Everyone of has seen Star Wars moves, but how many of us know anything about real-life space weaponry? This is so advanced tech, that it’s mind-blowing. So let’s check it out:
Space Based Weapons
The US space weapon X-37 is now circling the globe in relative secrecy. It is an unmanned space plane that looks like a smaller version of the Space Shuttle and was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 22, 2010. This new weapon poses threats to global peace and risks sparking an arms race in space.
“At one time, [the X-37] was going to replace the Space Shuttle,” said Bruce Gagnon, director of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. The replacement plan was scrapped, however. In 2004 NASA handed over the X-37 to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the Phantom Works at Boeing, the major aerospace player racing to develop space weapons and missile defense systems with millions of taxpayer dollars.
The X-37 officially is a US Military Space Place or MSP, and like most US space weapons, spreading anxiety across the globe. The Pentagon also has an unknown number of “dual purpose” space planes in the works; the Pentagon has publicly stated in their budgets these prototypes have been tested in wind tunnels. They might be space bombers, but no one is completely sure. They’re so secret, no one can say what they’ll be used for or how far developed they are.
A space vehicle that can repair, deploy and even attack satellites, or insert reconnaissance drones back into the atmosphere – all within hours of orders – is also desired. As one NASA official put it, the space plane will “be the key to opening and conquering the space frontier.”
To those trying to keep weapons out of space, such as Gagnon and his Global Network, the orbiting X-37 is a set-back. “I would say it is one of the first (space weapons) to be deployed, so yes the X-37 is now operating in space and should be defined as a space-based weapon,” says Gagnon. “The Pentagon though will claim it is not permanently stationed in space and thus falls outside the Outer Space Treaty – which is why we are strong advocates for a new comprehensive treaty to ban all weapons in space.”
The fear of an American space bomber, say experts, has one significant and severe backlash: other nations will develop their own space bombers or space weapons to counter any US MSP.
“There are scores of Chinese articles over the last two years that mention a U.S. space bomber,” said Gregory Kulacki, Chinese specialist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, from his office in Berkeley, California. “The Global Times and even television stations like Phoenix TV out of Hong Kong have a track record of hyping military technology and are unreliable, but the space bomber stories also appear in more reputable sources.”
Early in the Bush administration, and especially after 9/11, the Pentagon was making overtures that it desperately needed the ultimate quick-strike weapon when US forces, aircraft carriers, and even drones, are far from the target. Soon enough, the Pentagon was salivating over the prospects of acquiring a bomber that could take out a target within two hours of getting eyes-on-the-target intelligence. Katz-Hyman says the space bomber’s research is driven by the Pentagon’s desire to carry out this “rapid global strike”. Currently, long-range bomber runs using stealth bombers or B-52s take 12 to 24 hours to execute. Their effectiveness also depends whether certain nations will allow the US in their airspace.
The X-37 was born from a unique, stand-alone secretive US military program (and as its name states) referred to as the “X” series. Pinpointing how many planes are in the X-series is a challenge many investigative tech-journalists and scientists have been trying to overcome since the beginning of the Cold War.
One X-series brother of the X-37 is the X-43. Just 12-feet long, the X-43 is a scramjet or Supersonic Combustion Ramjet; its engine is designed to take oxygen from the atmosphere instead of from a huge and cumbersome liquid oxygen tank on board, like all rockets must do. In November of 2004 the X-43 broke the world record for a jet-powered aircraft by reaching Mach 9.6, or about 7,000 mph.
One of the X-series most classified descendents is the spy-plane the Aurora, which unlike the X-37, is manned. Conspiracy theorists believe the “black aircraft” – researched under the Pentagon’s black or secret budget – has been tearing through the skies since the 1970s. The Pentagon let it slip the classified Aurora existed when in 1985 the name “Aurora” appeared, accidentally, below a budget request for the SR-71 Blackbird and the U2.
