Subject:      Former D/NRO on satellite vulnerability (long)
From:         [email protected] (Allen Thomson)
Date:         1995/11/29
Message-Id:   <[email protected]>

   As regulars on will recall, there was a 
symposium on the history of the US military in space at Andrews 
AFB this past September;  D_Day attended and provided us with 
excellent reportage.  A theme that emerged was that many of 
the people there, including some of the pioneers, were concerned 
about the vulnerabilities of US satellite systems, particularly 
reconnaissance satellites. 

   One of the papers was presented by John McLucas, who was 
director of the NRO in the first half of the '70s, and then 
Secretary of the Air Force and head of the FAA before going to 
Comsat in 1977.  I recently obtained a copy of his paper, and 
Mr. McLucas has most kindly given me permission to reproduce a 
couple of its sections on s.s.p.  The present section is on 
satellite vulnerability and what should (proliferation) and 
shouldn't (ASAT) be done about it.  The second, which I'll post 
later, is on the strengths and weaknesses of the NRO management 

   I'm pretty much in agreement with the points made below 
except that I don't believe the extended consequences 
(endangering services of value to all countries) of ASAT use 
would necessarily be seen as negative by all potential parties 
in a war.  Iraq's use of "environmental terrorism" in 1991 is a 
good example of a country willing to take odious actions 
precisely because of their indiscriminately harmful effects.  In 
addition, I think Mr. McLucas may (along with many others) 
overestimate the difficulty a determined Nth country would have 
in acquiring a crude-but-significant space denial capability. 

   But all in all, this is an excellent and thoughtful 
contribution;  the opinions and recommendations advanced deserve 
serious discussion. 

