Congressional legislation designates the fundamental roles of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The Department of Defense (DOD) assigns implementing functions. Resultant responsibilities strongly influence the characteristics and respective budgetary shares of those building blocks, while military space forces remain on the outside looking in. That is where they will stay as long as present trends persist, because few movers and shakers on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon understand that the word aerospace is an oxymoron. This chapter tells why and recommends corrective actions.
Aerospace is an Oxymoron
The "wild blue yonder" is pitch black above Earth's atmosphere. Hard-to-alter orbital patterns preclude loop-the-loops, barrel rolls, and other flamboyant maneuvers that fighter pilots favor. Astronauts cannot go down in flames where oxygen is nonexistent, and their vehicles cannot roar in the soundless vacuum that permeates space.
Geographic contexts indeed differentiate space from land, sea, and air more clearly than any other factors.1 Air, water, weather, climate, and vegetation are confined to Earth, which—along with other planets, our Moon, and asteroids—contains the only land forms and natural resources. Cosmic radiation, solar winds, micrometeorites, and greatly attenuated gravity are unique properties of space, which has no shape or known extent. Shock waves are nonexistent. Visibility is far better than the best obtainable on Earth. Maneuver room is virtually limitless, except on our Moon and other orbs. Day-night cycles vary with altitude. Astronauts in low Earth orbits, for example, may race from light to dark to light every 90 minutes or so, while luminary transitions in deep space proceed imperceptibly.
Orbital distances are meaningful mainly in terms of time, except for communications, which proceed at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). Space has no north, east, south, or west to designate locations and directions. Declination, the astronomical analog of latitude, is the angular distance north or south of the celestial Equator. Right ascension is the counterpart of longitude, and the dimly lit constellation Aries, against which spectators on Earth see the Sun when it crosses our Equator in springtime, defines the prime meridian. Navigators determine positions from that celestial equivalent of the Greenwich Observatory.
That distinctive medium demands a distinctive military spacepower school of thought, plus roles, functions, and concepts designed to assist the development of policies, strategies, tactics, plans, and programs for precisely the same reasons that armies, navies, and air forces demand different modus operandi.Cavernous voids currently exist in most respects, because neither Congress nor DOD facilitates such developments.
Military Spacepower Theories
Spacepower theories presumably provide the focus for this forum, but theories by definition expand knowledge bases with no particular purposes in mind. Albert Einstein, for example, never imagined that his Special Theory of Relativity with E=MC2at its core would spawn nuclear weapons. Nobody predicted that the tiny rocket Robert Goddard launched from a cabbage patch in 1926 would become the great-granddaddy of all ballistic missiles and space boosters. This survey consequently concentrates on schools of thought, officially assigned U.S. military spacepower responsibilities, and concepts designed to solve offensive, defensive, and deterrent problems.
Customary Schools of Military Thought
Schools of thought are basic beliefs accepted as authoritative by subscribers who share common characteristics, outlooks, opinions, and values. Continental, maritime, aeronautical, and special operations schools currently dominate the mindsets of U.S. military concept formulators. The capsulated descriptions below deliberately oversimplify salient characteristics to emphasize peculiarities. The first three lean heavily on J.C. Wylie's exposition of the special operations school, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control.2
Continental school. Adherents of the continental school, who are direct descendents of German strategist Carl von Clausewitz,3 tend to compartmentalize Planet Earth into theaters of operation, regional areas of responsibility, and local zones of action. They contend that the defeat of enemy armed forces, mainly by manpower-intensive armies, is the ultimate object of war. Navies and air forces exist primarily to transport troops to scenes of action and support them after arrival. Only land power can conclude conflicts decisively and thereafter occupy hostile territory if necessary.
