|Subj:||Why Are We preparing for War in Space?|
|Date:||5/14/01 6:18:39 PM Pacific Daylight Time|
Staff at NORAD -- the North American Aerospace Defense Command -- at Cheyenne Mountain, Colo.
Forward, march ... into space
Pentagon has big plans for combat in the cosmos
By Jonathan Broder
WASHINGTON In the foothills of the Colorado Rockies earlier this year, a group of Air Force officers gathered at a highly secure military base for five days of unprecedented war games. The scenario was familiar enough the growing
tension between the United States and a fictitious country that resembled China. But the battlefield was out of this world: a simulated war raging for the first time in space.
THE YEAR WAS 2017, and space was bristling with futuristic weapons. During the exercise at Schriever Air Force Base, the United States and its adversary deployed
microsatellites small, highly maneuverable spacecraft that shadowed the other sides satellites, then neutralized them by either blocking their view, jamming their signals or melting their circuitry with lasers. Also prowling the extraterrestrial battlefield were infrared early-warning satellites and space-based radar, offering tempting targets to ground stations and aircraft that harassed them with lasers
and jamming signals.
In the 1980s, the prospect of war in space wasnt just a high-tech exercise. It was a national preoccupation during the Reagan administration, which pushed hard for its Cold War Strategic Defense Initiative. Now, the prospect of a celestial war is once again the focus of serious planning as the U.S. military braces for new forms of high-tech combat in the 21st century.
Space is the ultimate high ground, Lt. Col. Donald Miles, spokesman for Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, told MSNBC.com. The high ground
has always provided an advantage, whether its a hill, a balloon an observation aircraft or air superiority. You take that to the next level, and were talking about space superiority.
THE ULTIMATE FRONT
This high ground has captured the imagination of the new administration. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is more enthusiastic about space than any of his
predecessors, is expected to make space-based military operations a priority in his forthcoming strategic review of U.S. military capabilities, Pentagon and Air Force officials say.
Under SDI, which was never deployed, Reagan hoped to dominate space and achieve security by using space-based weapons to shoot down ballistic missiles. With the Bush administration now pledging to pursue a ground-based national missile defense system of a more limited scale, Rumsfeld also hopes to guarantee dominance of space by eliminating threats to Americas satellites.
In a January report to Congress, a commission chaired by Rumsfeld warned that the 600 satellites the U.S. military depends upon for photo reconnaissance, targeting,
communications, weather forecasting, early warning and intelligence gathering are highly vulnerable to attack from adversaries. The report says the United States must
anticipate what Pentagon officials call a Space Pearl Harbor a crippling sneak attack against American satellites orbiting the planet.
These satellites have become our eyes and ears around the world, says Brig. Gen. Michael Hamel, the head of Space Operations and Integration for the Air
Force. Space gives us an advantage, Hamel said in an interview, adding that without proper defenses, its also our Achilles heel.
To reduce the nations vulnerability, the Rumsfeld commission urges leaders to develop superior space capabilities, including the ability to negate the hostile use
of space against U.S. interests by using power projection in, from and through space. Translated into lay terms, that means the development and deployment of anti-satellite weapons.
Rumsfeld is expected to urge President Bush to declare space a national security priority and to recommend sweeping changes in how space programs are overseen and funded.
We know from history that every medium air, land and sea has seen conflict, the Rumsfeld commission argues. Reality indicates that space will be no different.
The report calls space warfare a virtual certainty.
But critics warn that if President Bush and Rumsfeld seriously try to seize the high ground in space, the fallout will be severe. Some analysts fear a unilateral U.S. militarization of space would only lead to a new arms race and closer
military cooperation between China and Russia, which would join forces to develop their own anti-satellite programs, rather than cede the high ground to Washington.
This, in turn would hasten the demise of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and various non-proliferation accords, these analysts say.
You get into a real hornets nest when you start shooting at things in space, says Michael Krepon, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington
think tank that focuses on international security issues.
Krepon and others say the deployment of space-based anti-satellite weapons is a double-edged sword when it comes to the missile defense shield.
If you try to put other countries satellites at risk, you know that sure as hell theyre going to try to put yours at risk, Krepon said in an interview, noting that a national
missile defense system can work only if the satellites that provide early warning of missile launches are free from threat. In that event, you must achieve superiority. And that means you have to have to stay ahead of them every step of the way.
Paul Stares, an expert on space at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, adds that in any strategic scramble for space
superiority, enemies probably would target not only U.S. military satellites but also Americas constellation of commercial satellites assets worth many hundreds of
billions of dollars.
It is currently not in the U.S. interest to develop an anti-satellite system, Stares says. We have more to lose than gain from developing such a system. So you really have to wonder at the end of the day whether this is a path we really want to encourage others to go down. President Bush has not responded publicly to the January commission report on space weapons, but he has expressed an interest
in skipping a generation of military technologies.
Our goal is to move beyond marginal improvements to harness new technologies that support a new strategy, Bush said in February. This is the broadest hint so far that Bush already may agree with Rumsfelds argument that the United States can dominate space by deploying superior defensive and offensive anti-satellite weapons that can nullify hostile countermeasures.
Meanwhile, amid the growing concern about threats to American satellites, the Air Force has been preparing for extraterrestrial combat, establishing a new Space
Operations Directorate, as well as a new Space Warfare School. In addition, two new units have been activated. The highly classified mission of the 76th Space Control
Squadron at Paterson Air Force Base in Colorado is to test offensive and defensive weapons systems in space. The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base plays the enemy in war exercises to highlight vulnerabilities in space operations.
For now, Rumsfeld sees the Air Force as the primary service responsible for space warfare, including the training of a new cadre of military space professionals. But down the line, the defense chief and his fellow space commissioners also envision the creation of a new and entirely separate branch of the military the U.S. Space
Force. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
But as Rumsfeld shapes the military for the new challenges ahead, it is already clear that he aims to seize the highest strategic ground of all and hold it.