Recently in the January 4, 2016 edition of Space News magazine, the cover headlines read as follows, “Can $ 5.5B prevent a war in space?” This question is referring to the budget allocation that the Department of Defense has pledged to addressing the issues of threats to American space systems due to the increase in ASAT testing by China, Russia and other potential adversaries. Congress directed in a recent NDAA that the United States Department of Defense update the National Security Space Strategy to include a Space Protection Strategy and to include viable deterrent options including offensive and defensive counterspace systems. Some of the response to this included investment in some “protection” capacities over several years.
However, the short answer to the question is NO. Why? Because we are not providing protection to anything. We are not deterring anything and not imposing risk, cost or threats upon potential adversaries. I once heard a fellow space professional say that the starting point in any conversation on space strategy or policy was the fact that “We (the United States} never want to go to war in space-the goal is how to keep us out of war by using all means of national power.” This is inverted. It does not matter that we as the United States don’t want to wage war in space, what matters is that other nations might see things differently and might see waging war in space a much more effective use of limited resources that would present more impacting effects on the US and our allies, than a traditional surface, terrestrial conflict on the outset. We need to think like an adversary and move forward in planning, strategizing and developing the requirements and weapons needed for our defense and a credible deterrent to attack.
With nations such as China developing and testing mobile, kinetic kill ASAT missiles capable of hitting almost all orbital regimes, lasers and a rapid reconstitution launch vehicle, it highlights, that nations like China are preparing for what they term as “destructive wars” while we are still perceiving that people hold the same views as we do on everything from space “sustainability” to “norms of responsible behavior”. In reality, the strategic environment is more complex than those devised by mirror imaging. Reading articles like the ones below highlight a trend.
What is the trend? The trend is that there is a desperate desire, and one that is totally understandable, a desire to prevent all out war in space. Some have even written articles that claim that space debris is “weaponization” of space (see Michael Krepon link below). Once cannot prevent war in space unless the opportunity to achieve strategic objectives through space weapons can be neutralized. This will not and cannot be done through rules of responsible behavior, or transpareny and confidence building measures or diplomacy without enforcement.
Currently, our nation’s space leaders prefer to accept risk, as the Quadrennial Defense Review refers to vulnerability, rather than prepare for the war that is already being waged on the reversible side of the counterspace spectrum and the “rapid, destructive wars” that near peers such as China are preparing for as part of their space deterrent and warfighting forces.
In the weeks and months to come, we will review these and other ideas in more depth and highlight where we stand in space security and how it impacts the homeland and the American way of life in more ways that we might even realize.