Maritime school. Members of the maritime school, blessed by a global reach, favor the teachings of venerated U.S. Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan and British naval historian Sir Julian S. Corbett, who preached that control of high seas and littorals determines decisions ashore. The basic objective is to dominate critical sealanes and chokepoints that channel naval formations and commercial traffic afloat. Surface ships, submarines, and amphibious forces then can master land masses by blockades or the selective projection of power inland.4
Aeronautical school. The aeronautical school took shape in 1921, when Italian Brigadier General Giulio Douhet postulated that airpower unaided can be decisive; that given free rein, airpower could make protracted combat obsolete; and that control of the air and destruction of enemy warmaking potential, primarily population centers and industrial bases, constitute the central aim. Airpower proponents practiced what they preached with carpet bombing campaigns during World War II. Douhet's disciple Curtis E. LeMay later advocated bombing Vietnam "back to the Stone Age." 5
Special Operations school. Flamboyant Army Major General William "Wild Bill" Donovan, who founded and led the Office of Strategic Services during World War II,6 fathered the U.S. Special Operations school. He promoted small land, sea, and air teams prepared to perform overt, covert, and clandestine missions that orthodox armed forces could not accomplish as well, if at all. Adherents of this school, which mingles force with fraud and finesse, offer decisionmakers scalpels rather than sledgehammers for deterrent and warfighting purposes.
Astronautical school. There is no military spacepower school of thought, no Beacon on the Hill that beams to true believers. Whosoever devises a spacepower school of thought to complement land, sea, air, and special operations schools deserves top billing in the mythical Military Spacepower Hall of Fame.
Characteristics of a Military Spacepower Champion
Military spacepower's champion must be a tenacious, brainy visionary who also is a super salesperson. Charismatic Wernher von Braun, who had a grandiose dream that he pursued relentlessly, might make a hard-to-beat role model. He thought big after reading science fiction novels authored by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells plus the theoretical writings of Hermann Oberth, whose 1923 opus entitled Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (By Rocket to Space) was inspirational. Von Braun championed rocket development and space exploration between the 1930s and the 1970s and, in that process, opened up whole new worlds.7
Mining the Minds of Old Masters
Land, sea, and air schools of thought disregard or downplay interdependencies and benefits obtainable only from well-orchestrated joint and combined operations. Only the special operations school addresses the complete conflict spectrum, including complex problems that al Qaeda and other franchises generate during the global war against terrorism, which could persist for generations.
Military spacepower architects consequently would be well advised to retain the best and reject the rest. They might best begin by cherry-picking the minds of land power, seapower, airpower, and special operations masters whose legacies include numerous intellectual jewels. Carl von Clausewitz, for example, reminds readers that armed forces primarily serve political purposes.8 British visionary Basil H. Liddell Hart's writings could help theorists fit military spacepower into U.S. grand strategies that meld force and threats of force with diplomacy, economic pressures, psychological operations, subterfuge, and other imaginative means to achieve national security objectives under all conditions.9 Alfred Thayer Mahan's contention that enemies "must be kept not only out of our ports, but far away from our coasts" because the welfare of the whole country depends on trade and commerce perhaps applies equally well to circumterrestrial space.10
U.S. Military Spacepower Responsibilities
Congress, using Title 10, United States Code (USC) as a vehicle, assigns broad, enduring roles to our Army, Navy, and Air Force. That document enjoins each to prepare for prompt and sustained combat operations on land, at sea, or in the air, respectively. Primary responsibilities of the Marine Corps, within the Department of the Navy, feature the seizure or defense of advanced naval bases, amphibious operations, and combat ashore to promote naval campaigns. Title 10 additionally prescribes 10 "activities" (roles) for U.S. Special Operations Command, which possesses responsibilities similar to those of a military service. Title 14, USC specifies Coast Guard tasks. No comparable instructions establish a U.S. Space Force.
The President of the United States and Secretary of Defense assign space-related functions that supplement statutory roles. DOD Directive 5100.1,the pertinent document, directs the Army, Navy, and Air Force respectively to organize, equip, train, and provide service-peculiar space forces; develop service-peculiar space tactics, techniques, and equipment; conduct service-peculiar individual and unit space training; and participate in joint space operations, training, and exercises (see table 18–1).
Table 18–1. Typical Military Functions
Sketchy responsibilities listed in Title 10 and DOD Directive 5100.1 afford flimsy starting points for comprehensive, integrated military spacepower concepts, but corrective actions remain remote. Intellectual trendsetters who specialize in space therefore must generate a good deal of guidance on their own initiative.
Military Spacepower Concepts
H.G. Wells' imaginative War of the Worlds, George Lucas's "Star Wars" trilogy, and G. Harry Stine's Confrontation in Space11 stimulate surprisingly few enthusiasts for military spacepower. Conceptual progress thus remains glacially slow 50 years after tiny Sputnik, the first manmade space satellite, flew in 1957. Creative thinkers who also are crack salesmen accordingly should accelerate activities and broaden their visions to embrace armed combat as well as assorted support activities, which currently predominate. There are at least two strong incentives for doing so at an accelerated pace.
