Subject: Former D/NRO on satellite vulnerability (long) From: [email protected] (Allen Thomson) Date: 1995/11/29 Message-Id: <[email protected]> Newsgroups: sci.space.policy As regulars on sci.space.policy 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 approach. 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 [excerpt] 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 warfare. 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.