Experts claim that billions have been spent on the Aurora, an aircraft that theorists stress must be hypersonic (fly between Mach 5 to Mach 20) due to all the secrecy. Speculation says the Aurora’s speed could be one-mile per second, or just over Mach 5 (3,600 mph roughly), giving an armed Aurora the ability to reach a target potentially within minutes. Theorists say the prime contractor must be Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works (now the Lockheed Advanced Development Company), one of the US military’s most secretive civilian-run research efforts.
As for Aurora witnesses, they are few and far between. In 1989, while working out on the North Sea, engineer Chris Gibson said he saw a strange triangular-shaped craft accompanied by a pair of F-111 bombers. Indeed, a similar craft has been glimpsed several times streaking over the North Pole. Satellite imagery has also captured a single, high-altitude contrail stretching from Area 51 to deep into the Atlantic.
Like the X-37 and the Aurora, the Obama administration’s future plans for exotic space weapons are cloaked in secrecy. Gagnon says President Obama is perceived as a typical Harry Houdini-like president.
“I call Obama the magician, you have to watch both his hands to understand what he is doing,” he said. “On the one hand he talks nice, says good things at times, but he is proving to be the classic politician who says one thing and does another. Obama is clearly comfortable carrying water for the weapons industry which is probably why the military industrial complex gave him more campaign donations than they gave john McCain. Obama is doing virtually nothing to reverse the militarization, weaponization, and nuclearization of space.”
The prospect of Earth being ruled from space is no longer science-fiction. The dream of the original Dr. Strangelove, Wernher von Braun (from Nazi rocket-scientist to NASA director) has survived every US administration since WW2 and is coming to life. Today the technology exists to weaponize space, a massive American industry thrives, and nations are maneuvering for advantage.
PAX AMERICANA tackles this pivotal moment. Are war machines already orbiting Earth? Can treaties keep space weapons-free? Must the World capitulate to one super-cop on the global beat?
With startling archival footage and unprecedented access to US Air Force Space Command, this elegant, forceful documentary reveals the state of play through generals, space-policy analysts, politicians, diplomats, peace activists, and hawks.
As if there weren’t enough weapons here on earth, space has become the newest arena for countries around the globe to launch their struggle for supremacy. Denis Delestrac’s film Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space is packed full of some truly startling facts — everything from the “Rods of God” (space weapons that can launch from orbit) to the fact that fifty cents of every American tax dollar goes towards military spending. The astronomical costs of arming and policing the heavens (more than $200 billion) has largely fallen to the US Air Force, but with China and other nations challenging American supremacy, there is the potential for a war to take place right over our heads.
Comparison of the space race to the sea battles of the 18th and 19th Century are apt, since so many global interests are at stake. As per usual, economics are at the heart of the struggle. Noam Chomsky draws analogies between the US weaponization of space to good old-fashioned colonialism in the tradition of empire. In the name of protecting commercial investment, the US has charged itself with being the arbiter of peace in space. But with the weapons industry replacing almost all other manufacturing in America, is this simply a ruse? Many experts unequivocally state that missile defense is the longest running fraud in the history of US defense. That it, in fact, disguises true American intentions to dominate space as a means of dominating the entire globe. (Getting rid of the anti-ballistic missile treaty was one of the first activities undertaken by the Bush Administration.)
If a space war were to happen, the effects could prove catastrophic. Since there is no way to clean up debris and space junk, it stays in orbit, circling the globe at some 14,000 miles per hour. At this speed, even a pea-sized piece of debris has the capacity to destroy whatever is in its path. This includes satellites that regulate most of the world’s information systems (everything from GPS to banking to media). But with China shooting down one of their own aging satellites, the race shows every sign of heating up. This time, the sky may indeed be falling.
In 1999, the designation of state secret was removed from the project that worked on the creation of an unusual aircraft, whose characteristics are reminiscent of a “flying saucer”.
