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The Weaponization of Space: Implications for U.S. National Security

Speakers: Randall Correll, senior scientist, Integrated Resource Strategies Operation, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), and Theresa Hitchens, vice president, Center for Defense Information
Author: Bruce M. DeBlois, director of systems analysis, Center for Transformation Systems, BAE Systems
April 6, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations



BRUCE DEBLOIS:  I guess we’ll get started. Welcome, everyone, to the Council on Foreign Relations. I see quite a few familiar faces out there but also quite a few new faces. And I guess that’s indicative that maybe this issue of the potential weaponization of space is becoming more of an issue. That’s a good thing—public debate is a good thing. And I think it’s terrific that the Council on Foreign Relations hosts events like these to get these science and technology issues and the implications on foreign policy out in open forum.

I would like to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this. And also, specific thanks to [inaudible] for pulling this all together. Quite a bit of work to keep everyone on track and get us all here today. I have to do a bit of a disclaimer for the Council. The Council does not take political positions on either side of issues. They really press to hold open forums and open debates. That will be the case today. The potential weaponization of space is a pretty hotly contested issue. I’m a moderator today. I’m going to try to be objective, and stay that way. So I guess I get to defer. I don’t think it’s—is it a coincidence that Theresa happens to be on my left, [laughter] and Randy happens to be on my right? But if that gives you a sense of where they may be coming from—a few reminders to the audience. Please turn off your cell phones. This session is on the record, so attribution is in effect.

What I’d like to do is begin with a five-minute—some five-minute introductory comments by each of the speakers. I’ll introduce them as I [inaudible] for them. And then I’ll ask a few questions to kind of get us grounded in terms of the context of the debate, and then we’ll open it up to the floor for questions. When we do that, if you just raise your hand and when you’re called upon wait for the microphone so everybody can hear what you have to say. Please stand, state your name and who you represent, what affiliations you have. And if you can, keep the questions as concise and to the point and directed at one of the speakers as possible, and that way we can open the floor to as many comments and questions as possible.

Well, let’s start. And I’d like to first start by introducing Ms. Theresa Hitchens. Theresa is the vice president of the Center for Defense Information. She’s very widely published. When I read Theresa’s background, what impressed me the most last night [was] that she spent quite a bit of time overseas. And anybody that knows Theresa, you know she’s quite personable. So I think she gets the real background in terms of, well, what’s the international perspective on the U.S. position on these space issues. I think she hears what is actually ground truth from an international perspective. She certainly has that experience. She was the Brussels chief for Defense News for five years. And she continues on the editorial board for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

But at this point, I’d like to offer Theresa five minutes or so to kind of give a background of where she came into this issue from and then what her—what she sees as the most pressing aspects of the issue are. Theresa?

THERESA HITCHENS:  Thanks, Bruce. And I want to thank the Council again for inviting me today. I truly believe that this is one of the most important security issues for the next century, and thus, it’s very important that we have a true public and political debate in this country about the direction we go.

I’ve been working on space security issues since I arrived at the Center for Defense Information in 2000. We have something called the Space Security Project. But I was interested in space issues a long time before that, perhaps because my very first job in Washington was as an intern for [Democratic] Senator John Glenn of Ohio. So I’ve had background in it as well doing reporting.

I’m going to go through and sort of hit key points with regard to what is happening with U.S.—primarily U.S. national policy towards space. Right now, the Air Force in particular is pushing a strategy of space warfare that would see the United States fighting in, from, and through space. And it’s my belief that this is an extremely dangerous strategy. It’s one that will undercut and not enhance U.S. national security. It will create a situation where all of our satellites are targets, whereas right now, no one is threatening us in space. Simply deploying any satellite weapons or space weapons—not even using them—could increase the odds of accidental war, including accidental nuclear war, and escalate conflicts in a crisis situation.

Now I’m not making that up. The Air Force has found similar things in the war games that they’ve conducted over the past several years. Space weapons cannot protect our satellites. There are other ways of protecting our satellites, but weapons cannot do it. They are inherently vulnerable assets, just like satellites themselves. There isn’t any place to hide in space, so when something’s on orbit, it has inherent vulnerabilities. Weapons are not the answer for protecting our national security assets.

Space warfare will create space debris, and space debris knows no nationality:  it threatens all satellites, regardless of who owns them, regardless of whether they’re military or commercial satellites. Space is already full of junk. NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] has been working for many years to try to reduce the amount of debris that’s created and reduce the amount in space. NASA says there’s a one in 200 chance, right now today, of a catastrophic failure, a loss of the international space station or the space shuttle due to a debris strike. Space warfare will increase the odds of a catastrophic debris strike against a U.S. or international asset.

Finally, I just want to say that I believe protecting our use of space is important. Space is obviously important for U.S. national security. It’s important for military operations. It’s important for commercial reasons. And we do have to think about how we protect those assets. But space assets are also important for the world. They’re important to developing countries who are trying to develop space to do things like telemedicine and tele-education to improve the lives of their citizens. The U.S. doesn’t own space. Nobody owns space. Nobody can own space. And so I really believe that a strategy of seeking space dominance is doomed to fail, with negative consequences likely not only to us but to the rest of the world.

DEBLOIS:  Thanks, Theresa. I’ll turn now to Dr. Randy Correll. Randy is a national security consultant with SAIC corporation. We have a like path. Retired Air Force officer; spent some good time in—working strategy issues in the Air Force. And a doctor in physics, I believe, right?—from the University of Texas. And we won’t hold that against you. But with that, I’d like to ask Randy to maybe give a little more of his background and then to give him the floor for five minutes and kind of present your position.