Shortly before its demise, the Soviet Union put low-altitude U.S. satellites in potential peril with the world's first operational antisatellite (ASAT) system, a ground-based orbital platform armed with pellets. According to DOD, "Several interceptors could be launched each day from each of [two] pads. . . . engagement during the first orbit [would leave] little time for a target satellite to take evasive action."12 Russia, whose relations with the United States currently are dicey, could easily perfect and deploy improved models able to penetrate much deeper space.
The People's Republic of China electrified the world on January 11, 2007, when it destroyed its obsolescent Fengyun-1 weather satellite with a test-fired direct-ascent ASAT, an action that fits neatly into Beijing's cosmopolitan space strategy. One commentator recently speculated that "a cycle of Chinese challenge and American response could come to dominate the bilateral relationship."13
Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst makes practical sense in those situations. President George Washington, in his first annual message to Congress on January 8, 1790, in fact advised that "to be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."
Relevant Interests and Objectives
A clear and sustained sense of purpose in the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State is imperative. National security interests such as survival, security, peace, prosperity, and freedom of action typify compelling wants and needs. Implementing objectives indicate what space forces must do to attain those ends under worst-case circumstances. Goals that feature nonprovocation might foster peace, whereas those that strive to control circumterrestrial space would mesh better with interests in military power. Most importantly, objectives on Earth and in space must be complementary to prevent perilous gaps and incompatibilities. Determination to protect Earth-bound command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) chains, for example, but not the fragile space satellites upon which they depend, would dangerously weaken the entire apparatus.
The principle of war called mass contains an important message for creative thinkers who strive to create superlative concepts for U.S. space forces: concentrate strengths on vital objectives. Airpower proponents, who grasped the full significance of that notion, long ago assigned top priority to air superiority, because strategic bombing, battlefield interdiction, close air support, reconnaissance, transportation, and C3I missions are unlikely or infeasible if rivals rule the air.
U.S. space forces currently depend on a few immobile Earth-based installations that launch, recover, control the activities of, and receive output from most spacecraft. All are vulnerable to missile attacks and sabotage. The survival of U.S. communications, intelligence collection, weather, and navigation satellites are now or soon could be similarly at stake if Russia, China, or both deploy sizable ASAT systems, which are technologically feasible in each case. "Soft kill" effects from electromagnetic pulse attendant to nuclear blasts in space and enhanced charged particle flux could be just as deadly as physically damaging weapons.14 Top-level U.S. decisionmakers consequently should soon ascertain whether protection for supersensitive targets should become the priority mission before, rather than after, the first crisis occurs.
Space-related Arms Control
Quantitative and qualitative arms races not only deplete resources, talents, and energies, but also guarantee ever-greater violence if armed conflicts erupt. Proficient arms controllers therefore advance assorted alternatives designed to discourage military one-upmanship without undermining required capabilities.
Arms Control Aims
Spacepower arms controllers, like those whose efforts focus on Earth and its atmospheric envelope, aim to verifiably limit numbers, types, technological characteristics, locations, and uses of armaments and stockpiled munitions. Successes foster the following strategic objectives:
Political cooperation, the most widely professed interest in space, conforms with the United Nations Charter, which seeks "peaceful and friendly" international relations everywhere. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, in conformance with the spirit and letter of that prescription, disapproves of sovereignty anywhere in space. The 1979 Moon Treaty more specifically states that "neither the surface nor the subsurface of the moon [or other celestial bodies within the solar system] . . . shall become the property" of any person, state, or other organization.15
Prudent strategists should treat both of the foregoing pacts cautiously, because they could become invalid when (not if) economic competition permeates space. Gullible U.S. arms controllers who inked "agreements in principle" and failed to read fine print in the past have been bushwhacked more than once since the Soviets unilaterally abrogated the nuclear test moratorium of 1958 with a spectacular series of atmospheric explosions in 1961.16 On June 13, 2002, 6 months after giving required notice of intent, the United States withdrew from the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty,17 which was incompatible with threats that developed first in hostile North Korea, then in Iran.
