“China is pursuing a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities, which includes direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons.” ~ Bill Gertz, reporting on a new study by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, to be published next month.
Bill Gertz reports in the Washington Times that the Chinese are developing two classes of anti-satellite (ASAT) systems:
- Two “direct ascent” ASAT systems — employing ground-based rockets intended to shoot down satellites in low- and high-altitude orbits, and
- Co-orbital ASAT systems intended to snuggle up to and encounter their intended target satellites with explosives, a fragmentation device, kinetic energy weapon, laser, radio frequency weapon, jammer or a robotic arm.
Gertz quotes the Commission in stating that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “assesses U.S. satellites are critical to the United States’ ability to sustain combat operations globally” . . . and “PLA analysis of U.S. military operations states that ‘destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision-guided weapons into full play.'”
While these conclusions about China’s intentions are important, they are not new. Indeed, these systems support China’s long-standing military doctrine as comprehensively discussed by Michael Pillsbury in his recent book, The Hundred Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower. We continue to ignore these facts at our peril, especially now as China’s exploits of modern technology challenge our own.
Consequently, we need to match our related deeds and policy much better than previously has been the case.
Historically, China and others (notably Russia, which over 30-years ago had an operational co-orbital ASAT) have sought to use arms control initiatives to lull the United States and Western powers to sleep — and to encourage their arms control elite to inhibit U.S. ASAT development activities. I saw this up close and personal as USAF Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic and Space Systems when, among other things, I oversaw the development of our F-15 launched hit-to-kill ASAT, and members of congress sought to block our efforts.
Shortly thereafter, one of my first jobs as Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) for Strategic Programs was to lead the interagency activities in responding to the so-called Tsongas amendment, after Senator Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), which blocked funding unless the United States sought a comprehensive ASAT ban.
We prepared a comprehensive unclassified report, with exhaustive classified backup, explaining that such a comprehensive ban was neither verifiable nor in the U.S. national security interest. Happily, we were successful in blocking the Tsongas amendment — and the F-15 ASAT was successfully tested on September 13, 1985 — it certainly captured the attention of our Soviet counterparts in the Geneva Defense and Space Talks.
And then for political reasons, Congress blocked any further funding for follow-on ASAT developments. Several years later during the Clinton administration, the Army was pursuing a ground-based ASAT, until President Clinton used his “fleeting” line-item veto power to block the funding congress had provided for such development. Notably, he also vetoed funding for an Air Force space plane and for a deep-space probe follow-on to the Clementine effort (which space-qualified essentially all Brilliant Pebbles technology), because they employed “Star Wars” technology — such was the animosity for Ronald Reagan’s interest in space defenses.
These political issues remain a problem because there is ideological opposition to military space systems — and the opposition includes domestic and international arms control efforts more to block related U.S. development activities than to provide any effective constraint on others. The above-mentioned Report to Congress demonstrated that it is practically impossible to verify any meaningful ASAT arms control agreement.
I reported on lessons that should have been learned from the F-15-ASAT experience in a 1989 Strategic Review article, perhaps worth rereading in view of today’s environment and continuing efforts to impose arms control constraints, especially on defensive U.S. space development and operations activities.
Indeed, I believe the United States should revive a serious program to deploy a space-based defense system as quickly as possible — especially in view of the escalating threat to our space and other systems and the imbalance in capabilities being engendered by China’s initiatives.
As I have written several times — in particular on July 5, 2013, the most cost-effective system developed by President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was a space-based defense. SDI’s first Director LGen. Jim Abrahamson (USAF Ret.) joined me in this conclusion in our Journal of International Security Affairs article discussing the state of missile defense programs on the 30th Anniversary of President Reagan’s March 23, 1983 speech that launched the SDI.
I believe that LGen. George Monahan (USAF Deceased) would also have joined us if he had still been alive—it was on his watch that the Brilliant Pebbles program became the first SDI system to become a formal, Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) approved, program. I witnessed these efforts while conducting an independent review of SDI programs for Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and President George H.W. Bush. Below is my most recent cost estimate for a Brilliant Pebbles constellation, based on that DAB approved program and associated DoD approved cost estimates.
