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Max’s extensive work in the applications of high energy lasers for missile defense included his space laser battle station concept. His 1977 paper “Strategic Dynamics and Space Laser Weaponry” is often cited as starting the conversation that resulted in President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).


Business Week, June 20, 1983

On Halloween in 1977, Maxwell W. Hunter II finished jotting down his private views on the international balance of power. As he pulled the 17th and last page of Strategic Dynamics and Space-Laser Weaponry out of the typewriter at his San Carlos (California) home, Hunter had little reason to suspect that he was starting a chain of events that could change the course of history. But more than any other single catalyst, his paper touched of today's space war debate.

Hunter's central idea was that instead of perpetuating the balance of nuclear terror, it was time to rethink U.S. defense policy. Emerging technologies seemed to promise ways to swat Soviet ballistic missiles out of the sky before their warheads reached the U.S. Such a missile defense, Hunter pointed out, could ring down the curtain on the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and, as President Reagan put it in his Mar. 23 speech, make it possible to "save lives rather than average them."

Max Hunter, 61 is a shrewd, self-confident aeronautical engineer with a pronounced flair for backstage politicking. For 18 years at Douglass Aircraft Co., he doggedly pursued ever-more-complex missiles, including the first crude antimissile and antisatellite designs. Beginning a second career at Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. in 1965, Hunter helped design forerunners of the space shuttle. Equally important to subsequent events, he had spent two years on the National Space Council, advising Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and learning the ins and outs of Washington’s corridors of power.

‘GANG OF FOUR.’ Hunter became captivated by the revolutionary potential of Lockheed’s secret research on space lasers for the Pentagon. As soon as classification rules permitted, he wrote his strategy paper and sent it to a few key defense planners and federal officials. It created a small sensation, but Washington moves cautiously when it comes to shifts in fundamental policy. The breakthrough took a year and a half. Early in 1979, Hunter dropped in on Wyoming’s Republican senator, Malcolm Wallop, who had just returned from an arms-related trip to Moscow. “I walked into the senator’s office and found him reading my paper,” Hunter recalls. “He looked up and in effect said 'By God, we're going to do something to defend this country!' "

Largely at the prodding of Wallop aide Angelo Codevilla, Hunter got together with three like-minded experts from TRW, Perkin-Elmer, and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. Without their companies' blessings, the decided to take their message to key senators and prepared a classified briefing on how orbiting battle stations might be used to kill incoming missiles.

After two dry runs for 10 congressional aides, the team briefed one group of four senators and another group of eight, each under Wallop's auspices. Then they stepped into a mine field. They made their pitch to two Army generals in charge of conventional ballistic-missile defense (BMD)programs. The generals, says Hunter, were outraged by the pack of civilians poaching on their turf. “They tried to kill all four of us.”

Since the members of the now-notorious “gang of four” had no official standing and since Hunter’s company (Lockheed) was an Army BMD contractor, the gang quickly self-destructed. But the aroused Senate forces were not so easily deterred. Led by Wallop, they kept pressuring the Pentagon and publicly raised the question of whether strategic defense might not be a saner policy than MAD. And both Wallop andthen-Senator Harrison Schmitt, a former astronaut, urged the concept on Reagan before and after his election.

Thus, Hunter was hardly surprised by the President’s Mar. 23 speech -- only by its timing. He had been expecting Reagan to advocate a shift to strategic defense for three years. Says a close associate of Hunter: “Some people saw the President’s speech as Genesis. Max saw it as Revelations.”

Read Max's paper here: Strategic Dynamics and Space-Laser Weaponry

Max Hunter’s 1977 paper on strategic dynamics and space-laser weaponry triggered a chain of events that led to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.


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The goal of this website is to provide insight into America's golden age of space exploration by following the five-decade journey of legendary aerodynamicist and space visionary Max Hunter.

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