Some spacepower specialists, ever mindful of such developments, believe that no arms control is better than bad arms control. The flip side of that coin, of course, is that good arms control is infinitely preferable to none. U.S. negotiators who hope to avoid predecessors' mistakes consequently should insist that treaty texts precisely define the meaning of every significant word, phrase, and punctuation mark before they sign on dotted lines.18
J.C. Wylie sought a comprehensive theory that could glue all military schools of thought together into a whole that would equal more than the sum of its parts. Four assumptions, which even crusty critic General LeMay deemed "unassailable,"19 steered his search:
That catalog could have included as a fifth assumption Wylie's contention that "planning for certitude is the greatest of all military mistakes." He admitted that no general military theory could "guarantee successful strategy any more than a good political theory can guarantee successful government," but it could "provide a stable and orderly point of departure from which we might proceed . . . in devising, in carrying out, and in later criticizing a strategy for a particular purpose."20
Military space planners currently must rely more heavily on assumptions than their land, sea, and air counterparts. The following five assumptions are merely illustrative; the positions the planner takes will drive the ultimate strategy:
Deterrence has utility across the conflict spectrum on land, at sea, in the air, and in space. Deterrent dynamics, unlike those of passive avoidance, feature threats, promises, or acts, not necessarily military in nature, that pledge punishment if deterees perform forbidden deeds and perhaps offer rewards if they abstain. Spacepower strategists require answers to three key questions:
Concepts crafted to discourage onslaughts succeed most consistently when sound principles guide production. There are no firm rules like Bernoullian numbers and Boyle's Law of Gases, but preparedness and nonprovocation are just two among a dozen commendable principles of deterrence that savvy strategists could apply in space.22
Perpetual preparedness, whose constituent parts are readiness and sustainability, improves prospects for peace wherever and whenever virulent threats exist, because nothing tempts opportunists more than opponents with their guards down. Creative thinkers who craft military space concepts must answer the question: "Prepare to perform what tasks in which specific circumstances at what levels of effort?"
Robust defenses and preemptive/retaliatory capabilities normally give trigger-happy aggressors reasons to relax. Preparation to surge space deployments could strengthen deterrence by demonstrating resolve, provided sufficient assets in reserve are ready to respond on short notice. Concepts might concurrently call for deployed combat forces to adopt more favorable orbits. Decisions to do so would demand carefully considered judgment calls, because sudden military buildups and repositionings in space might prompt foes to preempt if they feared that they were about to be attacked.
Readiness to reciprocate in kind is another deterrent notion: you assault my spacecraft, I assault yours. Antisatellite capabilities pose powerful disincentives according to that concept, provided adversaries rely heavily on vulnerable space satellites, cannot replenish losses quickly at acceptable costs, and want to preserve their own forces more than they want to repress those of rivals.23
Military postures that rivals consider dangerously provocative can cause deterrence to collapse just as surely as unpreparedness can. Sound concepts therefore should shun "use or lose" space forces that must strike first or risk ruin. Deterrent strategies must dampen enemy proclivities to preempt, but that is a dubious proposition because dividing lines between deterrence and destabilization can be indistinct. Impervious space-based defenses able to neutralize enemy ballistic missiles in flight, for example, could camouflage a first-strike strategy. Even a few nuclear weapons in such circumstances might permit the possessor to win without fighting (the "acme of skill" according to Sun Tzu circa 500 BCE24), then direct losers to disarm. Poorly shielded foes would face two unattractive alternatives: surrender or suicide.25
Risk reduction measures, much like those fashioned to forestall nuclear conflict on Earth, might promote deterrence equally well in space. Routine discussions between adversaries, high-level hotline consultations, and on-site inspections of launch sites, satellites, space stations, and lunar installations typify potentially helpful confidence-building techniques. Participants in those processes nevertheless would be well advised to guard against enemy deception and disinformation.
U.S. offensive spacepower concepts pioneered by Wernher von Braun and Bernard Schriever thus far have been confined mainly to ballistic missiles that transit space.26 Nations that lack strong offensive or counteroffensive capabilities in space eventually will forfeit freedom of action, perhaps when least expected, and find it difficult to deter armed aggression against their interests anywhere. The desirability of attacking any target set depends on variables that include objectives, perceived threats to their accomplishment, degrees of difficulty, escalation prospects, other unwelcome side effects, and budgetary costs. Troublesome tradeoffs inevitably arise when key considerations collide.