The creation of the Lenticular Reentry Vehicle (LRV) or lens shaped aircraft, started at the end of the 1950s, as a part of the project code named Pye Wacket, whose aim was to create a flying defence system in the shape of a disc. Even though the project was cancelled in 1961, it proved that there are “healthy foundations” for the development of the lens shaped aircraft, which is a shape that has proven efficient as far as entering and returning from orbit is concerned.
The first concrete information about the LRV leaked into the public in 1999. One year later, the American “Popular Mechanics” used the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA), and launched a story that deserves a dominating position on magazine covers.
According to a report that was created by R.J. Oberto, a member of the US Air force, Los Angeles division, the LVR is an orbital war platform of an offensive character, that is capable of carrying four nuclear projectiles. The aircraft is fuelled by nuclear and/or chemical fuels, it has a diameter of 12 meters, it can remain in orbit for up to six weeks, and has a standard four member crew.
The American Army never gave official confirmation of the existence of a functioning prototype, but there is no lack of “earthly flying saucer” indications. For example, one retired employee air force employee said for Popular Mechanics that he personally saw an aircraft that fits the description of the LVR in the late 1960s in Florida.
More concrete evidence that lens shaped aircraft really flew (and are probably still flying) comes from Australia where in 1975, the farmer Jean Fraser found honeycomb-like remains of a “UFO”.
Fraser’s ranch is located near the area where the Australian, American and British forces tested some of their most secret nuclear weapons, which matches the technical characteristics of the aircraft fuelled by atomic/chemical fuel.
According to information that is being passed around, a “flying saucer” is in question, that exploded during testing in 1966. According to the sightings of the local population, the American Army then collected all of the remains of the aircraft that it could find, and returned them to the USA by plane.
However, the businessman Dick Smith found one of the pieces, and personally ordered testing of the material at the New South Wales University, where the chemical analysis confirmed that the “UFO” remains corresponds to components that are ordinarily used in the construction of aircraft.
The Secret History of NASA’s Middle Child.
With the recent groundbreaking at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the final journey of Atlantis – NASA’s ‘middle child’ in its Shuttle fleet – has finally begun in earnest, cementing a pledge by Administrator Charles Bolden in April 2011 to “showcase” his old friend at the historic site from which all of her 33 missions began.
When the Atlantis attraction is unveiled to the public, sometime in the summer of 2013, it will see the venerable orbiter suspended in a 6,000-square-metre, $100 million chamber, with payload bay doors open, as if in orbit, backdropped by a multi-story rotating digital projection of the Home Planet. If anything can reinvigorate excitement for the space programme and inspire the next generation, then surely Atlantis’ final mission promises to do just that.
The final resting place of the craft, which achieved so much in a quarter-century of operational service, is both triumphant and saddening, filled with honour and a tangible tugging at the heart-strings. Atlantis took the Shuttle’s first planetary explorers – Magellan and Galileo – aloft and her astronauts logged several hundred hours of spacewalking time, building the International Space Station, working outside Russia’s Mir complex and upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope. She was instrumental in Shuttle-Mir, which kicked off Phase One of co-operation with the Russians, and during her watch the citizens of nine discrete nations – Mexico, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, France, Russia, Canada, Germany and the United States – viewed the grandeur of Earth and the profound emptiness of the cosmos through her windows. If the ‘International’ Space Station is part of Atlantis’ enduring legacy, perhaps she should now be honoured as an ‘International’ Space Shuttle.
However, her space career began very much as a ‘national’, rather than ‘international’, asset and of her first dozen missions, almost half were classified and dedicated to the Department of Defense. This is understandable, since the Shuttle’s original mandate was to transport large reconnaissance and intelligence satellites into orbit, with its payload bay, delta-shaped wings, cross-range and unique upmass capability specifically tailored by NASA to satisfy its key champion, the Air Force. Early plans envisaged the reusable vehicles flying single-orbit, 90-minute sorties to place secret payloads into space, whilst later in the pre-Challenger era a second launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was in the final stages of preparation for a series of polar-circling missions.