RANDALL CORRELL:  OK, thank you, Bruce. And again, I’d like to thank the Council for giving me this opportunity to participate. And also to state the usual disclaimer: any of my ideas expressed today are my own and do not represent the views of any of my employers or customers, past, present or future—and I might add, family or friends. [Laughter] 

But my background: I spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force mostly working on space systems in a variety of capacities—operational, monitoring activities, some research and development, strategic planning. But it was really only more recently, in the last five years or so, that I’ve gotten more involved in kind of the strategic implications of these technologies, the policy issues involved. And that’s actually, you know, has been a very illuminating issue for, you know, somebody who wasn’t a blue suit kind of space war-fighter or operator to kind of look at things in different ways. And I would just like to add that that’s part of—I think we’re seeing that now within the military, within space command, this sort of cadre of ideas, is to try to actually kind of raise the level of awareness of the effects of these space systems, how important they are to our security, and also potentially unintended effects.

My basic position on some of these issues related to space weapons is, first of all, I think space weapons are a legitimate part of any type of security architecture. When you’re looking at land, sea, and air and space systems, space weapons are a legitimate part. Now let me clarify that by saying “space weapons” is somewhat of a broad term that could be—that could be involved with systems used against satellite ground stations or jamming links from ground stations to the satellites, or actually trying to attack, disable, degrade, or destroy a satellite in space.

Now, I think the limitations to their use are primarily driven by, you know, sort of a cost-benefit analysis and an effect analysis. But the most important issue, I think, should be that what we’re trying to provide with our military capability is options for political leadership. And there may be cases where the act of destroying or permanently disabling a satellite in space may be the preferred option; it may save American lives. And also, in some cases, if the choice is to destroy an enemy’s ground station where there will be people, maybe in an area where there are civilians, maybe destroying a machine or damaging a machine in space might be a preferred option. So I think it needs to be kept on the table as one of the military options for political leadership.

I do agree with Theresa on the one point she made. It’s very important to recognize that space weapons do not protect our space assets. And our space systems—as we become more dependent on their capability, we need to first emphasize protecting and assuring that capability and to recognize that weapons are really designed to disable another person’s capability, not to protect our capability.

Real quickly on arms control: I’m not an opponent of all arms control, but some of the recent arms control discussions about banning weapons in space I think are too far-reaching. I think broad prohibitions against the whole class of systems is probably asking a bit too much right now, and in the sense that I think it, again, precludes options that political leadership might want. And also, in some sense, I think because there is not yet an arms race in space.

Historically—I think maybe the best example is the Outer Space Treaty, where the issues of strategic nuclear stability were paramount in everybody’s mind, and the issue of weapons of mass destruction in space was a clear and present issue. And so I think the Outer Space Treaty, you know, people got behind that because it made a lot of sense for pressing issues. I don’t think we’re there yet with a ban on space weapons.  So I would think some of the discussion of a broad prohibition, a ban on space weapons, at this point is preemptive arms control. And I chose that word particularly to be inflammatory.

And one last point—again, echoing what Theresa said. In some sense, the space-weapons debate was maybe a bigger issue back between the strategic nuclear balance of the Cold War. It’s changed a little bit today in that we’re not—that was more focused on space weapons as part of missile defense and nuclear exchange. Now we’re talking about space systems for communications, navigation, reconnaissance, much broader applications, much more entwined in our daily lives—not just security. And protecting those—I think the arguments are slightly different. However, I think we’re already seeing in this new information age kind of a new space weapons [inaudible] and that’s the—the weapon now, though, is information. We’re seeing people broadcast information into other countries that those countries might find subversive, “inciteful.” We’re seeing jamming of such broadcast. And with this new 21st century information age, there’s a kind of space warfare going on, and I think the debate has lagged on that. And so I think there’s a need for more debate on that.

And one last point: As more countries become space-faring and space-using nations, I think there’s a really beneficial opportunity to do more cooperative activities with other countries. Again, treaties or arms control agreements that ban weapons may be a good thing in some cases, but that’s sort of agreeing to not do something. We now have more of an opportunity to agree to do something and do it. And I think actually doing things in a cooperative manner—coalition operations, joint space projects—really builds common interest with allies and other nations in a much more tangible way than some of the proposed space weapons bans.

DEBLOIS:  Randy, I thought I’d pose the first question back to you. In terms of current U.S. policy on space weapons, you could say that there is none, or at best, it’s quite dated. But that kind of leaves open an environment where the existing military doctrine becomes the de facto policy. In other words, if there is no policy, no public debate, whatever goes, goes. And I guess that’s why I’d like you to address what you see as the current U.S. military doctrine in terms of space weapons.

CORRELL:  Yes. First let me say, the current space policy, it dates from 1996. And I have said in talks and papers that, yeah, it seems dated, especially when you look at, you know, what’s all happened since September 11th in 2001. It’s kind of a new century and a new environment. But I think the reason it hasn’t changed is that it’s actually very well-written, and I say that without having had any part in that. If you look at it—and just make sure that I get it right—quoting one paragraph in the fact sheet that was published: “Consistent with treaty obligations, the United States will develop, operate, and maintain space control capabilities to ensure freedom of action in space and, if directed, deny such freedom of actions to adversaries.” Very general, no specifics, but it sort of states—reemphasizes peaceful purposes but reserves the right to take appropriate action. I think that the Bush administration, during their administration, have found that quite adequate to, you know, be the policy for their application of space power.

Where we’re starting to see some change, I think, however, there have been a couple recent policy updates out of the White House, one on position, navigation and timing, SATCOM [satellite communications], space transportation. They’re starting to refresh some of the details. So what you talk about is doctrine de facto policy? Not really, but it could be. And you know, there’s a threat, I think, that if you don’t have current high-level guidance that you can get out in front of your headlights, as they say in the military.

But I just want to point out, and maybe Theresa will have some more to say about—the most recent doctrine statement, I think, is the Counter-space Operations out of Air Force document 2-2.1, dating from August of 2004, signed by General [John P.] Jumper, the chief of staff of the Air Force.  And it’s fairly, what I would describe with the military background—it’s fairly clinical. It talks about all the techniques of all the options you would do. It doesn’t particularly say, “This is good, this is bad;” it says, “Have a range of options and pursue these different types of approaches.”

