The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was put forward to the American public in a speech by President Ronald Reagan
on March 23, 1983. Implicit in Reagan's speech was the goal to develop a space- and land-based system for protecting the North American continent and possibly Western Europe
from a massive Soviet first strike
What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?
SDI's initial plan was to place satellites in orbit that knocked out ICBMs during their boost phase
with either some kind of laser or a kinetic
mass ("hit a bullet with a bullet"). Anything that made it past the space-based interceptors would be caught high up in the atmosphere during descent phase with ground-based interceptors.
Critics quickly labeled Reagan's initiative as "Star Wars" and called it unworkable. Calling it "too expensive" was an understatement. It would cost several trillion dollars just to research and deploy. Assuming space-based lasers could detect and knock out ICBM
s during boost phase, assuming they could distinguish real ICBMs from decoys, SDI was totally ineffective against terrain following cruise missile
In 1985, two political ads ran on TV referring to SDI as "Star Wars
". George Lucas launched a lawsuit against the advertisers, hoping to establish some precedent and prevent his film from being associate with SDI. Lucas lost the case, the judge ruled that "Star Wars" had entered the public lexicon
and could be used for social criticism.
By 1987, the Reagan administration quietly acknowledge the vast costs and technical hurdles. Despite Reagan's promise of a missile shield that would protect John and Betty Q Public, Star Wars 1.5 was scaled down to protect only air force officers manning missile silos. Its goal was no longer the defense of the continent and the teeming masses but a defense against a Soviet first strike
against America's missile silos.