Increasingly missile defense is moving toward space, though there are some challenges that have to be resolved before it can happen. Motley Fool's Nick Sciple and Fool.com contributor Lou Whiteman discuss what the Pentagon hopes to do, what the hurdles are, and what companies are helping the government to solve those issues, on this segment of Industry Focus: Energy.
A full transcript follows the video.
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This video was recorded on Jan. 31, 2019.
Nick Sciple: Another thing on the wish list when it comes to our missile defense repertoire takes place in space. We're seeing initiatives to install more sensors in space to be able to track missiles and weapons as they travel in that arena. Can you talk a little bit about what the Pentagon is asking for when it comes to space, and what we're doing there?
Lou Whiteman: Sure. I should say, this is perhaps the most interesting part of the conversation; however, it's probably the least certain. I said before that the submarines are going to get bought, the bombers are going to get bought. A lot of the missile defense space right now, it's, in some cases, discussing technologies that haven't yet been invented, or at least improved to the point where they could actually be put in place. There are things that are going to get spent. You mentioned sensors. We need to be able to know the second a launch happens that it happened anywhere in the world. That's increasingly difficult in the world of modern rockets. The Congress has authorized Pentagon to spend the money to figure out how to solve this problem. It could be new military-grade satellites. It could be attachments to commercial satellites. I think the most likely option is a massive fleet of small satellites that can blanket the whole world.
A lot of this classified. We don't know where it is. We don't know how close it is. We may not even really get a clear picture of what they eventually choose to do. One company I'd look at, though, it's a very under-the-radar defense company, Harris Corporation, which does defense electronics and sensors. Their CEO on the conference call mentioned the potential for a massive new constellation of classified small satellites on the horizon as a real chance for the company to grow. I'm pretty sure he was talking about this space sensor layer. It could be an indication of where he hopes the Pentagon goes, it could be an indication of where he's been led to think the Pentagon is going to go. Harris, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop, all these companies will definitely benefit from that.
Sciple: It appears that space is becoming a more and more significant part of our defense initiatives. You had the Space Force announcement a few months ago from the President. Part of this Missile Defense Initiative has to do with being able to actually shoot down missiles in space. Folks who have been around for a while might remember the Reagan Star Wars program back in the 80s, and the shopping list has not changed in 30 years. Can you talk a little bit about what we're looking to attempt to do, probably over the long-term, when it comes to satellites intercepting missiles in space?
Whiteman: You're right, this is Star Wars all over again. The concept is the same. We've progressed a lot technologically since the Reagan years. It's technically feasible. But it's still very hard. What we're talking about here is the ability to shoot an ICBM down. You have to do that right at the launch phase to really be successful. Now, to do that, you only have a window of maybe seconds. To be able to have something in space capable of detecting and launching within seconds, we need to have these satellites everywhere, including lots of satellites over enemy territory.
The logistics, if you're talking about a rocket shooting through the atmosphere and getting to the launch phase to detect and do it, maybe thousands of these armed satellites in space to make this possible. Again, technically, can we do it? Can we shoot down a rocket? Yes. That's what the Patriot's been doing. That's what the THAAD's been doing. There's a new Raytheon system. All of these, from the ground. But having them in place so it's an effective weapon or effective defense, that's a really, really complicated and really, really expensive proposition, especially since right now, we're only targeting these at about 50%, so you need some redundancy built in there, which just means all the more rockets.
Sciple: It sounds like a very difficult engineering problem to even make that happen. We talk about the difficulty of hitting a rocket with another rocket, the math to make that work is difficult.