But there’s a couple of interesting things that are in the wording there: On the signature page—General Jump signs it—counterspace operations, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, depend on robust space situation and awareness.  Clearly the priority is if you don’t know what’s going on in space, you don’t know to take action. Even if the satellite is damaged, you don’t know if it was a natural phenomenon, a failure of an electronic component, or an intentional malicious act by another actor. So that awareness of what’s going on is very critical.

And a second thing I found very interesting in that document is where they talk about cases where you might employ space control. And there’s a qualifier: in all cases a judge advocate should be involved in considering counterspace operations—clearly inserted by General Jumper’s judge advocate. Now the point is, I don’t know how many doctrines, you know, statements for the different land, sea, and air forces, have specific things about ask your lawyer first. And I think this just reflects the fact that this is kind of new territory and there’s a lot of uncertainty, and they’re going to be very circumspect in the applications.

DEBLOIS:  Thank you very much. That gives you an idea of a U.S. administration—or the U.S. policy/doctrine approach, and it’s really one of options—leaving options open. And this message is taken overseas in a variety of delegations, and the [United Nations] Conference on Disarmament [UNCD] in Geneva as well, and delivered pretty much as eloquently as Randy did here. I’d like to turn to Theresa now and, you know, stress her experience overseas in eliciting the real take on that. And I think you were in Geneva last month.


DEBLOIS:  Give us some insight in terms of—let’s assume the foreigners that you spoke with, in terms of the delegations represented at the UNCD, understand this position that Randy just articulated. What is their real knee-jerk reaction? What is their take on that?

HITCHENS:  Well, I’m going to start off with what you said at first, about the absence of real policy. The doctrine, the military policies, the internal papers coming out of the military, DOD [Department of Defense] policy, Air Force policy, joint staff doctrine, do really become the groundwork. They are the things that are out there in public, the things that people read. The National Space Policy from ‘96—the portion that Randy read is in there, but during the Clinton administration, space control was seen somewhat differently. It wasn’t a priority approach. It was an approach of last resort. The Clinton administration cancelled almost every single program that could have been considered a space weapon. They canceled Clementine [spacecraft series imagery satellites, part of the Deep Space Science Experiement], they cancelled K-ASAT [Ka-band SATCOM Augmentation Terminals, for satellite communications]. They left one—it was the Miracle laser, which was shot. And the reason for that was that it was sold to them as a test that would show our satellite’s vulnerability to lasers, not as a test of a laser to destroy satellites. So the Clinton administration had a very different interpretation of space control, and I think that that’s very important to point out. They had a very different take on it. And primarily they were concerned with protection of satellites, and they talked a lot about that.  

What Randy didn’t read in the counterspace operations doctrine are the pieces of it that talk about taking active measures against adversary satellites, of those being used as an adversary, preemptively—possibly preemptively; taking actions against third-party satellites, which means not an enemy military satellite but a satellite that is perhaps owned by an international consortium that’s being used for communications by an adversary. And you have to read all of this sort of in relationship to current Bush administration national security strategy and national defense strategy, which also puts a heavy emphasis on preemptive, preventative actions.

And so people overseas, you know, they read this stuff. They’re not stupid; they tie the knots together. And this seems to them to be a very dangerous thing. What’s coming out, the direction of the U.S. policy is seen as, “Yeah, another effort by the U.S. to impose military dominance.” Those words are used in the doctrinal papers. “We want to establish space dominance;” “we want to establish space control.” Now I know—I covered the Air Force for many years. And I know that a lot of these terms are terms of art, and they have, for example, “space control” or even “space dominance.” You want “air superiority,” you want “space superiority.” It’s all about battlefield operations and what you do in times of war. But that’s not how it’s heard, particularly when you link it to preemption and to what happened in Iraq.

It’s heard as: the U.S. wants to dominate space, the U.S. wants to own space, the U.S. wants to prevent other people from using space. And indeed, that’s what the counter-space operations doctrine says: we don’t want anyone else in the world to be able to use space militarily in the same way that we do now. Unfortunately, that’s going to be impossible, and particularly because of the issues Randy raises with the legal issues, because there are more legal issues in space than there ever were on the ground. And I am told by the lawyers that they actually do have lawyers when they make targeting decisions, even for a ground attack or whatever. So the lawyers are—lawyers have a lot of jobs in DOD. That’s a good place to be. But legally, space is much more difficult to deal with because space is globalized. It’s not a national territory; I just said that. Nobody owns anything, any part of space. There aren’t boundaries, there aren’t borders.

Most countries use commercial capabilities for their militaries, to enable their militaries. Not a lot of countries have their own military communications network, they rely on civil networks. There are only four major providers of communications in the entire world. Every one of them is a multinational consortium. None of them are headquartered in the United States currently.

So you can see that the idea of fighting a war in space already becomes very, very controversial, because you’re talking about attacking assets that are being used by people who are non-combatants, and are being used by civilian populations on the ground. That is, again, a very dangerous game to be playing.

DEBLOIS:  And so there’s been a quagmire at the [UN]CD over this—a beneficial quagmire, in terms of—

HITCHENS:  For decades, for years. I mean, the U.N. has been, I think for 20 years now or more—some in the audience would know this better than me because they follow the U.N. ins and outs. But there’s been a resolution of the General Assembly that all nations would like to begin discussions of a weapons-ban treaty, prevention of arms race in outer space. The United States has consistently been one of two or three countries to abstain from that. The Conference on Disarmament has been trying to figure out how to go about negotiating, at first, and now simply discussing the issues of space weaponization, but the United States is the lone voice against doing that, the lone voice in the Conference on Disarmament. Which again leads back into the perceptions of the U.S. as a unilateral country obsessed with military power, obsessed with using military power to dominate the globe. And that’s not just on the parts of people who are potential adversaries. It’s not just Iran, or China. It’s our own allies. And our own allies are starting to do things to distance themselves from the United States in space. And we can talk about that.