Principles of War
Military strategists, practitioners of operational art, and tacticians tacitly paid homage to principles of war many centuries before Clausewitz compiled the first formal list in an 1812 memorandum for Prussia's Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm. Armies, sea services, and air forces in nearly every nation possess some compendium. U.S. catalogues contain 10 that could serve space forces as well as Earth-bound colleagues: objective, offensive, mass, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, surprise, simplicity, and morale.27
Not all of the foregoing principles are invariably relevant. Mass and economy of force, for example, compete for attention. Values vary with situations—offensive operations characteristically benefit from surprise, while defenders bank more on security. Some critics contend that principles of war possess little or no practical utility,28 and all are subject to interpretations, but most professionals believe that they comprise convenient checklists with which to appraise concepts, policies, plans, and operations. Spacepower specialists accordingly should modify existing lists if necessary, interpret each entry from their peculiar perspectives, then use the lot to evaluate risks and estimate costs before they knowingly violate any of them. Historical records reveal that winners by and large took heed of principles, whereas losers, discounting those who were clearly out of their league, generally did not.
Strategic Leverage Available in Space
Armed forces on our Moon theoretically would possess great strategic leverage, because spacecraft at the bottom of Earth's "gravity well" need tremendous energy to leave launch pads and climb quickly into space. Gravitational pull on our Moon is merely one-sixth as strong as that around Earth, so launch problems are minuscule in comparison. Occupants of military positions analogous to "high ground" consequently enjoy much greater maneuver room and freedom of action. Put simply, it is easier to drop objects down a well than to throw them out (see figure 18–1).29
Figure 18–1. Earth and Moon Gravity Wells
Low earth orbits, near the bottom of Earth's gravity well in terms of distance (60-250 miles), are more than half way up in terms of energy required to reach that altitude. Spacecraft velocity must be about 4.5 miles per second (mps) to attain LEO. A mere 2.4 mps more is enough to reach the top, nearly 240,000 miles higher.
Strategic Centers of Gravity
Clausewitz defined the term strategic center of gravity as "the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all energies should be directed."30 The Earth-Moon system contains at least two candidates. One has intrinsic value. The other is important solely because of position.
On Earth. Elaborate facilities that launch, control, support, and recover space vehicles from Earth almost certainly will constitute strategic centers of gravity far into the future. They are scarce, vulnerable, indispensable, and cannot be reconstituted expeditiously, and thus qualify as key terrain, the seizure, destruction, retention, or control of which would confer a decisive advantage.
In space. Five lunar libration points may constitute strategic centers of gravity in space (see figure 18–2). They actually are not points at all, but three-dimensional shapes, perhaps configured like 10,000-mile-long kidney beans. Mathematical models and computer simulations indicate that spacecraft within their respective spheres could remain there for long periods without expending precious fuel, because gravitational fields of Earth and Moon are in balance. Vehicles near L4 and L5, which are least disturbed by the pull of our Sun and other planets, probably could loiter almost indefinitely, if preliminary calculations are even close to correct.31
Figure 18–2. Map. Lunar Liberation Points
The U.S. National Commission on Space in 1986 envisioned that astronauts could fit L1 with military facilities as well as a "motel, gas station, warehouse, restaurant, and garage." L2 is a potentially important clandestine assembly area, since cislunar- and Earth-based sentinels could not see it. L3 seems suitable as a semistable staging base for military operations directed against Earth or spacecraft in orbit around it. Nature, however, hypothetically reserves the greatest advantage for libration points L4 and L5, which constitute presumably stable positions 60 degrees ahead of and behind our Moon in its orbit. Armed forces at either or both locations theoretically could dominate the entire Earth-Moon system, because they look down both gravity wells. Moreover, L4 and L5 are so large that forces lurking therein might be difficult to target. No other location is potentially as commanding.32 Military space strategists could modify Halford J. Mackinders's original Heartland Theory33 as follows, if the aforementioned postulations prove true: Who controls circumterrestrial space could dominate Planet Earth; who controls our Moon could dominate circumterrestrial space; who controls L4 and L5 could dominate the Earth-Moon system.