From its conception, the design of the Shuttle was dictated to NASA by the military. The dimensions of its cavernous payload bay – covered by clamshell doors, here seen during the process of opening at the start of Mission 51J – were specifically engineered to meet the needs of the Air Force, whose powerful lobbyists offered political support for the reusable vehicle.
It is therefore a little ironic that Atlantis’ maiden voyage in October 1985 should have been top-secret…and yet details of her classified payload had already trickled onto the pages of Aviation Week, before the mission had even ended. Today, images of the payload from Mission 51J have long since been declassified and are firmly in the public domain, but only because it was little more than a pair of military communications satellites and not a ‘deep black’ reconnaissance platform or imaging sentinel. For that reason, almost two decades since the Shuttle’s last classified flight, most of the Department of Defense missions remain cloaked in secrecy…and rumour continues to abound about their nature. This series of articles will seek to uncover what little is known about them.
Mission 51J began with an upset wife. Management consultant Diane Bobko was particularly irritated as her husband prepared for his third trip into space. Unlike his previous missions, this one was classified and she knew that he was permitted to tell her very little about it.
“Bo,” she said, one morning in September 1985, “you’re not telling me exactly what day you’re going to land, but I think it’s going to be pretty close to a day I have a programme in Baltimore.”
“Diane, it’s the first flight of a new vehicle,” her husband replied. “Probably the safest thing you can do is go ahead and schedule that right now.”
To this day, Karol ‘Bo’ Bobko retains a noteworthy, yet often overlooked record as the only astronaut to have flown the maiden voyages of two Space Shuttles and he was clearly reflecting on the problems experienced getting Challenger ready for her first flight in April 1983 when he assured his wife that the first flight of Atlantis would probably also meet with delay. Ironically, it did not.
The ‘open secret’ crew of 51J are pictured at the end of their Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, standing in front of an M-113 armoured personnel carrier, which would be used in the event of an emergency evacuation from the launch pad. Karol ‘Bo’ Bobko (left) was joined on the flight by Ron Grabe, Dave Hilmers, Bob Stewart and Bill Pailes.
Atlantis was named in honour of a two-masted ketch, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute from 1930 until 1966, which became the first vessel built specifically for interdisciplinary research in marine biology and geology and physical oceanography. During her time at sea, Atlantis and her scientists scored a number of impressive discoveries, not least of which was the identification and description of the first abyssal plain – the ‘Sohm Abyssal Plain’, to the south of Newfoundland – in 1947. Today, she is owned by Argentina as a naval research vessel. The construction of the spacefaring Atlantis got underway in January 1979, following a contract award to Rockwell International to configure a structural test article into the future Challenger and build two additional orbiter vehicles, OV-103 and OV-104. The names ‘Discovery’ and ‘Atlantis’ were assigned to these new orbiters a few days after the award.
In March 1980, engineers started the structural assembly of Atlantis’ crew cabin and over the next few years the vehicle grew: construction of her aft fuselage began in November 1981, her wings arrived from contractor Grumman in June 1983 and she was complete by April 1984. Rollout from Rockwell’s Palmdale plant in California in March 1985 was followed by an overland transfer to Edwards Air Force Base and arrival in Florida, atop the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, in early April. By September, after installation on Pad 39A, Atlantis was ready to fly; on the 5th, her three main engines burned at full power in a Flight Readiness Firing, one of the last milestones to prepare her for her voyage. All told, the new ship required less than half as much time to assemble as did the queen of the fleet, Columbia, and historian Dennis Jenkins pointed to the greater use of thermal protection blankets, rather than tiles, on her airframe as one of the principal reasons for this.
