The functional difference between space-based military operations and missile defense technology is rapidly disappearing, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said on Capitol Hill last week. Unless the U.S. works aggressively to fully exploit its technological edge in outer space, nations with hostile intentions will move to neutralize America’s advantage, he said.
“If we don’t step up, we not only endanger ourselves, we really step back as the world’s leader,” Franks said. “This is especially important in light of the other advances other nations are making, without any of the reticence our liberal friends in Congress have.”
Franks spoke during a gathering of the Congressional Missile Defense Caucus, which he chairs. He was joined by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who are also members of the caucus. They each expressed concern over the vulnerability of U.S. satellites and the need to integrate missile defense technology with other military components that operate in orbit above Earth.
Throughout the Cold War, outer space was viewed as a “de-facto sanctuary,” but this is no longer the case, said James Lewis, a scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, speaking at the forum. He warned that potential adversaries are developing the capability to undermine and defeat U.S. assets in space.
The potential vulnerability of U.S. systems to attack was made evident last year when China used a ground-based medium-range missile to knock down a weather satellite orbiting some 537 miles above the Earth, Lewis said. He also said U.S. strategic planners would do well to anticipate less overt actions. Seemingly benign broadcast satellites, for example, could be used to jam U.S. systems in time of conflict, he said.
Opposition from “arms-control advocates” and congressional Democrats has constrained the development of space-based defenses, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told CNSNews.com in an interview.
Opponents of space-based missile defense and other military space initiatives fail to understand that the “weaponization of space,” still anathema to many in the arms control industry, has already occurred, Kyl said.
China’s destruction of a weather satellite in January 2007 demonstrates this, as does the presence of numerous spy and communications satellites that operate in tandem with equipment on the ground, Kyl said.
“The Russians and Chinese are not viewing themselves as being constrained in any way by anti-satellite weaponry that can either go through space or be based in space,” he said. “They are developing capabilities that can be used to knock out our satellites, which they understand to be the eyes and ears of our military as well as vital organs of our economy.”
Sharp break from Cold War thinking
A careful examination of role missile defense should play within the context of America’s larger strategic posture should lead policymakers to conclude that a “damage limitation strategy,” as opposed to either nuclear disarmament or “multilaterialized-retaliation based deterrence,” is best suited for the 21st century, said Baker Spring, a national security expert with the Heritage Foundation, during the caucus meeting.
This strategy represents a sharp break from Cold War thinking, Spring said, because it would replace the concept of MAD (mutual assured destruction) with a more balanced strategic approach that emphasizes defense over mere retaliation.
A mix of offensive and defensive forces will be needed to properly execute this strategy, Baker explained in a recent paper titled “Congressional Commission Should Recommend ‘Damage Limitation’ Strategy.”
With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad scheduled to visit New York City again the week of Sept. 20, U.S. attention must remain focused on the security threat the rogue state presents to Americans, not only in a conventional sense, but also in terms of a potential asymmetrical assault, Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, said at the Heritage Foundation earlier in the week.
For example, Iran is already developing and testing the Shahab-3 missile as part of its own space program, Gaffney said. This long-range missile demonstrates the kind of technology that could jeopardize parts of Europe and even the continental U.S., he said.
Moreover, when Ahmadinejad tells the international community that a world without America is not just achievable, but desirable, there is more at work than just rhetoric, Gaffney said.
Some defense planners are concerned that a ship-borne Scud could be used to launch and explode a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere over the U.S., affecting an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to fry electronics, Gaffney said.
An analysis of the growing missile threats to America and possible defensive arrangements in space is available at www.shieldamerica.org.
The recent hurricanes striking America’s coast should concentrate American minds on what could happen on a much larger scale to the country’s electronics if an EMP were successfully activated, Gaffney said.
In his Heritage talk, Gaffney complimented the Bush administration for withdrawing from the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) Treaty, which imposed restraints on the development of anti-missile systems. However, he also expressed disappointment over the absence of a space-based missile-defense layer, which in his estimation is desperately needed to counteract an emerging global threat.
Jeff Kueter, president of the George Marshall Institute, also took part in the Heritage session, saying the Bush administration deserved credit for moving missile defense beyond theory and out into the field. Within the span of just a few years, the U.S. has installed ground- and sea-based systems that can engage limited strikes from states such as North Korea and Iran, Kueter said.
Kueter also said, however, that more needs to be done in outer space so that the U.S. can counter missile strikes while they are still in the boost phase. The current missile defense arrangement is equipped to deal only with missile strikes in the mid-course and terminal phases, he explained.
Two projects now in development offer hope of taking out enemy missiles shortly after they are launched, Kueter said. The Airborne Laser housed inside a 747 aircraft has the potential, as do so-called multiple-kill vehicles.
Kueter also expressed concern that short-term budgetary priorities could drain precious resources away from long-term projects that make better use of America’s technological edge.