Chapter 4
Concept of Operations

The threat-dependent concept of operations for the GLASS is relatively straightforward. Threats could be slowly developing situations, fast developing crises, or surprise attacks from a country or a terrorist-type group (where some quick retaliatory response is required). In addition, the intensity of the threat could vary over a broad range from mere intimidation to an isolated terrorist attack, a small war or battle, or (inevitably) total war. No matter what type of threat or situation develops or what its intensity, the global coverage provided by GLASS will allow decision makers to direct action that is responsive and timely (i.e., near instantaneous), flexible in terms of the full spectrum of lethality (i.e., from "lighting up" the battlefield to destroying platforms and assets), precise (i.e., pinpoint accuracy if necessary), survivable (i.e., dispersion of vulnerable space-based assets, self-protection capability, and CONUS-basing of the highest-value components), and reliable (i.e., TAV will be able to serve as backup). In summary, GLASS provides global coverage and a broad range of nearly instantaneous responses without extensive forward basing.

In the first instance of a slowly developing situation involving the US and its allies, the GLASS would be used primarily as a deterrence weapon. However, it is much more flexible than today's nuclear-deterrent weapon. The nuclear bomb may well have prevented a catastrophic total world war, but it has not stopped any of the hundreds of relatively minor conflicts (at all levels) that have continued to rage since 1945. The GLASS, able to project force across a wide spectrum of outcomes, could actually be employed in scenarios ranging from humanitarian operations (i.e., in its surveillance or illumination modes) to major regional conflicts (i.e., to disrupt, damage, or destroy the enemy's strategic assets). These operations do not necessarily have to be lethal. That is, the US could select a benign target, notify the rogue government of the time and place at which the offending item will be neutralized, and then disable or destroy the target (and only the target) with a laser beam and/or hypervelocity projectile. After a few demonstrations of this capability, even the most isolated totalitarian rogue state would realize none of its offensive assets are safe and (just as important) there will be no collateral damage to show the news cameras. Clearly, in addition to the straight-forward destruction of military targets, the GLASS could be used for deterrence, intimidation, persuasion, or just to forcefully signal America's resolve.

GLASS could also be put to effective use in the most fast-developing crisis. For example, suppose a country in northern Africa masses tanks on its border to invade a nearby country and their leadership will not listen to American or UN requests to reverse this provocative action. A cluster of small projectiles could be dropped from a TAV to destroy a critical tank concentration while laser beams "from heaven" are burning holes through advancing combat aircraft and blowing up fuel storage areas and munitions dumps. Even a modern war machine could be stopped dead in its tracks before it even gets started, since the GLASS can strike strategic, operational, and tactical targets, simultaneously performing strategic attack, interdiction, and even close support missions.

Figure 4-1. TAV Employing Kinetic-Energy Weapons

Figure 4-1. TAV Employing Kinetic-Energy Weapons

In the third situation, where an attack has already occurred and a response is required, the GLASS could be used in a myriad of ways to retaliate and with a speed limited only by the time required for US leadership to make its decisions. For example, the mission may be to eliminate the leadership of a terrorist organization located at a "safe house" in the largest city of a rogue state. A precision projectile could be dropped from an orbiting TAV that was launched only an hour before and within minutes, the house along with the leadership would be destroyed. It would not matter if the "safe house" was reinforced with concrete or buried underground; with good intelligence, literally no target on earth would be safe from the GLASS. More importantly, there would be no political fallout from collateral damage. Current weapon systems must generally make do with targeting data accurate to one to 10 meters at best.134 This is not the optimum situation for precision-guided or precision-aimed weapons. Such enormous destructive power must be controlled precisely to avoid unnecessary collateral damage. Acceptable targeting data in 2025 will be measured in centimeters, not in meters.