DEBLOIS:  Randy, I’d like to turn back to you and—let’s assume that the realization of small sats [satellites] and affordable launch occurs—

UNKNOWN:  Big assumption!  [Laughter]

DEBLOIS:  No. But, I mean—I’m leading the witness. And that conventional strike from space becomes a reality that is affordable, and it affords conventional strike to remotely denied areas that would be critical. Even given that—and I’m going to put my Dad’s hat on; I mean, I was a child of the ‘60s and I was actually one of the kids that was, you know, went through the exercises of hiding under my desk in school in pending nuclear strike. Even if we can do the conventional strike, and it’s a unique capability, is it worth this constant and persistent threat from space?

CORRELL:  Well, I think it might be. And I’ll just point out an example of where it might be worth it. And first let me make one qualifier to your statement. Some of this conventional strike from space may not actually be from space, it may be through space—based [inaudible] on the ground, through space. So again, that’s sort of an engineering solution, which is the most cost-effective, most controllable.

But if you consider the example of Osama bin Laden, back in his hideouts in Afghanistan, and I’m forgetting the exact year—‘98 or ‘99—when the Clinton administration launched an attack of cruise missiles to try and make a surgical strike to take him out, well, that attack was unsuccessful. There are complications with cruise missile attacks, precision-guided cruise missile attacks; they have to be forward-based; the certain amount of time it takes to fly there, you may be transgressing sovereign airspace; you might have to notify people; maybe that compromises operations. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In that situation, maybe a precision-guided munition launched through space from a rocket might have successfully killed Osama bin Laden and likely ended the 9/11 attacks. Now, it’s hypothetical, but I’m just constructing a situation where—how much would that have saved in lives and money, et cetera? So I can conceive of situations where such a weapon may be what the president decides to use. And if I can just—


CORRELL:  Yes, please.

DEBLOIS:  And you would say those—you know, I asked, is it worth it? I mean, conceding that those situations may really exist, is it worth it?

CORRELL:  Is it worth it? Well, if the cost you’re talking about is a political cost of this, is such a—is this basically a scary weapon? I don’t know about that. If we construct an operational scenario where we have these launch vehicles that once or twice a year do an exercise, they do a launch, we work with allies, other countries, countries with the capability to detect these systems, and kind of worked out the operational and political agreements on how and when we would use these, I think you can kind of manage the fear or the concern over their misuse.

Now, that’s easier said than done. Clearly, there would be a lot of work to do that. But I think that’s the direction we’re going, and I think national leadership is doing that because they have real needs.

And you started off with what’s becoming really the kindest case of conventional munition. We have the secretary of defense [Donald Rumsfeld] proposing to  Congress an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon as a penetrator to take out some of these special, high-value buried targets. Now, that becomes even scarier or of even more concern. But why are they thinking this way? Because there is a need to attack certain targets like this. Is it worth the cost? I think in some cases, yes, it may be.

DEBLOIS:  OK. Theresa, in a similar vein, let’s assume—well, space already holds the variety of military systems that directly support combatants, and predominantly—and I think arguably not space weapons. Let’s assume that a  future space weapon would really afford a measure of added security for forward-deployed forces in the field, and deployed for good reason, and it’s a unique capability that affords that measure of security. From your perspective, could you say no, even given that, it’s not worth it?

HITCHENS:  I think you have to decide what you’re talking about with regard to costs. And Randy talked about a case where you had a weapon that goes through space. We already have those weapons, ballistic missiles. They exist. I don’t necessarily know that a lot of people consider those space weapons.

I’m going to give an example. I’m sure that you were talking about the Common Aero Vehicle, which is being studied by the Air Force, and they looked at a variety of basing modes. One of them was on the ground, but one of them was in orbit. And from my understanding, the Air Force decided that that wasn’t worth the money. It was too expensive, too difficult, and it didn’t give the bang-for-buck ratio. It didn’t give you enough increased capability. So you have to ask how much increased capability, what unique capability. And you also have to understand that whenever you operate in space, you’re talking about enormous costs, so you need to know whether you get a 10 percent increase in capability for 100 percent increase in costs. You know what’s the ratio of improvement. You can’t judge the validity of the weapon system unless you do that.

Then you have to talk about the political cost. And I am here to tell you that there is not going to be any other nation on Earth that’s going to accept the U.S. developing something they see as the death star. It’s not going to happen. And people are going to find ways to target it and it’s going to create a huge problem. I don’t think the United States would find it very comforting if China were to develop a death star, a 24/7 on-orbit weapon that could strike at targets on the ground anywhere in 90 minutes.

Do you think we would feel more secure? What if we do that? What if we develop such a weapon and we orbit it, and China decides to follow suit. Are we going to shoot it down before they get it in space, to prevent them from being on equal footing with us? Raises a whole lot of questions. Would that be our preemptive action, take it down before it went up? And if we did that, what kind of follow-on would come from that? I think there are a lot of questions to be raised about that.

Currently—I’m going to make one last point—no nation in the world allows any other nation to station aircraft over their territory for long periods of time. Not military bombers. Not even our allies. We don’t have U.S. persistent bombing capabilities, strike capability. When you put something in space that goes around the world every seven to 10 minutes, 90 minutes, whatever, isn’t that what you’ve done? So I have questions whether our allies would even be prepared to put up with such a situation.

DEBLOIS:  So, how do you really feel? [Laughter]

CORRELL:  Bruce, can I agree with Theresa on that one, and just a qualifier? Now, Theresa, the case you presented I actually agree. I think basing significant armament in space is dangerous. And the way you’ve presented it starts to approach sort of the weapons of mass destruction in space—maybe they’re conventional, but that sort of weapons sort of always-deployed, always aimed at you, is alarming. But I think the issue comes, if you back off to consider situations that are less—I don’t want to say exaggerated, but less extreme—for example, one of the great worries that our operational forces have in the military is being—as they’re deploying or preparing to deploy, preparing for maneuvers, that they would be imaged by a reconnaissance satellite and that image would—that data would go to the adversary, who would then maybe mount an attack or prepare for attack, and many American lives might be jeopardized or lost. So that’s a concern.

