Newsgroups: alt.politics.org.cia From: "Allen Thomson" [email protected] 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 years. 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 because: + 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.