June 20, 2017—Space Defense Revival?

June 20, 2017—Space Defense Revival?

“Someday, not too distant; there can come streaking out of somewhere (We won’t be able to hear it, it will come so fast.) some kind of gadget with an explosive so powerful that one projectile will be able to wipe out completely this city of Washington. . . . I think we will meet the attack alright [sic] and, of course, in the air.  But I’ll tell you one thing, there won’t be a … pilot in the sky!  That attack will be met by machines guided not by human brains, but by devices conjured up by human brains.” ~ General Henry H. Arnold, 1943

During World War II 74 years ago — before the advent of the atomic bomb or intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the Chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps, General “Hap” Arnold, had a prescient view of the future.  Later, as he led in the formation of the U.S. Air Force, he retained this visionary priority on science, technology, and American ingenuity to stay ahead of threats to the United States. 

Within about 15 years after Arnold’s comments above, Soviet ICBMs armed with nuclear warheads could indeed threaten to obliterate Washington, but our ability to shoot down even a single such ICBM eluded us until recently — more because of policy and political constraints than technological ones.  Until recently, it was politically incorrect to shoot down missiles aimed at the American people — and remains the case for deploying “machines” in space to shoot down nuclear weapons on their way to American cities.  It also has been politically incorrect for the United States to build weapons to destroy threats to our militarily essential satellites.

For years, elements of the elite “scientific powers that be” created conditions that frustrated the second half of Arnold’s vision, which called upon America’s edge in technology to provide for the nation’s defense — because, they believed, reaching that objective was not achievable — and that seeking to achieve it was not desirable.  They preferred to rely on diplomacy and arms control, and argued against exploiting technology, which, they believed, would only provoke an arms race. 

Whether by design or chance, the civilian scientific leadership over a half-century ago imposed bureaucratic institutional constraints that limited the ability of the military services to exploit cutting edge technologies to take advantage of space for traditional military purposes.  If combined with continuing arms control biases, continuing the past lack of vision among the military services coupled to a dysfunctional space bureaucracy simply would not be responsive to the growing threat from proliferating space technology among our adversaries. (To be discussed in a future message — to help us understand and avoid a repeated unwelcome history, especially in view of today’s growing threats.)

The time is short for America to rectify this legacy of the Cold War.  Needed is a new Hap Arnold and fresh organizations to exploit America’s technological advantage, while we still retain it, to assure the security of the United States and our allies around the world.  This is an opportunity for the Trump administration to meet an urgent national security need.

Background for Advocating a New Space Vision.

It has been said that the 1991 Gulf War was the first space war, given the enormously important role played by U.S. space systems in providing intelligence, warning of SCUD attacks, critical communications, navigation, precision strike aids, etc.  U.S. capabilities were absolutely dominant in that conflict — and the entire world gained an understanding of the significant military role that can be played by America’s space systems.

But since then, other nations have gained and are improving significant space capabilities — so a repeat of that conflict would not today be so easily dominated by the U.S. and its allies.   In time, many nations will have both space sensors (and other advanced technology) to provide them intelligence on U.S. force status and the ability to degrade or destroy our terrestrial and/or space systems.  We can no longer assume that U.S. space dominance in future wars will just happen — we must work toward that end.

For example, widely available space photography could now be purchased by Iraq to provide warning of the Coalition’s famous “left hook” maneuver that caught Saddam’s elite forces by surprise.  To deal effectively in future versions of the Gulf War, America will need to deny its adversaries the use of such space reconnaissance — and to defeat their ability to degrade or destroy U.S. satellites that have given us a technological edge in past conflicts.

We have understood this deteriorating condition for a long time.  For example, in transmitting their February 2000 report, the Co-Chairmen of the Defense Science Board on Space Superiority wrote that “space superiority is absolutely essential in achieving global awareness on the battlefield, deterrence of potential conflict, and superior combat effectiveness of U.S. and Allied/Coalition military forces. . . . An essential part of the deterrence strategy is development of viable and visible (and perhaps demonstrated) capabilities to protect our space systems and to prevent the space capabilities being available to a potential adversary. . . .The Task Force recommends that improvements be made to our space surveillance system, higher priority and funding be placed on the “protection” of U.S. space systems, and that programs be started to create a viable and visible offensive space control capability.”