   Space Policy - A Personal Assessment
   by John L. McLucas
   Given at the Session on The U.S. Military Space 
   Program Since 1961
   USAF Air Force [sic] Historical Foundation
   Symposium on Space
   Andrews Air Force Base
   September 21-22, 1995
   Satellite Vulnerability
   During the Cold War, it was often said that the US is much more 
   dependent on satellite survival than our potential enemies and 
   thus we cannot rely on mutual deterrence to protect our 
   satellites.  The effectiveness of satellites in helping win the 
   Gulf War has led many people to conclude that our satellites are 
   likely to be attacked in any future war.  While opinions differ 
   on the extent to which this is so, there is no doubt that 
   defense planners must take the possibility into account.
   To reduce the likelihood of a successful attack, there are 
   certain obvious steps to be taken, most of which have already 
   been implemented.  These include making it difficult for anyone 
   to take over control of these assets, putting up numbers of 
   identical or similar satellites or even storing them in orbit.  
   We can even harden them, or as a last resort build an ASAT 
   system.  Thus, the vulnerability of military space systems is at 
   least partially under our control.  And the much-heralded new 
   technology which is expected to assist NASA in its smaller, 
   faster, cheaper mode can also permit the proliferation of 
   certain satellites at greatly reduced costs.  Such systems can 
   certainly augment the military equivalents which are frequently 
   much more expensive.  There is also the problem of inadvertent 
   interference and we should design our systems to be as 
   invulnerable to this problem as we can.
   In the early years of the Space Age, the US debated whether we 
   needed to develop the ability to shoot down space assets of 
   potential enemies.  Following the US high-altitude nuclear tests 
   in the early sixties, the Thor missiles on Johnston Island used 
   to launch the bombs for those tests were the basis for a direct-
   ascent ASAT called Project 437.  Because of its nuclear warhead, 
   many people questioned whether it would ever be used.  I got 
   agreement to close it down during my tenure as secretary of the 
   Air Force because I did not see a good match between the 
   likelihood of its use and the cost of maintaining it.  An ASAT 
   system had been activated at Kwajalein based on the Army Nike-
   Zeus ABM site there but was also eventually discontinued.  The 
   Soviets built a co-orbital system which maneuvered close to its 
   target and then blew up itself and its target.  
   During those times, the only adversary capable of doing us 
   significant harm was the Soviet Union.  Some argue that there 
   are now a half dozen countries who can threaten our spacecraft.  
   But with the sky full of commercial satellites, the idea of 
   setting off ASATs which are bound to generate thousands of 
   fragmentary projectiles, many of which could easily knock out a 
   multi-million dollar satellite, should give any nation -- 
   including us -- pause before starting warfare in space; the 
   opprobrium such an action would bring to the perpetrator is 
   unpredictable but huge.  
   For some systems, building a few extra satellites is the best 
   survivability technique.  In addition to the protective measures 
   mentioned above, we can have redundant spacecraft; making them 
   less expensive and then proliferating them is undoubtedly the 
   best approach.
   In 1979, I chaired a Defense Science Board study on what was 
   called enduring command and control.  We concluded that putting 
   a transponder for that purpose on ever satellite to be launched 
   was a good survival technique.
   GPS satellites are an example of a proliferated system.  They 
   are in relatively invulnerable orbits about 12,000 high.  Since 
   there are 24 GPS satellites, the loss of one or two, while 
   inconvenient, would not rob us of service.  GPS gains additional 
   survivability by being used by people in a hundred countries; an 
   attacker would face worldwide outrage.
   There are many defensive measures we can take.  For that reason, 
   I believe there is no urgent need to take offensive measures to 
   minimize damage to our satellites.  Essentially all countries who 
   have a space capability are either friendly toward us or at 
   least not disposed to attack us.  
   But there a few countries who represent a serious potential 
   threat to us.  The few who have a strong animus toward us have 
   very serious problems maintaining their conventional military 
   forces, let alone taking on the sophisticated task of building a 
   reliable ASAT system.  Why would they start a very expensive 
   ASAT activity just to shoot down a few US satellites?  And with 
   the extensive resources we are devoting to keep track of their 
   military actions, it is very unlikely that they could develop 
   and test a system without revealing its existence.  If they have 
   any desire to be accepted into the community of nations, such 
   hostile actions would delay their acceptance indefinitely.
   I am optimistic that the availability of new technology for 
   reducing the cost of spacecraft will lead to a proliferation of 
   relatively low-cost military reconnaissance/surveillance 
   systems, each tailored to a given application.  As long as the 
   principal driver of overhead systems was the Soviet face-off, 
   strategic factors determined our intelligence collection and our 
   priority targets; typically we targeted nuclear facilities and 
   the like.  This led to fielding very small numbers of very 
   expensive satellites which in turn led to difficulty in 
   assigning adequate priority to tactical targets important to the 
   military services.  But gradually more and more attention has 
   been devoted by the services -- especially the Army and Navy -- 
   to putting in a system of earth stations to receive tactical 
   targeting data directly from space.  This should lead to a 
   reevaluation of the massive systems of the seventies and 
   eighties and a trend toward lower-cost systems which will be 
   more flexible collectors of various information.  The best 
   deterrent to enemy action against any class of our satellites 
   would be to have a dozen or so of theme up there; knocking out 
   one would not change our total capability enough to justify 
   escalating the war by attacking space assets. 
   Also to our advantage, we will soon no doubt have at least one 
   civil system of one-to-three meter resolution; while not ideal 
   for military use, such systems could go a long way toward 
   filling any gap caused by losses of primary assets.  While the 
   US government will certainly continue to rely on its own 
   systems, it will also receive data from any civil systems which 
   are built.  Again, redundancy helps deterrence.  In addition, 
   there are several systems under development by friendly 
   countries; no doubt we could make arrangements to share data if 
   need be.  The existence of more and more systems should cause a 
   country contemplating attacking our satellites to consider 
   whether knocking down one spacecraft would accomplish its 
   purpose; is it worthwhile to knock out one satellite if many 
   other similar ones remain?  This line of reasoning leads me to 
   urge the military to work harder on cost reduction of 
   spacecraft so that we can count more on redundancy as a deterrent 
   to enemy attack.
   In addition to multiple space systems, the US possesses 
   reconnaissance airplanes in the tactical forces which can help 
   fill the gap if any space assets are rendered ineffective for 
   whatever reason.  The typical military engagement involves 
   forces in relatively restricted areas.  The needs of such forces 
   can more often than not be satisfied mainly by airborne sensors.  
   The Air Force would do well to develop a new generation of 
   tactical reconnaissance aircraft -- either piloted or unpiloted.  
   Their existence would further reduce the likelihood of attack on 
   our satellites.
   And finally, we should assure any potential enemies that we will 
   not take lightly any attacks against out space assets and that 
   we reserve the right to exact punishment on any offenders.  This 
   means we will need an extremely capable space surveillance 
   system (DSP is quite good; its successor will be better) to know 
   the identity of any perpetrator if an attack takes place.  In the 
   seventies [sic] we tested an ASAT based on launching a rocket 
   under an F-15 carrying a payload built by LTV for the Army -- 
   the so-called MHV (miniature homing vehicle).  We carried that 
   program to toe point of demonstrating that such a system could 
   indeed intercept a spacecraft.  But its existence led to a 
   heated congressional debate about whether we actually needed an 
   operational ASAT. In the end, the program was stopped after the 
   demonstration phase.
   With billions invested in space assets, discretion demands that 
   we exert every effort to achieve an environment which 
   discourages space weapons.  I am of two minds about seeking 
   treaties banning space weapons at a time when there is no 
   apparent threat.  Even without agreement to keep weapons out of 
   space, I do not believe the threat to our satellites justifies 
   deploying an ASAT.  Admittedly, we should continue to do R&D to 
   assure that we are on top of the latest technology.  Pushing for 
   a ban on weapons in space might gain us credit on the world 
   scene; certainly becoming a space vigilante and ostentatiously
   building ASATs is totally out of character and out of keeping 
   with the times.  With the Cold War behind us, the world expects 
   to enjoy the benefits of the peaceful exploitation of space 
   technology.  It would not welcome a new round in the space race 
   which would dim the prospects for using space for better 
   education, economic growth and improved quality of life around 
   the world.  As long as there is no serious threat of space 
   warfare being initiated by others, I believe that we should 
   maintain a watchful eye, take the obvious steps to reduce 
   spacecraft vulnerability, keep our ASAT R&D up to date and 
   proliferate smaller surveillance systems -- both spacecraft and 
   airborne systems.  These are the best ways to deal with the 
   potential threat.
   As for the related field of ballistic missile defense, we have 
   gone from BMDO to SDIO and back to BMDO.  BMDO can do its job 
   based on ground-based weapons.  There are rational points to be 
   made on both sides of the debate about whether we need to put 
   weapons in space for ASAT purposes or for missile defense; I 
   happen to be on the side of keeping space as a sanctuary from 
   weapons as long as we can.  And if we do our R&D properly, I 
   claim we can do that without giving up any important advantage.
   The Space Act of 1958, modified many times, still calls for US 
   leadership in space.  The United States can gain much by 
   exercising that leadership by expanding the peaceful uses of 
   space rather than engaging in programs to ready itself for space 
   So now I've made another point of space policy: Speak softly and 
   carry a big stick.  Those words may not be original with me.