Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman . . . Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder
High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . Reagan’s Vision Lives
E-Mail Message 140113
Space: The Final Frontier?
By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper
January 13, 2014
After reviewing our previous messages on the EMP threat from space posed by North Korea and Iran (associated with instabilities in the Middle East), we update our concerns about Russia and especially China. The bad news: Chinese belligerence is growing and includes threats to our critically important space systems. The good news: Space Command is considering new architectures to be more survivable with capabilities that only can be provided by space-based defenses.
I was (and remain) a fan of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, which debuted on NBC in 1966 while I was in the Air Force and ran for three seasons, followed by six feature films, a spinoff of four series of Next Generation TV-episodes and most recently by several prequel film presentations—not to mention a host of animated presentations.
These presentations reflected a popular, optimistic view of the future in meeting, enduring and overcoming challenges, begun during the Apollo era when we were focused on meeting President Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to send a man to the Moon and return him within that decade—met ahead of schedule. I am still an American optimist in spite of the major obstacles that we confront today, whether seeking to “go where no man/person has gone before” or simply to overcome age-old obstacles—and even though it seems we have lost our way, even retreated from our manned space program.
In particular, I seek to follow Ronald Reagan’s optimism illustrated when he picked up the pieces from President Carter’s “malaise” and restored a viable economy and national security programs, built on the idea of achieving “peace through strength.” Of particular note was his optimistic advocacy of space-based missile defenses—which was an important, achievable but unrealized, objective of his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Seeking that objective was of great importance in bringing the Soviet Union to an end and freeing millions in Eastern Europe—I saw this astonishing feat unfold from my post as his Ambassador leading negotiations with the Soviets for five years in Geneva—mostly finding creative ways to say “Nyet!” on their demands that we end the SDI.
It took political opposition within the United States to accomplish the Soviet objective, when in 1993 research and development on space-based interceptors was abandoned by the powers that be following my watch as the third SDI Director. Today, building such defenses remains as a dormant possibility in the United States, but such a system can be built if we have the will to do so—and it is needed as previously discussed and summarized below.
The most advanced SDI technology twenty year ago promised that the most cost-effective global defense could have been deployed in space by the end of that decade. Even though U.S. missile defense programs have not taken advantage of that technology, others have—most notably the Chinese, who well understand the strategic advantages of dominating the “high ground” of outer space. The question is, “Have we abandoned this final frontier?”
After recapping our previous messages, I want to highlight recent events that should heighten our concern about the risks we are running by not fully exploiting the available technology to build the most cost-effective defenses possible to deal with a growing global threat.
Recap of Past Discussion:
Last March, I reviewed Reagan’s commitment to space based defenses, illustrated in particular at the October 1986 Reykjavik “meeting to prepare for a summit.” He walked out because Gorbachev wanted to limit testing of space-based defenses to the laboratory, as a last minute deal killer, Nevertheless, we ultimately pocketed Gorbachev’s concessions that led to the INF and START I treaties—without agreeing to the limits sought by the Soviets.
Then in two April messages (on April 8 and April 24) I explained that North Korea and Iran have both launched satellites to their south, in orbits that could easily be adjusted to overfly the U.S. and detonate nuclear warhead payloads a few hundred miles up to produce an EMP to cover the continental U.S. and possibly shut down the electric power grid for an indefinite period. Such an attack strategy is not a new idea—in the 1960s, the Soviets developed a Fractional Orbit Bombardment System (FOBS) to deliver nuclear weapons against the U.S. just this way.
Notably, I also quoted Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, who reviewed these issues in considerable detail in Pages 260-263 of his exhaustive study, APOCALYPSE UNKNOWN: The Struggle to Protect America from An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe (available on Amazon.com) and summarized his assessment that perhaps we were experiencing another intelligence failure to appreciate the warning we have received—in his April 5 Family Security Matters article, “A North Korean Nuclear Pearl Harbor.”
We are completely vulnerable to such an attach strategy because our missile defense systems were designed to counter an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) attack from the North—originally from the Soviet Union (or China) and more recently from North Korea—which led to the deployment of a few Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) in Alaska and California. The Defense Department has been studying an additional deployment of GBIs to defend the eastern seaboard against Iranian ICBMs—again attacking from the north. But so far we have largely ignored attacks from the south, either by nuclear armed satellites or from ships off our coasts. Hopefully, this will be changing as a consequence of explicit congressional directions in the recent Defense Appropriations Act for 2014 to recommend how best to defend the homeland against such attacks.
In my view, our only near term defense option is to direct the U.S. Navy to develop its Aegis BMD system to “be all it can be” as quickly as possible. In 2008, the initially deployed system demonstrated it could shoot down a satellite at an altitude of about 150 miles—all that was needed beyond what is carried on an Aegis BMD ship is upstream sensor information to cue the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) into a “basket” close enough for the on-board systems to complete the intercept. As block improvements give the SM-3 interceptor additional capability, particularly higher velocity, the intercept altitude can be increased beyond its current capability, which is somewhat greater than demonstrated in the 2008 intercept.
