Did some looking up and it is indeed a chemical-powered laser. I triple-dare the Air Force to tell us how many times it can fire before replacement. :-)
Okay, let's have a shot at ascent-phase BMD. The idea here is that rather than hitting the small, fast, relatively cold, whatall warhead when it's in midflight, you have a shot at it while it's taking off and still has the boosters on.
The good things about this: it's a good bit more likely. You have an easier target by far, and the missile probably has less of a shot at evading.
Bad things about this: okay, there are a lot of different boost-phase designs. Many of them involve the sort of systems we are hoping to use in theater defense, positioned relatively near the launch site- intercepting missiles. Others include a possible use of the air force's airbone laser, or a space-based laser.
Now, how much easier is the target? Against lasers (as opposed to explosives) it does seem like there's some leeway for hardening the missile, which would need to either be very good at reflection and heat-dispersion, or be able to take a substantial hit. To date we've mostly filled our launchers with all the payload they can carry, which doesn't leave room for something like armored plating, but concievably one could use lighter payloads. It's hard to know the numbers since the air force is a little shy about details.
Lasers or missiles, we would need a response time of about a hundred seconds to be able to catch the target in time. This is possible with system upgrades of defense spysats and the associated computers and such, but that's handleable, assuming no one takes out our spysats before they launch, or times their launches for zero coverage (Indian nuke test, anyone?)
The missile systems, land or sea, would require a major effort to deploy for anything like global coverage. You need to put a bunch of ships out there. Potentially, of course, you need to protect those from attack, too, which seems like it could be problematic. If the world is angry at your policy and doesn't want your ships refueling at their ports or sitting in their waters, or your missiles on their territory, you've gotten into some pretty complicated operations. Not necessarily impossible, but deploying weapons around the globe that the globe doesn't like is, at least, a ticket for a very expensive job. The US has had quite a bit of international relations trouble based on armed forces deployment already, if you recall...
Russia has offered, vaguely, to help us on seaborne BPI, because we can't hit mainland russia or china with seaborne interceptors. Of course, this also cuts heavily into their utility, in my mind, and certainly isn't compatible with the idea of making everyone else's missiles obselete. They've also suggested a joint land-based site in Vladivostok, aimed at North Korea. Personally, I think we're playing unlikely games of demonization with North Korea, but at any rate, we've given no indication of interest in their proposals.
I think space-based intercepts, were they to work, would be a fabulous way of offering ICBM defense to the whole world. Will they work? Well... maybe. They are still subject to spoof launches; I don't find it too hard to imagine China deciding they're going to launch an empty rocket once a month just to keep our satellites wearing out. Satellites themselves are vulnerable to attack, something that hasn't really played out to date but can; all you need to knock out a satellite is a successful rendezvous, within the capability of several governments and a number of large companies, not all of them American. More likely countries would just try to overwhelm the system with a large number of simultaneous launches, or confuse the laser about the target's location in the ways discussed elsewhere. A large set of lasers, usable repeatedly, could overcome this, particularly if most of the world were not conspiring against them. It remains ineffectual against other modes of nuclear attack, and its unknowable impact on world diplomacy and world arms policy also remains.
Whether or to what extent Bush is talking about a BPI initiative is quite unclear; but the fact that he's still talking about US-based interceptors as well, suggests to me that some very confusing or moneygrabbing things are happening at the Pentagon these days. If there's a working BPI system, missile interceptors come with an awfully expensive price tag for a backup plan. If BPI isn't going to work... well, the plan seems unclear. I'll leave it at that.
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