Thursday, May 19, 2005

Weapons in Space --- Danger, Danger Will
Robinson!


Yesterday the Times ran the following article, Air Force Seeks Bush's Approval for Space Weapons Programs. Now in reality I don't think this should come as any great surprise to anyone who really follows this issue, but then, alas, few of us follow this issue. The reason it doesn't come as a surprise to those who follow it centers on documents released by the Air Force and DoD in the last few years, to wit:

U.S. Space Command Strategic Master Plan FY 06 and Beyond

Joint Doctrine for Space Operations

USAF - Counterspace Operations

If you were wonkish enough, or otherwise paranoid about the military-industrial complex here in the U.S. (if it was good enough for Eisenhower to be paranoid about it, it should be good enough for the rest of us to be!), you'd be up on these voluminous documents which, on the whole, put the average reader to sleep before they got to the scary parts. But being up on the subject in the official DoD circles (well, for as much as unclassified documents allow you to be that "up" on anything in the DoD) you'd be well aware that the Air Force has been moving in this direction for sometime and that eventually they'd be looking for a green light to put together a formal policy which would allow them to start parking weapons in space. Without having to force you to read the above documents (like I'd get very far with that ...), here are some choice tidbits from the Times piece:

"The proposed change would be a substantial shift in American policy. It would almost certainly be opposed by many American allies and potential enemies, who have said it may create an arms race in space."

and

"With little public debate, the Pentagon has already spent billions of dollars developing space weapons and preparing plans to deploy them.

"'We haven't reached the point of strafing and bombing from space," Pete Teets,
who stepped down last month as the acting secretary of the Air Force, told a
space warfare symposium last year. "Nonetheless, we are thinking about those
possibilities.'"

and

"The Air Force believes "we must establish and maintain space superiority," Gen. Lance Lord, who leads the Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently. "Simply put, it's the American way of fighting." Air Force doctrine defines space superiority as "freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack" in space.

"The mission will require new weapons, new space satellites, new ways of doing
battle and, by some estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars. It faces enormous technological obstacles. And many of the nation's allies object to the idea that space is an American frontier."


I think you get the gist of this.

Interestingly enough in this quarter's issue of the Naval War College Review, an article (Space-based Weapons) by CAPT David C. Hardesty basically provides arguments for why going this route is not in our national interest, that in fact a treaty not to deploy weapons in space, and a treaty discouraging other nations from deploying them, would be much more in the national interest. CAPT Hardesty is a Sailor therefore seen as a Navy shill. In fact his article isn't reflecting anything other than his own beliefs, i.e. he's not a spokesperson for the Navy nor working for a Navy think tank which may in some way reflect Navy thinking. As a Navy kinda
guy Hardesty can be accused of engaging in sour grapes machinations as a move by the Air Force to dominate space would give it a new and "sexy" mission, especially at a time when it's "sexy" programs like the F-22 fighter and the Joint Fighter have been taking hits. Ostensibly a large space presence would also replace what have been traditional Navy missions, to wit: No need for those expensive aircraft carriers if you can simply move a space-based weapon into location and threaten a nation from 100 miles or more in space --- more on this later.

I think it's worth clarifying what a space-based weapon is, inasmuch as even some purported experts seem to blur the lines.

Stygius
tells us about Jeffrey Lewis' skewering of Baker Spring, a wonk who should know better that works for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative bastion (if it gives you any clue, Rush Limbaugh apparently loves these people) in the DC area that should be more selective about its attack dogs. Anyway, Mr. Spring would have us believe that space is currently weaponized because we send ballistic missiles through it and, therefore, this whole discussion about whether we should have weapons in space is moot inasmuch as we already have them there --- nope, sorry, no prize for that boy. As with many things like this you'll find varying definitions of space-based weapons, but relying on CAPT Hardesty I give you the following:

a "...space-based weapon is a system placed in orbit or deep space that is designed “for destroying, damaging, rendering inoperable, or changing the flight trajectory of space objects, or for damaging objects in the atmosphere or on the ground.”'

It can actually be a bit more complicated than this, with systems such as lasers on the Earth sending their energy to platforms floating in space, but the basics are here. So a ballistic missile is not a space-based weapon, it's merely a weapon that happens to use space to get to where it's trying to go.

Ok, this lays the groundwork for where I want to go with this. More tomorrow.

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