But eventually, those seeking to attack the U.S. from the south will be able to overfly the Aegis capability—unless the Aegis ships can get close enough to Iranian and/or North Korean launch sites and are authorized to intercept the space launchers on the way up before they deploy their nuclear payloads into orbit. Otherwise, to satisfy that requirement, I believe space-based defenses are required—and possible, as I reviewed in my May 14, 2013 message.
We have known since DARPA’s Project Defender definitive study in the early 1960s that the only effective way to accomplish boost-phase intercept is from space—the only question was the technological maturity to do so. We had this needed technology on my SDI watch over two decades ago—actually had programs in place, which all of the Pentagon’s acquisition authorities had then approved, that could have built such a system by the end of the 1990s—using late-1980s technology. But these programs were canceled in 1993 when Defense Secretary Les Aspin “took the stars out of “Star Wars”—and they remain dormant to this day.
The first SDI Director, Retired Air Force General James A. Abrahamson, and I noted that this canceled space-based interceptor program was the best product from the SDI era (1983-1993) in our article celebrating the 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s speech launching the SDI program. We need to reconsider and reverse this cancellation and use today’s even more advanced technology to build an effective space-based defense. Pertinent facts are discussed in some detail in our July 5, 2013 message .
These improvements would be timely, not only in countering FOBS attacks from Iran and/or North Korea (who collaborate on developing ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and no doubt satellite designs), but also to deal with China’s growing strength and aggressive behavior. Our May 21, 2013 and June 4, 2013 messages briefly discussed the growing threat from China, but we remained focused on Iran as a more eminent threat. Our August 28, 2013 message elaborated that China is actively developing key technology that can be exploited in building anti-satellite systems—and related these reports to the earlier the Independent Working Group (IWG) warning that China was exploiting SDI technology they had obtained through legal, but dubious means, while the U.S. continued to ignore it.
Our June 10, 2013 message added that the 1998 Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States urged that we should get out of the Cold War rut in our thinking—and explicitly warned about threats from vessels off our coasts. Threats from the south are discussed in our July 12, 2013 and July 19, 2013 messages, which also included the initial action of the Senate Armed Services Committee directing the Secretary of Defense to take them and threats from the south into account in a report on needed improvements in our homeland defense capability—which became law when President Obama recently signed the NDAA of 2014.
More recently, we have focused mostly on three issues:
- The evolving (deteriorating?) situation in the Middle East, and dangers that could spin out of control as our “lead from behind” strategy abandons our only ally Israel and essentially turns over leadership to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin—potentially leading to Russia’s ally Iran gaining nuclear weapons and posing an existential threat to both the “little Satan” Israel and the “Great Satan” America. Of most interest to this summary, perhaps, are possible catastrophic “Black Swan” events that after the fact will impress the survivors that we should have anticipated and countered them while we had time.
- Failure of the federal government and congress in implementing measures to defend against the EMP threat and to harden the electric power grid—perhaps the most pertinent recap message was on October 28, 2013.
- Good news that there is growing interest among grass roots citizens and local and state authorities to press for solutions, including state legislators and members of the National Guard, which can play a key role in integrating local, state and federal response teams to deal effectively with the threat.
Recent Updates on the Role of Russia and China.
I could continue recapping our reports, which you can scan from our webpage — www.highfrontier.org but I want to highlight some concerns about activities of Russia and China that politically impede our ability to build the most effective ballistic missile defenses, those based in space.
Russia: Russia’s bombastic opposition to our efforts to provide limited defenses for our European allies against Iranian ballistic missiles sound very much like the Soviet arguments I heard and dismissed for five years in Geneva.
Their opposition to any ballistic missile defense against Iran is couched in terms of alleged instability and threats to Russia—even as they build, test and deploy more effective offensive strategic systems that can easily overwhelm our defenses—and while our aging strategic systems atrophy. And, of course, they retain and maintain their nuclear armed ballistic missile defenses.
Also a concern is that for several years we have been buying space on Russia’s launch systems to put our systems and men into space—since we have not replaced our shuttle capability. Hopefully, our private sector will shortly rectify this unhealthy situation as it produces independent launch capability that can reduce our dependence on Russia (and/or others). But we still have no plan worth the label of a manned space program.
My biggest concern about Russia is associated with its above mentioned role in the Middle East and the demographic trends that are reducing the indigenous Russian influence—in favor of a growing Islamic influence. This is not a healthy situation for a world power with thousands of nuclear weapons, and which remains hostile to U.S. strategic interests. A near term focus in the next several weeks will surely be the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi and how the Russian (and our) authorities deal with the threat of terrorism.