If an area is not covered by the weapon constellation (this will occur at times), the TAV would be sent up with a mobile mirror for the ground-based laser and/or a container of hypervelocity projectiles to cover the target area. Although not as responsive as space-based assets, a TAV could reach anywhere on earth within 60 minutes after its crew climbs on board.135 The TAV could also carry other types of weapons such as some of those discussed in chapter 3. For deterrence, the US could launch numerous TAVs in unpredictable orbits that remain in space until the crisis is resolved. Three TAVs could provide coverage of most of the earth's current trouble spots every 90 minutes.136 Of course, the TAV would also be ideal for space-control and space superiority. These issues are further explored in other white papers.137

Figure 4-2. Notional Space-Based Mirror Deployment Using Inflatable Mirror Technology

Figure 4-2. Notional Space-Based Mirror Deployment Using Inflatable Mirror Technology

The GLASS would also be ideal for counterproliferation operations. The engagement would involve a system-to-system interaction with fixed or mobile ground targets with support from communication, navigation, and surveillance systems. Using the GLASS, the US would not need permission from neighboring nations for landing or overflight rights and could strike a rogue state with a "launch or lose" mentality without any prior warning. These desirable functions could be performed without forward deployment of forces, drastically reducing the danger to US military personnel. The flexibility and response time of the GLASS in its role as a counterproliferation asset would be unmatched.138

The laser portion of the GLASS has three important characteristics: the weapon itself (photons) travels at light speed, it can be precisely controlled and aimed (not inherently a weapon of mass destruction), and it is not necessarily a line-of-sight weapon (i.e., it can be relayed by mirrors). Possession of a light-speed weapon would revolutionize the conduct of future wars. John Moyle of the Strategic Assessment Center describes this capability as the way to "get inside" the opponent's OODA loop, since, "The means with which one can destroy an enemy's system . . . operates at the same speed as of the flow of information, the critical component of the enemy's ability to counter/defend against the strike in the first place."139 It may be impossible to mount an active defense against a light-speed weapon.

Geometry is another aspect of the concept of operations. The question, "from where to where?" captures the essence of military space operations and frames the geometry of different force-application missions. Regardless of the purpose of an operation, its beginning and ending locations have tremendous impact on the nature of the operation and its success. The basic geometries for military space systems include earth-space-earth and space-earth. The GLASS employs the earth-space-earth geometry through both the TAV and the DEW system (which is both distributed and dispersed in two mediums-earth and space). That is, the GLASS begins its mission within the earth's atmospheric envelope, traverses the space environment, and then applies force to resolve or influence a conflict occurring primarily within the earth's atmospheric envelope (we do not foresee wars in space by 2025). This application of force may involve physical destruction or more subtle effects such as battlefield illumination, support for deceptive information-warfare attacks, or C2W/EW against an adversary's electronic communications and/or electronic order of battle. The latter distinction is crucial since, in 2025, an adversary's center of gravity may not be a physical object at all, but rather an intangible communications link, information flow, or public attitude.

Basing is also a prime consideration. The laser beams of the DEW system will originate from powerful facilities dispersed around remote parts of the CONUS. Sunny, clear areas such as the American southwest would be the most likely choices. With a laser system that uses space-based mirrors, there are several advantages to using an earth-based laser located in the US (or its possessions): no forward basing is required, there are no concerns about foreign governments demanding removal of US assets from their territories, no weapons are actually placed in space, and the most expensive and maintenance-intensive portions of the system are all ideally placed for access by the US sustainment system. Yet the US would still have tremendous capabilities for power projection. Dispersion of the laser stations is also desirable to enhance the security, reliability, and flexibility of the system and to provide concentration of mass in strategic attacks by allowing GLASS to focus several laser beams on a single hardened target simultaneously.

The TAV element of the GLASS is projected to operate out of at least six CONUS locations and seven locations outside the CONUS, including Alaska, Guam, and Hawaii. This also allows for security and flexibility. If TAV take-off/landing is vertical, pads of 200 square feet with airplane-like facilities are required. If the TAV is a horizontal take-off/landing system, then runways of 8,000 feet will probably be required-less than that needed for most modern jets today. Thus, the TAV fleet could be based at many possible locations (with a large number of already existing backup landing sites).140

The infrastructure for the TAV would be similar to that of aircraft today. That is, the ground site would need a fueling capability, a loading capability (change containers in and out), maintenance facilities, and 200-foot-square launch pads (if it evolves into a horizontal landing vehicle, it would also require an 8,000 foot runway). With miniaturization of electronics (thus, portable maintenance equipment), "black box" concepts, "containerized" payloads, and so forth, the number of supporting ground personnel and equipment should be greatly reduced in comparison with that required for today's military aircraft. In short, the logistics tail would be greatly reduced. Thus, the TAV would have "home bases," but it would be capable of rapidly deploying into many locations during times of tensions and increased hostilities.