Maneuvering in Space
Most military space concepts concentrate on attack techniques that spacecraft might employ and disregard strike forces on our Moon that, perhaps sooner than shortsighted observers anticipate, could choose from the full range of offensive maneuvers in vogue on Earth. Envelopments from above or against flanks, turning movements that bypass forward defenses, and clandestine infiltrations might be most popular.
Assaults in free space conversely need innovative concepts, because the ideas of front, flanks, top, bottom, and rear would depend primarily on the direction that orbiting sensors and weapons systems face. Complex enemy space formations called constellations may make axes of advance immaterial, since widely separated satellites point sensors and weapons omnidirectionally. Orbital mechanics and human ingenuity limit maneuvering spacecraft. Counterrotation ASAT systems that attack almost head-on, for example, would have to follow slightly different tracks than their targets, or else they would collide. Relationships between point A and point B remain constant on Earth, whereas all weapons (save those that function at the speed of light) would require long leads and superlative homing devices in space—enemy spacecraft 1,800 miles away, for example, would move 100 to 200 miles or more in the 0.02 second it would take to bounce a reflection off that target and for a laser beam to return.34
Surprise and Deception
Speed (typified by directed energy weapons that strike without warning) and audacity can contribute to surprise. Earth-to-geosynchronous ASATs rarely will surprise opponents, because trips will take hours until technological breakthroughs radically reduce flight times, but weapons already in space could attack high-value targets without warning, if burn times were brief.35
Sun Tzu, the first well-known military strategist, professed that all warfare is based on deception,36 which might abet surprise in space, even though sensors can spot potential enemies at great distances in every direction. Vacuum makes it hard to discriminate between missile warheads and lightweight decoys, because the latter flutter in telltale fashion only after they enter Earth's atmosphere, where objects with low mass-to-area ratios lag behind heavier objects. Spoofers in space, like those on this planet, would find it easy to flood rival receivers with bogus messages, so recipients would be hard pressed to separate bona fide communications from bogus traffic.
Civilian "fronts" for military space activities likely will become more common. Prewar proof of fraudulence will be elusive, in much the same way that nuclear reactors sometimes fool seasoned inspectors whose mission is to confirm or deny peaceful purposes as opposed to weapons production. Fakers might deploy widely separated weapons components in space and then assemble them unexpectedly.
What, where, and how to defend are fundamental policy decisions. Previously identified strategic centers of gravity on Earth and in space clearly demand the least porous protection obtainable. Values, vulnerabilities, likelihoods of attack, implications of loss, and replacement problems determine what other spacepower assets deserve safeguards:
Savvy space defenders could use those five factors to prioritize problems and devise strategic and tactical schemes to reduce detection by enemy sensors, defeat attacks, and reduce damage.
Ballistic Missile Defense
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev on August 26, 1957, boasted about the successful launch of a "super-long-distance intercontinental multistage ballistic missile . . . [which] flew at a very high, unprecedented altitude . . . [and] landed in the target area."37 That test accelerated previously lackadaisical U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) efforts, although the first Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles did not enter active service until 1960. U.S. brainstormers first conceived Project Defender, which envisioned space-based interceptors long before implementing technologies became available.Progress peaked with Sentinel and Safeguard programs, and then languished after the Senate ratified the ABM Treaty in August 1972. The sole U.S. operational site at Grand Forks, North Dakota, shut down in 1975, but President Reagan's so-called Star Wars speech on March 23, 1983, revived efforts to make strategic nuclear missiles "impotent and obsolete."38 Belligerent North Korean president Kim Jong Il currently keeps BMD on U.S. front burners.
Land, sea, and air components have long played prominent BMD roles, but space-based contributions remain confined to early warning and communications. Fifty years after Khrushchev's announcement, the best available U.S. ballistic missile interceptors still leave a lot to be desired, even against mediocre opposition. Room for improvement thus remains immense.39
Active Defense in Space
Defensive problems on our Moon parallel those that defenders must solve on Earth, whereas the stealthiest craft in free space will remain somewhat easier to track than aircraft until advanced technologies not yet on drawing boards become available. Most, moreover, must fly predictable orbits at predictable speeds. The amount of thrust needed to change orientations significantly demands large expenditures of strictly limited onboard fuel.