China: Actually, I worry more about China, especially for the longer term. Beyond the previous articles linked above, several recent reports on China’s growing aggressive behavior are producing increased instability in its “near abroad,” reflecting China’s increased economic independence, perception of U.S. weakness and growing military capabilities, including in space.
On the economic front, China owns a major growing portion of our debt—as measured in Treasury bonds—and its investments in hard assets are growing. According to Derek Scissors, Chinese U.S. hard investments set a record last year at over $14 billion, over 50% more than 2012. The accumulated sum since 2005, which is still small as compared to the $70 trillion value of U.S. assets, is compared to Chinese investments in other nations in the following figure, which summarizes world’s only fully public database for Chinese non-bond investment (provided by the American Enterprise Institute – Heritage Foundation China Global Investment Tracker). It contains more than 500 investments of $100 million or more made by the People’s Republic since 2005, worth over $475 billion (plus hundreds of engineering and construction contracts).
Scissors observes that, in 2013, America passed Australia as the PRC’s leading investment target. In 2013, China bought a large food company (Smithfield), extensive and recognizable properties in Los Angeles and New York, and several billion dollars in shale production rights.
On the military/foreign policy front, Retired Adm. James A. Lyons (former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations) and Richard D. Fisher Jr. (a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center) recently discussed some disturbing strategic/military issues with recommendations of appropriate U.S. actions. And Victor Davis Hanson’s recent analysis noted haunting similarities between how China is now flexing its muscles and Japan’s behavior in the 1920s and 1930s.
Perhaps of greatest interest to me are China’s growing military capabilities in space, including for military purposes, as authoritatively argued by the Commander of Air Force Space Command and reported by Bill Gertz. According to Air Force General William Shelton, several key points are:
- The Pentagon is considering a major shift to smaller satellites to respond to the fact that U.S. strategic military satellites are vulnerable to attack, particularly from China’s ability to destroy U.S. satellites and its growing threat of both space weapons and high-speed orbiting debris. All orbits are being contested. We face a host of man-made threats that may deny, degrade, or disrupt our capabilities—via electronic jamming, laser attacks and “direct attack weapons,” which are all systems being developed by China’s military.
- China’s anti-satellite weapons range from ground-launched missiles that destroy orbiting satellites—including at high earth orbit to ground-based lasers, electronic jammers, and cyber attacks. China launched three small maneuvering satellites as part of its ASAT program, including one with a robotic arm that can be used to capture or destroy orbiting satellites.
- In the new contested space environment, a new strategy and architecture are needed to shift away from large, multiple-payload satellites in favor of a larger number of smaller and simpler systems, which would be less expensive and conform to the currently tight defense budgets. Thus, the Pentagon is considering ways to replace or restructure satellite systems, along with better methods to dissuade and deter enemies from attacking them. Included is the possibility of diversifying the current U.S. satellite arsenal of scores of orbiters.
- An unwise initiative prompted by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is for the United States to join an international code of conduct for space, which likely would constrain the United States’ freedom of action in the increasingly contested realm of space.
More lightweight satellites sounds like a good move to me—this is exactly what we concluded was the best architecture for space-based defenses over a quarter century ago. Hopefully, the study to which General Shelton referred will also conclude that architecture should be extended to active defenses that, as argued above, are the best and essentially only way to achieve an effective defense to shoot down attacking missiles in the boost phase as they rise from their launch pads.
In the near term to counter the threat from Iranian nuclear-armed satellites, make Aegis BMD all it can be as quickly as possible—and build space-based defense as the long term solution.
Just so, maybe we’ll go back to the future! Or, as in our title, to control “space, the final frontier.” That would be far better than to let that capability fall to China or anyone else.
And that would fit with High Frontier’s perspective—and Ronald Reagan’s —since the early 1980s.
Regarding the last bullet above, beware executive agreements that de facto join an international code of conduct in space, as the Obama administration seems inclined to emphasize across the board—not in space, please!
Near Term Plans.
On January 18-20, I will be attending the 2014 South Carolina Tea Party Coalition (SCTPC) Convention in Myrtle Beach. On the 20th,, I will be discussing my concerns and how informed citizens can help to provide for the common defense from an existential EMP threat—whether manmade of from a natural—e.g., solar—event. This will be a follow-up to my discussion at last year’s conference. To whet your appetite, I encourage you to watch this 2014 SCTPC Trailer, which includes excerpts from my talk as well as from a number of others I was pleased to join.
What can you do?
Join us in praying for our nation, and for a rebirth of the freedom sought, achieved and passed to us by those who came before us. Happy New Year to you and yours!
Get involved— in particular, let you electric power company know of your concern and urge them to harden the electric power grid.
Help us to spread our message to the grass roots and to encourage all “powers that be” to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.
Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage, www.highfrontier.org for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter!
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