The Brilliant Pebbles system underwent the most intense scrubbing of any advanced technology program that I had witnessed during my then thirty five years in the research and development on strategic and space systems. This season of studies is reviewed by Don Baucomb in his “Rise and Fall of Brilliant Pebbles,” along with his historical perspective of the evolution of missile defense programs as a past historian for the SDI program.
It was then my privilege as the third SDI Director to shepherd Brilliant Pebbles through the remainder of the Bush-41 administration. Although we were successful in increasing overall funding for SDI, the Congress insisted, without technical justification, that Brilliant Pebbles be returned to a technology development status. When leaving the Pentagon on January 20, 1993, I left a Brilliant Pebbles program with congressionally approved FY1993 funding of $300 million.
The Clinton administration scuttled this, the most cost-effective program of the SDI era (and also sharply curtailed everything else), and to my knowledge nothing has been done to revive it since — by either Democrat or Republican administrations.
In view of the afore-mentioned efforts of China (and those of Russia and others), this ill-founded decision should be revisited and that concept should be revived as quickly as possible — with today’s technology, which should reflect numerous improvements given the multiple cycles of Moore’s Law since the 1989 technology that was the basis of the DAB-approved Brilliant Pebbles program.
That China currently may be leading the pack of those developing space systems should not be a surprise. As the Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship & the Twenty-First Century reported in 2007, Appendix B and 2009, Appendix B, China began years ago exploiting cutting edge SDI technology while the United States was abandoning it for purely political reasons. And now we are at best playing catch-up.
So, as you consider Halloween Goblins and trick or treat alternatives, how about joining forces to revive a program to build an effective global defense?
We once knew how to do such jobs. And we’ve been behind before so we should take heart and just get the job done.
For example, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into space. I recall as a Clemson College engineering junior searching the sky for the passage of Sputnik 1. A month later on November 3, 1957, Sputnik 2 placed a dog into space. All ahead of the United States which floundered at first through the Vanguard program efforts, but then passed the ball back to Werhner von Braun, who had been trying to get the powers that be to let him launch a satellite — and he and his Army team launched Explorer 1 on January 1, 1958.
Then, NASA was shortly formed and President Kennedy challenged them to send a man to the Moon and return him to Earth within the 1960s decade — and NASA performed ahead of schedule.
Have we forgotten how to do such things?
We just need to try again!
China certainly is trying. We should — must — not abandon space to them. Nothing short of our survival may be at stake.
Happy Halloween! Beware the Goblins.
We need some “quick fixes” to very troublesome problems in view of the evolving threats from China and elsewhere. A truly cost-effective space-based defense would be a major step forward. Such a defense would also address the Iranian and North Korean ballistic missile threat that is clearly going to grow.
We are vulnerable to threats like the recently tested Iranian ballistic missile if it is launched from vessels off our coasts — particularly from the Gulf of Mexico, a threat against which we are currently completely vulnerable. Both North Korea and Iran have launched satellites to their south to approach the United States from over the South Polar regions — again a threat we need to counter. A space-based defense like Brilliant Pebbles can address both threats.
To counter these threats we need to revive Reagan’s “Peace through Strength” vision, including effective missile defenses, especially those that are space based, and to harden the electric grid against EMP effects.
Near Term High Frontier Plans.
We will continue to inform our readers of the looming threats we confront—and where appropriate urge them to engage in countering that threat. Our leaders are failing at their sworn duty “to provide for the common defense”
We will press for building the most cost-effective ballistic missile defenses possible and working with South Carolina folks to build a coalition to engage constructively with private citizens and their local and state representatives and other authorities to work with the SC National Guard in understanding and responding to the existential threats to the electric power grid.
We are especially focused on the nuclear power reactors that produce 60 percent of SC electricity—and more generally 20-percent of the nation’s electricity.
If it can be assured that they “operate through” a major blackout of the electric power grid, they can play a very important role for resurrecting it over an extended time and supporting the general public’s survival in the meantime. Click here to see the recent Washington Examiner article to infer the urgent importance of assuring this capability for our nuclear power reactors.
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. I hope you will help us with our urgently needed efforts, which I will be discussing in future messages.
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