Limit. Thin-skinned space vehicles, their optics, and their electronics are vulnerable to directed energy weapons (lasers, particle beams), kinetic energy weapons (Brilliant Pebbles, railguns, smart rocks), induced nuclear effects, and assorted other explosives. Hardening is possible, but only at the expense of mass, which causes costs to skyrocket. Even slight wiggling could diffuse particle beams that, unlike laser burns, easily penetrate the hardest shells. Survivability nevertheless will be poor until technologists and tacticians devise damage limitation measures much better than those now available.
The outlook for abilities to defend against electronic attacks is somewhat better. Encryption and deception could be a cost-effective way to limit enemy attempts to spoof. Extremely high frequencies (EHF) could reduce nuclear scintillation and absorption from minutes to seconds. Enemy jammers have to remain in the line of sight between transmitters and receivers, because EHF transmission beams are narrow. Outlays for high-tech defensive hardware acquired for such purposes, however, would be large. High price tags also would accompany programs to cope with electromagnetic pulse that nuclear detonations in space would induce. The acquisition, installation, operation, and maintenance of Faraday cages, filters, surge arresters, waveguide cutoffs, fiber optic links, and other sophisticated devices would merely scratch the surface.40
Limit consequences. Enemy assaults are sure to damage or destroy some crucially important targets, because perfect defenses are infeasible. Therefore, steps to limit consequences are essential. One way is to reduce target values. Many simple, single-mission, relatively inexpensive unmanned spacecraft, for example, would be preferable to a few supersophisticated but highly vulnerable budget-busters that serve similar purposes. Largely autonomous space vehicles able to perform most functions well without external instructions or support would make command and control centers on Earth and the Moon less lucrative targets. Redundant deployments and reconstitution capabilities could reduce the value of individual targets. The former would furnish immediately available backup. The latter would facilitate short-notice surges and simplify expeditious replacements.41
Impediments to Military Spacepower
U.S. military space forces currently perform unique reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, tracking, communications, navigational, meteorological, missile warning, and verification missions. Additional offensive and defensive contributions are currently feasible or conceivable, but military spacepower capabilities unfortunately will improve and expand at a snail's pace as long as technological complexities, astronomical costs, and impotent constituencies impede imperative progress.
Technological complexities associated with space operations currently dwarf those that plague the Defense Department's most complicated land, sea-, and airpower programs. Three cases nevertheless confirm that a competent whip-cracker, given high Presidential priorities, congressional support, and approval by the American people, could quickly and cost-effectively cut technological Gordian knots by welding individualistic innovators into a team and focusing their efforts until the mission is complete.
Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project produced the world's first nuclear weapons less than 3 years after Brigadier General Leslie Groves, USA, took charge in 1942. Despite the mind-boggling needs to split atoms, develop critical masses, and create controlled chain reactions, scientists devised Little Boy, a uranium gun-type bomb, and Fat Man, a more complicated and powerful plutonium implosion weapon, and then linked those huge munitions with suitable delivery vehicles. A 19-kiloton Trinity test atop a tower near Alamogordo, New Mexico, ushered in the nuclear age shortly after daybreak on July 16, 1945. Little Boy and the untested Fat Man obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively on August 6 and 9.42 Japan almost immediately capitulated.
Polaris submarines. The U.S. Navy, with Rear Admiral William F. Raborn as program manager, expeditiously designed, developed, and tested Polaris submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) 20 years after the Manhattan Project. That task involved at least five technological breakthroughs in breathtaking time: a nuclear propulsion system; an innovative navigation system; small nuclear warheads; solid fuel missile propellant; and an inertial guidance system suitable for SLBMs. Participants then deployed 41 boats within one decade (1957–1967)43 that clearly were the world's best and remained so for several years.
Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human being in space, circled this planet aboard Vostok I on April 12, 1961. U.S. astronauts thereafter left Soviet competitors in the lurch with astonishing speed beginning the very next month, when a Redstone rocket boosted Mercury capsule Freedom Seven 116 statute miles above Earth on a 15-minute, 28-second suborbital flight with Alan Shepard aboard. He barely had time to crow, "What a beautiful view!" before splashdown. Three weeks later, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy told Congress, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."44
NASA's team successfully completed 5 more Mercury, 10 Gemini, and 10 Apollo flights, then put not one but two men on the Moon. Meanwhile, a third loitered above after stacking a command module, service module, and lunar excursion module atop a Saturn V launch vehicle, the most powerful any nation ever built before or since (Energiya, a Soviet rocket that flew only twice, came closest in 1987–1988). Two prime movers kept progress on track: George Low, NASA Chief of Manned Space Flight, and NASA Administrator James E. Webb.45
Space exploration became a backwater soon thereafter, victimized by official disinterest and shrinking budgets that forced NASA to disband much of its marvelous team, which could have set the stage for military space capabilities. Infrequent shuttle flights and activities aboard a small international space station have been the only manned missions since Skylab's three-man crews briefly orbited Earth in the 1970s. Outposts on the Moon and other predicted spectacular outcomes remain conspicuously absent.