More specifically, that DSB recommended 17 years ago that U.S. policymakers articulate two declaratory statements: 1) “The United States will take all appropriate self-defense measures, including the use of force, to respond to the purposeful interference with U.S. or Allied space systems, or those systems critical in supporting national security interests;” and 2) “The United States will take appropriate self-defense measures, including diplomatic and legal means as well as the flexible use of force, in response to the use of space by an adversary for purposes hostile to U.S. national interests.” Among other things, the DSB report concluded,

The use of space has become such a dominant factor in the outcome of future military conflict and in the protection of vital national and global interest that it should take on a priority and funding level similar to that which existed for U.S. strategic forces in the 1960s through 1980s.”

Still, 17 years later, it remains to be seen if the “powers that be” are ever to exploit fully America’s technological edge to build space systems to support current and future U.S. warfighting objectives. 

Examples of Related Past Political Opposition.

The following briefly recounts three examples of past politically charged resistance with which I am most familiar because of my personal related involvement.  

Resistance to Anti-Satellite Systems. In 1983 and 1984, the Reagan administration worked hard to reverse the so-called “Tsongas Amendment” that held hostage the development and testing of the Air Force’s F-15 hit-to-kill (HTK) Anti-Satellite (ASAT) system to a commitment that the United States would enter negotiations on a comprehensive ban of all ASAT systems.  I had overseen the development of the this important system as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force and later as Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) led the Reagan administration’s interagency development of its space arms control policy. 

Congress had been taken with testimony and arguments about 1) The dangers of militarizing space that allegedly would foster an associated arms race and an alleged lack of a requirement for an ASAT system, and 2) Suggested alternatives to developing an ASAT capability — especially including arms control.  A major component of the resistance came from members of the “elite” scientific community.

Our 1984 Report to Congress and many meetings with Senators, Representatives and their staffs eventually carried the day, and the Air Force was released from the Tsongas amendment restriction.  The Air Force then tested successfully its prototype system on September 13, 1985 — against a non-cooperative target, which should be noted by those who claim all “hit-to-kill” (HTK) interceptor tests have been against contrived targets. 

An operational F-15 fighter used its prototype ASAT to shoot down a dying satellite that had been on orbit for years—against a cold space background.  And that was 32 years ago, using 35 year-old technology, in a program begun in the latter days of the Ford administration, and carried through the Carter years into Reagan’s second term.

So what happened? In the face of much more fanfare about not militarizing space (responsive to criticism by numerous nations, including the Soviet Union and China) and lacking serious Air Force advocacy, follow-on F-15 ASAT activities were terminated and the United States has not since deployed a HTK-ASAT, in spite of the then — and so far as I know — still existing operational Soviet Co-orbital ASAT.

In 1997, President Clinton vetoed a Congressional initiative to support the Army’s ground-based ASAT that employed HTK technology similar to that successfully tested by the Air Force in 1984.  A lack of Air Force advocacy has, until recently, been limited, to say the least. Hopefully that is changing. Stand by.

Resistance to SDI. Recall the political uproar in response to President Reagan’s March 23, 1983 speech announcing his SDI — especially those aspects that had to do with space.  Not only the Soviets immediately charged that SDI would cause an “arms race in space,” destroy the negotiations then in progress, and generally have disastrous consequences for the East-West stability.  Many in the U.S. scientific and arms control community resonated with and amplified the Soviet alarm.  It was hard to tell who generated the shrill cries and who echoed them.

A notable early “authoritative” paper was written by McGeorge Bundy, George Keenan, Robert McNamara and Gerard Smith — “The President’s Choice: Star Wars or Arms Control,” Foreign Affairs, Winter 1984/85, p. 264.  They, like the Soviets argued, “It is possible to reach good arms control agreements, or possible to insist on the Star Wars program as it stands, but wholly impossible to do both.”  

Notable publications by members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Soviet Academy of Sciences mirrored each other — so similar were their arguments against SDI.   This led many to question why the Soviets should be so concerned if SDI wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t be affordable.

Nevertheless, President Reagan persisted in his support, though confronted by a torrent of vitriolic charges — especially during the 1984 election year following the Soviet walk-out from all on-going arms control talks in late 1983, after NATO began deploying the Pershing medium-range ballistic missiles in West Germany and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands — to counter the Soviet SS-20 deployments that began in the late 1970s and subsequently continued at a rate of two-a-week. 

After he weathered that storm, President Reagan’s commitment to SDI was rewarded when the Soviets agreed to return to the negotiating table in 1985 and negotiated seriously toward the first agreements ever actually to reduce nuclear weapon systems. SDI provided our primary negotiating leverage in achieving Reagan’s objective to reduce nuclear arms, and it was my job as his Ambassador to defend that important program against Soviet efforts to derail it — in Geneva and elsewhere.