So the issue is, all right, what if I could put an asset—and maybe the best solution through the analysis, well, let’s put like a co-orbiting micro-sat [micro-satellite] that can maybe block or damage the satellite to prevent that from happening. There I think you get more to a real case of, “Well, I can see if there’s a benefit there, and it’s not this really scary death star in space situation;” that I think will be the really hard choice of, “OK, it’s a space weapon, it’s limited effect, and you can see a connection with saving American lives.” So I think that will be the tough choice. I think, in some sense, presenting kind of the worst case—I actually agree with you; I oppose that. We don’t want that. But there are other—much other cases—many other cases where it becomes a much dicier issue of: Is that—how scary is that benefit?

DEBLOIS:  Are there middle-ground proposed systems and concepts of operations in the Air Force? For instance, Theresa mentioned air superiority over Iraq, we went and got it; that’s standard doctrine. No foreign nation would say you shouldn’t have done that. And when the war was secured, we withdrew it. Are there any space-related kind of—where you declare space superiority, that it can be extended and withdrawn when the crisis is over? I mean, are they looking for those middle grounds?

CORRELL:  Well, yeah, I think we’re starting to see that. Traditionally, all of our space systems have been sort of deployed on orbit in advance; their infrastructure put in place, and they’re not very flexible. In the last couple of years within the Air Force there’s been an effort to look at something, and the catch phrase is “responsive space.” But what this basically is talking about is, if we had the ability to deploy these systems into space with orbits tailored for the particular region where there’s a—may be a growing crisis, would that be a useful thing to do? Well, yes, it would be useful. But the big problem now is it’s too expensive.

So what we’re doing is, can we downsize the satellites, put them on smaller launch vehicles, launch them in shorter time periods so that we can do this affordably? And this is what this responsive space idea is looking at: smaller systems of smaller launch vehicles more responsive to warfighter and national leadership demands.

Now, this isn’t totally a new idea by the U.S. There’s a lot of other countries actually already doing this. Surrey Satellite in the U.K. originally started as a university research program, now somewhat migrated to a semi-commercial entity. They’ve been, for the last 15 or 20 years, developing the technology and techniques to build micro-sats very affordably. At first, some critics said, “Well, these are just toys.” But they’ve actually come a long way, and these are very useful systems. They’ve sold the systems to a number of other European countries, countries in Asia, and Africa even. Thailand, Nigeria have bought—have become space powers through the purchase of Surrey Satellites. And this technology to do so is really becoming more at-hand.

Now, to make it where it’s actually affordable, where you could have systems in time of crisis you’d deploy—it’s kind of sortie into outer space, kind of let the adversary know you’re watching them, you’re preparing assets. This is something that we are—that the U.S. government, the military, is looking at.

And again, it’s a question of—well, that’s a good question—are we moving that aggressively on it? Well, there’s always—especially with the war on terrorism, there’s always issues of, is there enough money to do all these things? But there is at least the thinking and some initial programs to do that. Theresa probably knows the programs better than I do.

HITCHENS:  Yeah, I would like to respond to that, because Randy does make some good points, and you will see, as we go on talking, that we do have areas of agreement. I wanted to talk about the scenario that he gave about another country using an imaging satellite. We can block that from the ground. We can jam satellites. We use jamming now—radio-frequency jamming to achieve air superiority. Nobody ever asks that question, because it is withdrawn at the end of a conflict.

You can do the same thing to space-based communications. We have a jamming system that we just deployed—the counter-communications system that’s essentially an uplink-jammer that will jam over certain territorial—with limits—over certain territories. I don’t consider that a space weapon, it’s a jammer. It goes away. It’s also not on orbit. Doesn’t destroy anything. I think where you have issues is when you start talking about things that destroy things in space, or things that are actually based on orbit.

In your scenario, how does anybody else know that that thing’s temporary or reversible? How do they know that it’s not going to run into their satellite and destroy it? How do other people know that it’s only aimed at a certain place and not, you know, aimed at other places? There are a lot of problems with on-orbit basing. There are a lot of conceptive operations problems, and there are a lot of problems with simply not threatening other people.

My second point would be that once you deploy those things, they become targets. And I’m not necessarily sure that our adversaries, who may not be as technologically advanced as us, would be able to use temporary and reversible means to take out those anti-satellite systems, since it’s a lot easier to use kinetic energy, direct-launch anti-satellite systems to blow something up. And then you get back to the debris issue and you get back to fratricide of your own space assets. So there are a lot of issues with that kind of scenario as well.

DEBLOIS:  OK, I‘d like to just make one quick observation while you’re collecting your thoughts, and then I’m going to open it to the floor for questions. And the observation—Randy mentioned micro-satellites and that it’s not a U.S. domain alone; that these are really being produced overseas. And you start looking at the prospects of micro-satellites, cheaper costs to launch, it may be a bit arrogant for the United States to sit back and say we actually have a choice of whether to weaponize space or not. It may be out of our hands. And the issue could be couched as: “Do we attempt—as the leader in the world in these technologies and having the resources to do it, do we wish to stall the weaponization of space?” But I thought that was a—just an observation worth mention. At this point, I’d like to open it to the audience for questions. All the way in the back, your hand went up first. If you’d just stand and let us know what your affiliation is—

QUESTIONER:  John Pike, with I’ve been following these questions for some time. And I’d like to make an—I guess more of an observation than a question, going to the scenario that we were offered about, we’d be worried about hostile imagery satellites, and that would be sort of the reason that we needed to have a hard-kill capability. There’s been an interesting evolution in U.S. policy on that, because that was the argument that was made for the ASAT [anti-satellite] programs back in the early ‘90s, when they started talking about licensing commercial imagery satellites.