Research, development, procurement, operational, and maintenance funds sufficient to deploy full-spectrum military space capabilities currently would strain DOD's budget to the breaking point, even if U.S. Armed Forces withdrew from Iraq today, rogue nations like North Korea and Iran no longer threatened U.S. national security interests, and the global war on terror ceased. Exploiting natural resources and manufacturing bulky items on the Moon rather than boosting heavy cargoes into space would cut costs by orders of magnitude, but those options apparently remain far in the future.46 Meanwhile, most gaps between military spacepower concepts and reality will remain unbridgeable until affordable hardware and bases make pipe dreams come true.
The U.S. Army Signal Corps activated an aeronautical division with three men and one reconnaissance aircraft in 1907, soon after the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. Five redesignations, many mission adjustments, and two world wars preceded decisions to form a separate Air Force four decades later, because operations aloft were distinctively different from those on land and at sea.47
U.S. military space forces remain orphaned 47 years after the first military satellites began to orbit Earth. The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force will continue to grant space responsibilities lower priorities than they deserve until Congress creates a separate service with coequal status on a land-sea-air-space team and assigns fundamental roles, and DOD fills in blank spots with functions that cover the complete conflict spectrum from normal peacetime competition through the most violent conceivable combat.
Future of U.S. Military Spacepower
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy assigned a compelling spacepower mission in 1961 when he told NASA to put a man on the Moon and return him safely during that decade. The Nation cheered when three heroes accomplished that daunting task in record-breaking time, but the White House and Congress put manned space exploration on back burners soon after Kennedy's one-shot mission was complete and have kept it there ever since.
President George W. Bush in August 2006 promulgated a new National Space Policy that declares that "United States national security is critically dependent upon space capabilities, and this dependence will grow." It enjoins the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Secretary of State and other departments/agencies, to "employ appropriate planning, programming, and budgeting activities, organizational arrangements, and strategies that result in an operational force structure and optimized space capabilities that support the national and homeland security."48 That document "talks the talk" but most likely will not "walk the walk," because it assigns no inspirational mission that appeals to resource providers and the American people. Accelerated development of comprehensive military space capabilities therefore awaits the issuance of a Presidentially motivated mission calculated to generate comprehensive and sustained support, as opposed to scintillating flashes in the pan like a few Moon landings.
The Soviet Union, a military superpower and sworn enemy of the United States, was the first nation to exploit space. We quickly caught up with and then surpassed that worthy opponent scientifically and technologically but, 50 years later, there is no U.S. military spacepower school of thought, despite probabilities that future surprises could dwarf Sputnik's strategic significance. U.S. military spacepower concepts are still confined to reconnaissance, surveillance, communications, and other support activities plus ballistic missile defense.
Admiral J.C. Wylie's Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control contains repeated pleas for "a full bag of strategic concepts that will always provide . . . a strategy applicable to a particular situation assumed for the future or existing at any given moment."49 That thin volume additionally recommends readily available alternatives for employment whenever required, but venerated British strategist Basil H. Liddell Hart explained why resistance to a fully-fledged U.S. Space Force remains stubbornly strong when he wrote that "the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out."50
U.S. policymakers accordingly must massively alter existing mindsets, create a much better mix of offensive, defensive, and deterrent capabilities, cease excessive reliance on a few elaborate Earth-bound facilities that launch, control, support, and recover spacecraft, and replace supersensitive, costly vehicles with reliable, cost-effective collections. Failure to do so risks games of catch-up that may not be winnable if they delay imperative improvements too long. The most admirable military space concepts and plans, in short, would be marginally useful unless implementing personnel, materiel, and infrastructure are much improved.
Recommendations for Congress
Recommendations for DOD