Atlantis’ crew for 51J had been in place for some considerable period of time. As early as November 1983, NASA had identified a ‘standby’ crew for Department of Defense flights. It consisted of Bobko in command, together with pilot Ron Grabe and mission specialists Bob Stewart, Mike Mullane and Dave Hilmers. In February 1985, this group (save Mullane, who had been assigned to another flight) were named to 51J. The final crew member, payload specialist Bill Pailes, was only the second member of the Air Force’s corps of manned spaceflight engineers to fly the Shuttle…and, as circumstances transpired, he would also be the last. In the wake of Challenger, the military steadily distanced itself from the orbiters, moving more payloads onto expendable rockets, and the cadre was disbanded.
Command of this new flight posed something of a problem in the spring of 1985, particularly when Bobko’s previous mission was cancelled and he ended up leading his crew into orbit in April, under a different designation. The inevitable consequence was that Grabe, Stewart and Hilmers were forced to train without him for a time. What really made 51J a pain was its classified nature, in which the astronauts had to conduct virtually their entire training in secret, filing misleading flight plans to training destinations…and then finding out through the pages of Aviation Week and Flight International that details of their supposedly ‘secret’ payload had leaked and been exposed.
In fact, the twin-satellite cargo of 51J became something of an ‘open’ secret and details were published as early as 7 October 1985, the very day that Atlantis touched down. A single Inertial Upper Stage booster carried a pair of $160 million Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS)-III spacecraft, stacked one atop the other, images of which were finally declassified in the summer of 1998. They lend credence to Bobko’s claim that, for all its ‘secrecy’, 51J was little more than a ‘vanilla’ deployment flight.
Not until the summer of 1998 were any images from this most ‘vanilla’ of Department of Defense flights revealed…although the nature of the flight had long since trickled into the public domain. A pair of Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS)-III satellites, mounted atop a Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage, are here raised to their deployment angle in Atlantis’ payload bay.
The DSCS – nicknamed ‘the discus’ – has long been an anchor for the Pentagon’s global communications network, operating in geostationary orbit with half a dozen super-high-frequency transponders for secure voice and data transmissions and high-priority command and control links between officials and battlefield commanders. The Air Force later admitted that it had launched two DSCS-IIIs in 1985 and, according to space analyst Dwayne Day, “the only launch that year that fit was the Atlantis mission”. Subsequent documents highlighted that the DSCS-III satellites had been deployed during a Shuttle flight, but refused to reveal the name of that flight…even though it could be quite easily inferred. “Military secrecy can be bizarre at times,” wrote Day, “like acknowledging that there is a sky, and that the sky can be blue, but never saying that the sky is blue!”
Physically, the satellites were roughly cube-shaped, with a pair of articulated solar panels which produced 1,240 watts of electrical power. They measured 2 m in height, spanned 11.5 m across their expansive solar ‘wings’ and weighed 2,600 kg. Day considered it significant that 51J’s payload was so readily revealed, but the natures of the other classified satellites launched between 1988 and 1992 have been kept under wraps to this very day. “If the suspected identities of the other classified Shuttle flights are correct,” he speculated in an article for the Space Review in January 2010, “then they are intelligence satellites. Considering the secrecy that remains about American intelligence satellites, it seems likely that these other flights will continue to remain secret for a long time to come.”
Launch of Atlantis on Mission 51J came at 11:15 am EST on 3 October 1985, following a 22-minute delay to deal with a power controller in one of the main engines’ liquid hydrogen prevalves that showed a faulty indication. As with all classified Shuttle missions, the assembled spectators at the Kennedy Space Center were only aware that launch was imminent when the blank face of the famous countdown clock suddenly came to life and started ticking from T-9 minutes.
Yet there was still a degree of uncertainty about 51J. Flight International suggested (correctly) that if the rumours about the presence of DSCS-III satellites were accurate, then an Inertial Upper Stage was the most likely booster, but suggested the possibility that other instruments might also be aboard, such as the Cryogenic Infrared Radiance Instrument for Shuttle (CIRRIS) and a laser retroreflector for ‘Star Wars’ research. The Air Force cleverly refused to confirm or deny any of the rumours. After four days – one of the shortest Shuttle missions to date – Atlantis touched down at Edwards Air Force in California at 10:00 am PST on 7 October.