Vladimir Lukin, when subsequently Russia’s Ambassador to Washington, stated he believed SDI led to an end of the Soviet Union at least five years sooner than would have otherwise occurred, as reported by President Reagan’s National Security Advisor, Robert McFarland, in an August 24, 1993, Op-Ed in the New York Times and in his memoirs—Special Trust, (New York: Codell and Davies, 1994) p. 235.

But what was behind these events?  At least the Soviets well understood that effective space-based systems had the potential to revolutionize warfare — not only for defensive purposes, but also for offensive purposes.  And they knew that they could not compete with American technology, innovative genius, and political will aroused to respond to the President’s challenge. 

Consequently, in Geneva, they proposed to ban all so-called “space strike arms” — to launch weapons space-to-space, space-to-ground, and ground-to-space.  Their propaganda machine widely advertised their concerns and the alleged merits of their worldwide proposals to “prevent an arms race in space” — and many echoes were heard, especially from our elite scientists. 

Nevertheless, when Reagan refused to give in to their concerns — as amplified by the press, allies and many domestic U.S. interest groups — eventually, the Soviets gave up their demands and negotiated seriously on the U.S. agenda, which was to reduce offensive nuclear arms.  

Moreover, President Reagan’s refusal to trade SDI at the October 11-12, 1986 Reykjavik Summit was a “watershed event,” according to Soviet Marshall Seigei Akhromeyev — who led the Soviet Experts at the Summit — in a conversation at the time with Ambassador Vernon Walters, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.  As the Soviet Union broke up, numerous former senior Soviet officials supported Ambassador Walters’ earlier report. Thus, SDI did not end arms control as arms control advocates had predicted; SDI significantly aided the U.S. arms control agenda.

Nevertheless — as was the case with the ASAT example, many eminent American scientists persisted until the end among the notable Cassandras claiming SDI would destroy arms control and stability between the United States and the Soviet Union.  If our negotiators in Geneva could get intelligence on arms control initiatives being conceived by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and associated advocacy groups populated by National Academy members, they had a pretty good idea of what could soon be expected from the Soviets across from us at the negotiating table.  Individuals and various groups from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and associated organizations were well connected to Soviet elites, who carried those positions forward to Soviet policy makers — and, sometimes, they used these U.S. groups to attempt to pressure U.S. policy makers.

Resistance to Brilliant Pebbles. Finally, consider when President Reagan made public the previously “special access” Brilliant Pebbles program in 1988 to justify his veto of the 1989 Defense Authorization Act, which arbitrarily capped spending for space-based interceptors (SBIs). In doing so, he overruled his National Security Advisor, then Lt. General Colin Powell, and his Defense Secretary, Frank Carlucci, who were prepared to agree with Senator Sam Nunn to limit spending on space-based interceptors.   

From my post in Geneva, I know that this was not the only time that President Reagan overruled his lieutenants in pursuing his SDI agenda.  That same kind of top-level commitment may be required today to overrule vocal contrary political pressures if the United States is to pursue a meaningful space power agenda as recommended by various previous commissions and committees. Hopefully, President Trump will be sufficiently committed to building truly effective BMD systems based in space.

Brilliant Pebbles was the most advanced space technology produced by the SDI program.  Yet it met its demise in favor of technology for more politically correct — but less mature, more expensive, more time consuming, and less effective — defense concepts.

Brilliant Pebbles became SDI’s first fully approved Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP) in 1990 — over a year before ground-based interceptors.  The R&D, procurement and 20-year operations costs were estimated by the Pentagon’s independent cost estimating bureaucracy to be about $10 billion (in 1988 dollars, corresponding to about $20 billion today) — much, much less than the cost of the first ground-based BMD site in Alaska and likely to be the cost of an East Coast BMD site being advocated my many in Congress today.

Congress — led by the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), who perhaps never forgave President Reagan’s veto of his 1989 Defense Authorization Bill — directed that Brilliant Pebbles be removed from MDAP status and made a technology demonstration program as a part of the negotiations on the Missile Defense Act of 1991, which mandated deployment of a ground based BMD site at Grand Forks, North Dakota.  In 1992, he again cut the Brilliant Pebbles technology demonstration program — from the reduced level he had approved in 1991 — in spite of his 1991 commitment to “robust” funding. 

