From: "Allen Thomson"
Date: 16 Dec 2005 15:15:38 -0800
Local: Fri, Dec 16 2005 5:15 pm
Subject: Thinking about space warfare

[Disclaimer: The headline came from the Space News editors.  I forget
exactly what I originally proposed, but it was more along the line of
"We need to think about these things."]

Time To Plan For Satellite Warfare
by Allen Thomson
Space News
April 22-28, 1996, p.19

The current flux in the management of U.S. national security
space systems should be seen as an opportunity to conduct a
thorough reevaluation of our basic policies for the military use
of space. Much has changed since 1991, and policies that were
appropriate during the Cold War could lead to disastrous
consequences if they are followed in the much-different world of
the 21st century.

Central to the formulation of military space policy is the
presumption that space assets will always be available. While in
the past this assumption has probably been valid for combat
situations short of general nuclear war, the evolution of
technology and the increasing use of satellites for tactical
purposes may radically change the situation in the next 10 or 20

More and more countries are obtaining rockets able to deliver
warheads on direct-ascent trajectories to the altitudes where
many intelligence satellites currently operate. Corresponding
detection and tracking capabilities are available from
commercial sources on the world market.

Effective anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles and supporting systems
could be acquired by a determined adversary in about five years
- considerably less time than the United States needs to design,
build and deploy new satellite systems. Communications, weather
and other satellites in geosynchronous orbit are somewhat harder
to attack than those in low orbit, but several countries already
have the needed capability, and the necessary technology is
available to others.

In addition to direct-ascent ASAT (and possibly laser or
electronic warfare) attacks, enemies would have the option of
attacking ground stations, which play a major role in the
operation of satellite systems. The most likely targets are in-
theater command, control and communications facilities, but
attacks against launch sites and ground stations in the United
States or allied countries cannot be ruled out.

In the past, when the Soviet Union was the enemy, attacks
against installations on allied soil would have been deterred by
the possibility that they would trigger a nuclear war. In future
conflicts, when only conventional weapons are being used, the
likelihood that destruction of a ground station with a truck
bomb or even a conventionally armed cruise missile would be
answered with nuclear retaliation is nil. Even massive
conventional retaliation may be rendered infeasible by political
constraints, as the example of Desert Storm clearly showed.

Desert Storm also proved that satellite systems will be regarded
as high-leverage targets by future opponents. As widely
proclaimed by U.S. officials, reconnaissance satellites were
used for tactical targeting and bomb damage assessment and will
be even more heavily used in those roles in the future.

Communications and navigation satellites were also heavily
employed by the Coalition forces. Any rational enemy will
therefore devote considerable effort to attacking those systems,
and it may be assumed that developing ways to do so is now high
on the list of priorities of unfriendly countries.

Finally, those same official statements have destroyed the last
vestige of justification for the special status that
reconnaissance satellites implicitly enjoyed during the Cold
War. Because it is now extremely clear that the United States
uses its satellites in direct support of military operations,
claims that they are not legitimate objects of military action
during a war will not be taken seriously.

In summary, U.S. space policy planning for the foreseeable
future will have to take into account factors which are
radically different from those that characterized the Cold War

 + The capability to attack both the space and ground segments
of U.S. systems will be wide-spread.

+ The motivation for a future enemy to deny the United States
the use of space will be very high.

 + Factors which acted in the past to inhibit such attacks will
be largely absent.

The changed circumstances will not prevent the United States
from making military use of space - fortunately, a large variety
of survivability enhancing techniques exists - but they will
demand that careful analyses be undertaken to understand which
survivability measures will be useful in particular
circumstances and to understand their limitations.

For example, some techniques which would be valuable when
applied to small tactical satellites would be inappropriate for
use on large, long-lived national systems, and vice versa.

Because the technical and political environment in which U.S.
military space systems will have to operate has changed so
fundamentally, it is important that military space policy avoid
assumptions that could lead to grave  consequences if propagated
into the future. Among the issues which should be scrutinized
closely are:

+ How well will an adversary be able to understand the nature
and vulnerabilities of our space systems, including the ground
segments as well as the satellites. How confident can we be that
we understand the extent of that knowledge?

+ What space surveillance, tracking and space object
identification capability will potential adversaries be able to
acquire in the next one to two decades?

+ What weapons or techniques will be available to attack U.S.
space systems?

+ What counter-measures and deterrents will be available to the
United States to protect its space systems?

+ How well will an adversary be able to overcome U.S.
countermeasures and protective techniques?

If the new management of the U.S. national security space
programs is wise, it will take advantage of the present
opportunity to fundamentally reevaluate future needs and to lay
a sound policy basis for acquisition and operation of new
systems. If it fails to do so, the consequences in the next war
will be reckoned in lives as well as dollars.