As it turned out, Diane Bobko was in California to meet her husband on the runway. Astonishingly, Atlantis had met with no significant delays, launched on time and landed on time. “So she was there to meet me in California,” Bobko remembered, “gave me a hug and then she had to leave right away to…drive down to Los Angeles to catch the airplane to go to Baltimore.” Later that evening, Bobko was startled out of his sleep by a telephone call. It was his wife. Surely, he thought, if a vehicle as complex as the Shuttle could launch and land on time, on its maiden voyage, then her domestic flight would have been trouble-free.
“You’re in Baltimore?” he asked.
“No,” she replied, glumly. “I’m still in Dallas, trying to get to Baltimore!”
No system of missile defenses can be fully effective without placing sensors and weapons in space. Although this would appear to be creating a potential new theater of warfare, in fact space has been militarized for the better part of four decades. Weather, communications, navigation and reconnaissance satellites are increasingly essential elements in American military power. Indeed, U.S. armed forces are uniquely dependent upon space. As the 1996 Joint Strategy Review, a precursor to the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, concluded, “Space is already inextricably linked to military operations on land, on the sea, and in the air.” The report of the National Defense Panel agreed: “Unrestricted use of space has become a major strategic interest of the United States.”
Given the advantages U.S. armed forces enjoy as a result of this unrestricted use of space, it is shortsighted to expect potential adversaries to refrain from attempting to offset to disable or offset U.S. space capabilities. And with the proliferation of space know-how and related technology around the world, our adversaries will inevitably seek to enjoy many of the same space advantages in the future. Moreover, “space commerce” is a growing part of the global economy. In 1996, commercial launches exceeded military launches in the United States, and commercial revenues exceeded government expenditures on space. Today, more than 1,100 commercial companies across more than 50 countries are developing, building, and operating space systems.
As exemplified by the Global Positioning Satellite, space has become a new ‘international commons’ where commercial and security interests are intertwined.
Many of these commercial space systems have direct military applications, including information from global positioning system constellations and betterthan- one-meter resolution imaging satellites. Indeed, 95 percent of current U.S. military communications are carried over commercial circuits, including commercial communications satellites. The U.S. Space Command foresees that in the coming decades,
an adversary will have sophisticated regional situational awareness. Enemies may very well know, in nearreal time, the disposition of all forces….In fact, national military forces, paramilitary units, terrorists, and any other potential adversaries will share the high ground of space with the United States and its allies. Adversaries may also share the same commercial satellite services for communications, imagery, and navigation….The space “playing field” is leveling rapidly, so U.S. forces will be increasingly vulnerable. Though adversaries will benefit greatly from space, losing the use of space may be more devastating to the United States. It would be intolerable for U.S. forces…to be deprived of capabilities in space.
In short, the unequivocal supremacy in space enjoyed by the United States today will be increasingly at risk. As Colin Gray and John Sheldon have written, “Space control is not an avoidable issue. It is not an optional extra.” For U.S. armed forces to continue to assert military preeminence, control of space – defined by Space Command as “the ability to assure access to space, freedom of operations within the space medium, and an ability to deny others the use of space” – must be an essential element of our military strategy. If America cannot maintain that control, its ability to conduct global military operations will be severely complicated, far more costly, and potentially fatally compromised.
The complexity of space control will only grow as commercial activity increases. American and other allied investments in space systems will create a requirement to secure and protect these space assets; they are already an important measure of American power. Yet it will not merely be enough to protect friendly commercial uses of space. As Space Command also recognizes, the United States must also have the capability to deny America’s adversaries the use of commercial space platforms for military purposes in times of crises and conflicts. Indeed, space is likely to become the new “international commons,” where commercial and security interests are intertwined and related. Just as Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote about “sea-power” at the beginning of the 20th century in this sense, American strategists will be forced to regard “space-power” in the 21st.