And the Clinton administration’s policy was that, well, “We were going to have shutter control, that when U.S. troops went into the field, that we would administratively turn them off.” They never had to invoke that. The Bush administration then comes along and invokes checkbook shutter control when we go into Afghanistan. When we go into Iraq, they don’t even bother with it. They don’t even bother with it. There was no shutter control at all. And I think the reason was that they finally realized that the American forces that were stationary were impregnable, that they could not be effectively attacked, and the ones that were on the move were invisible. We spent a lot of time working with commercial imagery on this, and I think that the prospect that we could actually track American troops, that we could actually get a good enough handle on them to jeopardize them was just not possible. And I think that the administration’s actual policy on this demonstrated that even with four commercial satellites in orbit, that they felt that there just wasn’t a need to do it. And if there wasn’t any need to administratively do it, then the notion that we need to have a hard-kill capability in order to do something that they could have done far easier, it—I think that that scenario that we were worried about a decade ago has proven to be unfounded.

DEBLOIS:  Randy, would you like to respond?

CORRELL:  Yes. Well, you make a good point, but I think it’s very appropriate to the specific situation in Iraq. And the thing you have to remember is that the military needs to prepare for a number of possible future conflicts, and they’re not all the same. And also, I don’t want you to be—I don’t want anyone to construe my scenario, how I was saying thus we must have a co-orbital, you know, satellite, killer-jammer satellite. I’m proposing that as one possible option. Clearly, there are others, as Theresa mentioned. You can jam from the ground. But it’s not clear, has the proliferation of imaging satellites, distributed ground stations, that you’re always in the position to jam that micro-sat when it’s over, maybe—you know, ground stations are becoming very small, and they can be—as they move to common standards of communications, you could download from a number of places around the world. There might be problems with that.

My main point is not that that’s the best solution, it’s that that’s a possible solution, and I don’t see a need to remove that from the table. You know, I’m not sure there’s a difference in my mind, if I disable a satellite from the ground by jamming it, or if I disable it from another satellite co-orbiting with it; is there a moral difference, or even a political difference? I think there’s a perception difference, that doing that from space is somehow worse. But I frankly don’t see, really, a difference there. You know, you’re interfering with its function; from space or from the ground, I don’t see a difference. But—so my main issue is, based on those possible options from possible future scenarios, I just would be reluctant to take an option off the table.

And I think this relates to some of these proposals within these U.N. committees, like the Prevention of Arms Race in Space, PAROS, is that, you know, they’re basically saying it’s very broad. No—and I’m not familiar with all the details: Is it just weapons in space, or any weapons system that interferes with a space asset? But it’s a very broad prohibition, and I just think the U.S. has found, maybe this is, you know, the accident of history that we are the world’s only superpower now. We have big lead. We think and talk in terms of superiority and dominance, and I agree that probably needs to be toned down. But that’s sort of the facts of where we are. And I point out that it’s not just—this is not really a political—being—demurring on these proposals for arms control bans is not really a political partisan issue. The Bush administration has demurred, the Clinton administration has demurred. I think the situation is, regardless—when you’re in your party politics, you might have a very particular point of what you should do. But when you’re the president, I think you like having all your options. And even if you’re the lone holdout, it seems to be that presidents for, what, a couple of administrations now have declined to sign away that option of potentially using weapons in space.

DEBLOIS:  I’d just like to add to this issue that imagery is one technical means that can be deployed from space. There’s a variety of others, and—you know, to support what you’re saying, Randy, I don’t know of any military commander that would want to go in the field under the assumption that we’re smarter than they are, and the adversary only has access to 1960s imagery from space and that we don’t worry about that because we can deny it. Sir, in front? He’s going to get you a microphone.

QUESTIONER:  Bill Courtney with Computer Sciences Corporation. A quarter-century ago, in the first Reagan administration, there was an intensive review of ASAT arms control. Essentially the conclusion was that arms control could not be verified and that it might leave our forces vulnerable. In those days, the issue was Navy forces. And the thought was that perhaps the best that could be hoped for was something that might be modeled after the U.S.-Soviet Incidents at Sea Agreement, some kind of a rules of the road.

Over the last quarter-century since then, there have been real revolutions in how the U.S. has approached arms control—for ABMs [anti-ballistic missiles], for strategic offensive arms, for conventional forces in Europe. But with ASAT, you kind of have a Rip Van Winkle effect. You know, wake up, come to this seminar, and the issues seem to be the same as a quarter-century ago with not much different. Are rules of the road potentially about the best that you could do in ASAT arms control?

DEBLOIS:  Randy, I think that’s one to you.

CORRELL:  Bill, are you directing that to me? Rules of the road. I’ll let Theresa pick up more on the rules of the road, but let me tell you my slant. I’m not particularly a big rules-of-the-road fan, and I haven’t read up much on it, but my particular take on arms control is, the more you can tailor to specific issues, specific systems or technologies and specific time frames, if you can kind of bound it to a smaller area, I think it’s easier to get agreement. I’m not sure—I think we have seen examples in history where arms control has been very successful, but I think we’ve seen examples in history where it hasn’t, where it’s actually led to in some cases disastrous consequences in relying on arms control without kind of an attendant ability to enforce, to verify and enforce.

So I am essentially coming from the side of—agreements can be pursued, it’s not my specialty, but I do have a background in verifying, treaty monitoring, the Limited Test Ban Treaty, for example, and I’ve seen where that works, where the technology is there and you can do that. So there are examples there.

Regarding rules of the road, I think a better approach is to kind of come around it from the back. And I think Theresa and I have at some other conferences talked about that, and this idea has gotten some traction with the international community, where you start with let’s talk about some cooperative projects. And a good one to talk to about that’s actually under way now, is actually the—let me see if I can find it, to make sure I get the details—it’s the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, sort of led, out of the United States, by the NOAA, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency. Just in the month of February, 60 nations signed a 10-year Global Earth Observation System of Systems agreement to essentially share earth-observations remote sensing data. This has applications for land use, agriculture, disaster control through floods, earthquakes; we’ve seen this data used in the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean area.

