "to keep the U.S. abreast of the potentialities of new component and system technologies to guard against Soviet technological surprise or a perception on their part of sufficient technological advantage to suggest the attractiveness of abrupt ABM Treaty abrogation."

Although BMDO was limited by funding constraints and the Congressional ban on prototyping that remained in effect until 1981, it did achieve a number of breakthroughs in these years. The two primary elements of the BMD program, the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) and the Systems Technology Program (STP), worked together to develop and evaluate innovative means to address BMD. As Major General Robert Creel, the BMD PM, explained, "From the ATP we want a futuristic, imaginative search for better ways to do the BMD job, while from the STP we require an objective evaluation of systems applications of emerging components and concepts."18 In addition to traditional interceptors and sensors, BMDO scientists and engineers explored and validated new technologies to achieve its missions. Some of these instrumental initiatives are examined below.

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