I have an indelible recollection from my testimony in the April 9, 1992, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing during which Senator Nunn made abundantly clear his preference that Brilliant Pebbles be severely cut — even eliminated — in favor of funding various ground-based adjunct programs that were unnecessary or untimely. Then in 1993, the Clinton administration abolished Brilliant Pebbles. This cancellation was entirely a political decision, as made clear by the 1994 Pentagon Inspector General’s conclusion that the Brilliant Pebbles program had been managed “efficiently and cost effectively within the funding constraints imposed by Congress” and that the termination of key contracts “was not a reflection on the quality of program management.” 

Moreover, the maturity of the Brilliant Pebbles technology was demonstrated on the 1994 Clementine mission to the Moon.  The entire December 16, 1994 issue of the National Academy’s journal, Science, was dedicated to reporting the data from this widely acclaimed mission that pioneered NASA’s “better, faster, cheaper” approach to space exploration.  Brilliant Pebbles was killed for political and policy, not technical or management reasons.

The common misunderstanding of the basic cost realities was demonstrated when, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen testified that the Bush Administration (on my SDI watch) chose a ground-based NMD system over space-based interceptors because, he claimed, ground-based technology was more mature and such systems could be built faster. Click here for my July 31, 2000, letter to Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, documenting in considerable detail the facts contrary to Secretary Cohen’s claim.

Furthermore, space-based interceptors still can be built faster for less money than ground-based interceptors, and they would be far more effective — as a global defense, capable of multiple attempts to intercept threatening missiles early in their flight, throughout their mid-course flight, and during reentry as they approach their targets. Click here for a November 30, 2016 National Review article, “How Trump Can Fulfill Reagan’s  Defense Vision” that my former SDI Deputy and the Director of the Brilliant Pebbles program joined Dr. Bob Pfaltzgraff and me in explaining this important fact.

Contrary to common belief, the technology for cost-effective space defense systems was — and still is — more advanced than that for ground-based systems.   First generation Brilliant Pebbles technology was space qualified in 1994 by the award winning Clementine program, which was invented in the author’s SDI office as a safety net when it became clear that Senator Nunn intended to kill even a viable SDI technology demonstration program — even if President Bush had been re-elected.  Space-based defenses just were not politically correct, and I am afraid that they still aren’t. 

That’s why President Clinton used his short-lived line item veto power in 1997 to kill Congress’ effort to initiate a popular (among the scientific community) Clementine follow-on program that would have demonstrated the next generation Brilliant Pebbles technology by sending an instrumented science probe to intercept a deep space asteroid.

The White House press briefing accompanying the President’s line item veto of the Clementine follow-on mission made clear that the administration opposed sending this probe to intercept an asteroid in deep space precisely because it would further demonstrate advanced technology important to space-based interceptors. 

Sadly, when the Supreme Court declared the line item veto unconstitutional, the Air Force made no attempt to revive this demonstration program, which had been widely supported in the science community for its science value.  Subsequently, the Air Force transformed this cutting edge technology demonstration program into one employing older, less relevant technology in order to proceed with anything — and then even that reduced, less relevant program withered away.

Click here and here for a recent indications that the top Air Force leadership suggest they may now be more prepared to take important initiatives than has been previously the case — though not necessarily in concert with congress. Hope it works out this time.

Bottom Lines.

Long-range ballistic missiles have been launched through space for over 60-years — potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction — and many nations are now gaining that capability. But current U.S. missile defense programs, intended to defeat such missiles, fall far short of employing the best U.S. technology. Especially missing is still the space defense technology developed during President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), an era that ended in 1993 when then Defense Secretary Les Aspin proudly “Took the stars out of Star Wars.” 

That decision ended the only ever truly serious effort to develop a space defense force, as SDI ran into a political/policy buzz saw. Thus died the most promising BMD system concept employing late-1980s technology. Moreover, the associated technologists and their most creative products were dispersed, and any serious space defense development effort was neutered. No administration since has sought to restore either serious institutional advocacy or, to my knowledge, the most pertinent technology from the SDI decade — from 1983-to-1993.

So, will the Trump administration take advantage of the cost effectiveness of space systems or continue to avoid serious development of space-based defenses?  It certainly would be consistent with President-elect Trump’s commitment to build effective defenses as soon as possible. Stand by . . .

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.

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.

Encourage them to review our past email messages, posted on www.highfrontier.org, to learn about many details related to the existential manmade and natural EMP threats and how we can protect America against them.

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