To ensure America’s control of space in the near term, the minimum requirements are to develop a robust capability to transport systems to space, carry on operations once there, and service and recover space systems as needed. As outlined by Space Command, carrying out this program would include a mix of reuseable and expendable launch vehicles and vehicles that can operate within space, including “space tugs to deploy, reconstitute, replenish, refurbish, augment, and sustain” space systems. But, over the longer term, maintaining control of space will inevitably require the application of force both in space and from space, including but not limited to antimissile defenses and defensive systems capable of protecting U.S. and allied satellites; space control cannot be sustained in any other fashion, with conventional land, sea, or airforce, or by electronic warfare. This eventuality is already recognized by official U.S. national space policy, which states that the “Department of Defense shall maintain a capability to execute the mission areas of space support, force enhancement, space control and force application.” (Emphasis added.)
In the future, it will be necessary to unite the current SPACECOM vision for control of space to the institutional responsibilities and interests of a separate military service.
In sum, the ability to preserve American military preeminence in the future will rest in increasing measure on the ability to operate in space militarily; both the requirements for effective global missile defenses and projecting global conventional military power demand it. Unfortunately, neither the Clinton Administration nor past U.S. defense reviews have established a coherent policy and program for achieving this goal.
As with defense spending more broadly, the state of U.S. “space forces” – the systems required to ensure continued access and eventual control of space – has deteriorated over the past decade, and few new initiatives or programs are on the immediate horizon. The U.S. approach to space has been one of dilatory drift. As Gen. Richard Myers, commander-in-chief of SPACECOM, put it, “Our Cold War-era capabilities have atrophied,” even though those capabilities are still important today. And while Space Command has a clear vision of what must be done in space, it speaks equally clearly about “the question of resources.” As the command succinctly notes its long-range plan: “When we match the reality of space dependence against resource trends, we find a problem.”
But in addition to the problem of lack of resources, there is an institutional problem. Indeed, some of the difficulties in maintaining U.S. military space supremacy result from the bureaucratic “black hole” that prevents the SPACECOM vision from gaining the support required to carry it out. For one, U.S. military space planning remains linked to the ups and downs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. America’s difficulties in reducing the cost of space launches – perhaps the single biggest hurdle to improving U.S. space capabilities overall – result in part from the requirements and dominance of NASA programs over the past several decades, most notably the space shuttle program. Secondly, within the national security bureaucracy, the majority of space investment decisions are made by the National Reconnaissance Office and the Air Force, neither of which considers military operations outside the earth’s atmosphere as a primary mission. And there is no question that in an era of tightened budgets, investments in space-control capabilities have suffered for lack of institutional support and have been squeezed out by these organization’s other priorities. Although, under the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the mid-1980s, the unified commanders – of which SPACECOM is one – have a greater say in Pentagon programming and budgeting, these powers remain secondary to the traditional “raiseand- train” powers of the separate services.
Therefore, over the long haul, it will be necessary to unite the essential elements of the current SPACECOM vision to the resource-allocation and institution-building responsibilities of a military service. In addition, it is almost certain that the conduct of warfare in outer space will differ as much from traditional air warfare as air warfare has from warfare at sea or on land; space warfare will demand new organizations, operational strategies, doctrines and training schemes. Thus, the argument to replace U.S. Space Command with U.S. Space Forces – a separate service under the Defense Department – is compelling. While it is conceivable that, as military space capabilities develop, a transitory “Space Corps” under the Department of the Air Force might make sense, it ought to be regarded as an intermediary step, analogous to the World War II-era Army Air Corps, not to the Marine Corps, which remains a part of the Navy Department. If space control is an essential element for maintaining American military preeminence in the decades to come, then it will be imperative to reorganize the Department of Defense to ensure that its institutional structure reflects new military realities.
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