Now, the benefit of this is this is an activity where we actually are doing something good together. It’s related to security, but we’re doing things good together and we’re working out lines of communication. We’re talking about issues, and there will be some conflict from time to time, and you work those out. So you sort of start working out rules of the road on things you’re actually cooperating on for benefit that I think help lay—you know, kind of prepare the ground for the more controversial issues. And—

DEBLOIS:  I think you’re poking at the underlying issue and connecting that back to space weapons—is one of trust. And you’re starting to work on those collaborative large space programs together. You’re starting to build that trust in the same technology domain—

CORRELL:  But Bruce, very well said.


HITCHENS:  I think that that’s a very good example that Randy gave, and I do believe that cooperation is one of the things that we need to do more of. I would suggest that cooperation on debris mitigation is another very important thing, and NASA has been a leader on that. The U.S. has unfortunately refused to talk about an actual agreement to do something. They want voluntary guidelines. And it always strikes me as odd that we’re insisting that we have to have total verification of arms-control agreements, et cetera, and so therefore, you know, arms control isn’t really—or treaties aren’t really worth it; somebody’s going to cheat. But we want voluntary guidelines, and we think people are not going to cheat on that. I don’t understand it. So just—you know, just because people on occasion run red lights, we don’t throw out the traffic regulations. So I think, you know, it’s—that there are places where treaty agreements can be very, very helpful.

Currently, I’m not going to say that I think that a weapons ban treaty is doable or—it’s not doable, not under this administration, and perhaps not under any administration. But that doesn’t mean things like rules of the road are not and that agreements are not. The Rumsfeld commission report called for the United States to investigate rules of the road with regard to behavior in space that could be dangerous, and that was actually in the Rumsfeld commission report, in the executive summary, right up front—that the United States should be looking for that.

On ASAT treaty verification, I will say two things. I’m not a scientist, but I do know that the techniques for looking at the ground, seeing things on the ground, are much better than they were 10 or 15 years ago. Your resolutions are better, which means you can see smaller things.

The problem there, though, is that you can air-launch anti-satellite weapons; you can—you know, there are other basing modes. They don’t just have to be sent up from a fixed site. So that does make verification difficult. You know, you can have inspections. There are a lot of things. I mean, verification tends to go down to how much you’re willing to put up with, with regard to inspections of your own territory. It ends up being a political-will issue, to be honest. It’s not a technology issue.

But there are proposals out there for rules of the road along the Incidents at Sea Agreements, and that—Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center has written extensively on this. He’s written a booklet where he actually took—and I worked on this with his organization—and what he did was take the various provisions in the Incidents at Sea Agreement and the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities Agreement and parsed them to where they could fit with space operations. For example, no—you know, you stay a certain amount—distance away from a ship at sea when you’re doing maneuvers, so you don’t buzz your aircraft over the top of somebody’s ship when, you know—so there are certain things that can be applied to space, like the distance issue, like notifying people if your satellite—your launch is going to—your satellite trajectory is going to come very, very close to their own orbiting asset.

That’s not—it’s actually not difficult, and it would—that kind of agreement, I think, as the first step, would be a great thing, because it would reduce tensions, it would provide more transparency, and it would allow people to feel a bit better and build that trust that we were talking about. So that’s another way of doing that.

DEBLOIS:  Sir, with the white paper.

QUESTIONER:  Larry Williams with Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. Both of the speakers mentioned or alluded to the CAV program, the Common Aero Vehicle program. And I’m curious, Theresa, you expressed some concern, or I guess given your position, certainly, there would be concerns about having that based in space. Can you elaborate on what you think the concerns are having that sort of capability, the global strike capability from CONUS [continental United States] would be actually if it’s a terrestrial-based program?

HITCHENS:  You mean that—what the interpretation outside would be, or how people would react to it if it were actually based here rather than in space?

QUESTIONER:  Correct. What you believe either your concerns or others’ concerns would be about it if it were terrestrial based.

HITCHENS:  I have a lot less concerns about it if it’s terrestrial based. Again, we have ballistic missiles; ballistic missiles can reach a target on Earth in 90 minutes. Isn’t it 90 minutes?

UNKNOWN:  Yeah. On the order or less.

HITCHENS:  On the order or less. And the CAV is supposed to reach in 90 minutes or less—

CORRELL:  Ballistic missiles are faster. CAV actually—you know, it flies most of the way and—

HITCHENS:  So, you know, I mean, it’s not any different. You could put a conventional warhead on a ballistic missile, which the Air Force has considered from time to time, off and on since the ‘90s.  So I’m less concerned about that. And for one thing, when it’s based in CONUS, too, I don’t think it makes it as easy to be targetable by others as—you know, as a system. The problem with basing the things in space is that they’re persistent, they’re up there all the time, they create a new target set; people are tempted to target them because anything based in space is vulnerable. There isn’t any place to hide in space. People can track you, particularly in low-Earth orbit. And we’re not the only people with tracking capability. We are the best at—currently—tracking things in space. But, you know, there are amateur networks who plug in algorithms in their telescopes and watch things. I, myself, looked up when the ISS was coming over, the International Space Station, and took my little son out with the binoculars and you can see it.

So, you know, something like a CAV would have to be relatively big. It wouldn’t be a micro-satellite. So the capabilities of tracking it are there, and when you can track it—it’s not that I’m saying it’s easy, but somebody with a ballistic missile of 600-kilometer range—that’s an intermediate ballistic missile—shooting vertically, can get to a 300-kilometer orbit. That’s the orbit most imaging satellites, things like that, are above 200, below—I don’t know; they’re above 200 and up to a thousand.

