Strategic Defense Initiative

The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was proposed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 23, 1983, to use ground-based and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. The initiative focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic offense doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was set up in 1984 within the United States Department of Defense to oversee the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Reagan was a vocal critic of Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Strategic Defense Initiative was an important part of his defense policy intended to end MAD as a nuclear deterrent strategy, as well as a strategic initiative to neutralize the military component of Soviet nuclear defenses.

The ambitious initiative was widely criticized as being unrealistic, even unscientific, as well as for threatening to destabilize MAD and re-ignite "an offensive arms race". SDI was derided, largely in the mainstream media, as "Star Wars", after the popular 1977 film by George Lucas. In 1987, the American Physical Society concluded that a global shield such as "Star Wars" was not only impossible with existing technology, but that ten more years of research was needed to learn whether it might ever be feasible.

However, the United States now holds a significant advantage in the field of comprehensive advanced missile defense systems through years of extensive research and testing. Many of the obtained technological insights were transferred to subsequent programs and would find use in follow-up programs.

Under the administration of President Bill Clinton in 1993, its name was changed to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and its emphasis was shifted from national missile defense to theater missile defense; and its scope from global to more regional coverage. It was never truly developed or deployed, though certain aspects of SDI research and technologies paved the way for some anti-ballistic missile systems of today. BMDO was renamed to the Missile Defense Agency in 2002. This article covers defense efforts under the SDIO.

Under the SDIO's Innovative Sciences and Technology Office, headed by physicist and engineer Dr. James Ionson, the investment was predominantly made in basic research at national laboratories, universities, and in industry; these programs have continued to be key sources of funding for top research scientists in the fields of high-energy physics, supercomputing/computation, advanced materials, and many other critical science and engineering disciplines — funding which indirectly supports other research work by top scientists, and which was most politically viable to fund within the defense budget environment.[citation needed]

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