The ground-based laser would necessarily require a large power source, a cooling system (possibly employing a high flow of chilled water), and relatively clear skies. This would require relatively isolated basing away from population centers. The power sources would be similar to those that exist today, but they would be more compact, self-contained, and more easily maintained. Of course, the power sources and lasers would be fixed, so significant ground-based security forces, and possibly point defenses against ballistic missiles, would be required. The more ground sites available, the less vulnerable the system is to attacks, the more targets could be hit simultaneously, and the greater the likelihood the system would be available to attack a given target at need. In addition, tracking, monitoring, and control sites would be required for the mirrors. However, these would not necessarily have to be dedicated sites. That is, they could be integrated into the same system the US uses to track, monitor, and control other space assets. The idea would be to automate as much as possible, build in reliability and maintainability, and standardize procedures and equipment from the beginning of development.

Figure 4-3. The Crowded Skies of 2025

Figure 4-3. The Crowded "Skies" of 2025

The total number of TAVs the US should procure depends upon the other missions, besides GLASS, that are required. For our purposes, however, the US should procure 12 to 16 operational TAVs. These would be divided into three Combat Space Squadrons, each having the following missions: precision attack, reconnaissance/surveillance, space lift, satellite support, and "other missions as required."141 These squadrons would fall under a central controlling authority that would also control the laser stations or bases. Thus, the synergistic effects of the laser and the TAV would be realized.

Figure 4-4. A TAV in Space-strike Mode

Figure 4-4. A TAV in Space-strike Mode

A TAV could be used to perform a myriad of space operations. The possibilities include deployment, repair, or retrieval of satellites (other than just the GLASS); deployment of smart munitions other than the KEW (usually from LEO); and functioning temporarily as a space-borne command post.142 TAVs could respond quickly to contingencies with tailored mission packages. Missions ranging from emergency satellite repair/deployment, to dropping a special operations team in the middle of a hostile environment, to mending a gap in a critical satellite constellation would all be possible. In addition, a small fleet of TAVs could allow for the placement of mass (in limited quantities) at critical nodes in a conflict situation. Perhaps the most important advantage might be the psychological effect of possessing such a capability. America's enemies would always have to factor in an almost immediate American response into their hostile actions.

The human in the loop concept is, by itself, neither an advantage nor a disadvantage. That is, humans will certainly be "in the loop" at the critical point in any application of force. This critical point could involve action on the ground or in space. If force is being applied by a light-speed, directed-energy weapon, the delay between the decision to take action and "fire on the target" might only be measured in seconds, but human decision and human judgment would still be intimately involved.

There are decided disadvantages to putting humans in space. To begin with, a human in space would immediately become a prime target during a conflict, especially if the human is the critical link in the weapon system. Moreover, space is a hostile environment-especially near the Van Allen radiation belts; thus, the necessary safety factor increases the overall cost and complexity of the weapon system. In addition, the space operations missions involving the TAV are limited, since current TAV concepts are designed only for LEO operations (limits access to space assets). Timeliness or responsiveness is also relatively limited for manned space systems. An on-orbit, unmanned space-based weapon could take action in a fraction of a second; a manned TAV might require up to an hour to arrive at the crisis location. The TAV is also extremely vulnerable during takeoff, orbit insertion, and landing. A nation could attempt to keep man in space at all times, but the costs involved are believed greater than those of the TAV, on orbit logistics is extremely expensive, and a permanent manned presence in orbit invites "hostage-taking" via ASAT. Thus, there will always be risks for this integral part of the GLASS weapon system.

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Last updated: 11 December 1996

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