UNKNOWN:  They’re above 400, imaging satellites, 400, 500 kilometers.

HITCHENS:  That’s what I thought, 400 or 500, which also happens to be the one that’s the most polluted orbit, between 400 and 500 kilometers up; that’s where there’s the most debris. You start talking about basing weapon systems in that orbit, something like a CAV that has fuel on it, I come back to the space debris issue, which I think is critical. If you start doing things that create massive amounts more of space debris, you are talking about making bands of space unusable. NASA has talked about this, that if debris creation continues at the rate it is, it could, you know, be tens of years. In tens of years, certain orbital pathways could actually be unusable because the danger of something getting hit by debris and stored by debris would be very high.

The kind of weapons system that you’re putting in a 400- to 600-kilometer orbit would include space-based interceptors for missile defense, which, again, are orbiting bombs. They’re full of fuel! What happens if a debris strike hits that and makes it explode? One of the key things right now that space operators are required to do to keep debris from being created is, when they launch something into space and they drop a second stage of the rocket, they’re required to vent the fuel out so that it doesn’t become an orbiting bomb. So I have really serious issues with basing things on orbit, in great part because of the debris issue.

DEBLOIS:  Theresa, let me get back to the question, because I’ve got you on the record, so I’ll pin you down here. Terrestrial basing, temporary launch into space weapon systems. You don’t oppose that? Does that blur the argument?

HITCHENS:  I didn’t say that I oppose something attacking a space asset. I said that was a ground strike. And I said I didn’t think it was very much different—a CAV flying through space to hit a target on the ground is very much different than what we do with ballistic missiles today, or what we could do simply with a ballistic missile if we wanted to, or a nuclear weapon. I don’t have issues with that. I don’t necessarily think that that’s a problem. You know, others in the—in [inaudible] or others who are working on these issues of space weapons disagree with me. [Laughter] 

But I say that you need to look at the things that are most dangerous, that create the most problems, that make the littlest sense from a strategic point of view, that are the most egregious with cost and technology challenges. In other words, you need to look for the things that are really bad, and we should never be guilty of letting the great stand in the way of the good.

DEBLOIS:  Jeff Morris with Aerospace Daily. You’ve been speaking about the CAV. Last year, as I’m sure you know, the Air Force had some congressional restrictions placed on the Falcon program that related to CAVs, so that seemed to indicate some sensitivity among lawmakers to the weaponization issue. How do the panelists assess the current climate on Capitol Hill with regards to space weapon systems? Is it receptive, unreceptive? And is it trending in one direction or another?

CORRELL:  If I can go ahead and say, what I think maybe the best thing is, what we’re seeing is interest now. And I think what happened last year was a surprise, some of these systems, which most of the systems, especially the Falcon CAV program, actually I thought was fairly reasonably constructed. Now, there were critics, who are always critics, who raise that as an issue, “We’re not sure we like this,” but I think some of the congressional members or staff who you would expect to have maybe been more supportive were maybe just—it was an unexpected situation and they weren’t really—you know, I don’t want to say they weren’t informed, but I just think there were issues that hadn’t been addressed yet. Clearly, that’s essentially what they said in their congressional language.

One major issue is, as Theresa mentioned, well, yes, we could do this now, by putting a conventional warhead on an ICBM. But however, there’s an issue of strategic misperception—is what some folks call the term of art of—of “OK, if I launch a Minuteman out of a silo, one of my nuclear missile fields, that sure looks like a nuclear launch to me,” and “Well, no worry; it’s just a conventional”—

HITCHENS:  You know, we’re going to paint it blue. [Laughter]

CORRELL:  So people talk about—yeah. Right, right, right. When people talk about the idea of “Well, if we base these geographically distinct from our nuclear strategic forces, then that helps.” So there’s a whole issue of how you actually do that.

While there’s clearly an issue of from-space or not-from-space, I think most analysis has shown space-basing is not practical or cost-affordable or as responsive as you want. But there’s still a huge debate, even if you ground-base these, and they just transit through space—is, what’s the best way to base them? In the missile fields, where you have infrastructure? At existing ranges, with like—where we have launch capabilities, or does that sort of pollute those as being military sites and not—so there’s huge issues. But I think the best thing from Congress is, they’re sort of—I think both sides now are engaged in some—maybe we’ll bring up the—there was a—

HITCHENS:  The Everett—yeah—

CORRELL:  The one people—

HITCHENS:  Yeah, last year—I mean, I’ve been talking to Capitol Hill people ‘til I’m blue in the face about this issue for nigh on three years, and it really wasn’t until last year that we started to see interest in paying attention. And I think the interest has grown as the DOD and the Air Force have become more public with their plans for war-fighting in space, with the doctrinal papers that have come out. People are starting to pay attention. There’s also been money in the budgets, increasingly. I mean, the space budget is—in the FY [financial year] ‘06 request, total DOD space, classified and unclassified, is $22.5 billion. And that’s been an upward trajectory over the last five years from a baseline, I guess, maybe five years ago of about 14.5 [billion dollars]. That’s a lot of money and a growth in money.

So Congress is—well, it started out being interested in anything that was space, because it cost a lot of money!  And most of the military space programs—not even talking about, you know, new technology weapons research; I’m talking about current space programs, trying to replace our early warning satellites [laughter] are way over budget and way behind schedule, and not working.

So when Congress started to see little lines for, you know, potential tests of space-based interceptors, they—two alarms went off. A, that’s a space weapons test!  What’s that? And B, what are they asking for this money for when they can’t get these other programs that are more critical and more near-term to—what’s that about?

So there were some budgetary issues raised, and Representative [Robert Terry] Everett [R-Ala.], who’s the head of the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, had a very interesting op-ed in the Washington Times just a couple of days ago. And he talked about legislators needing to get involved in the policy and in the process of debating and discussing space control and the issue of space weapons. Representative Everett has promised to have hearings on the issue, I believe sometime in the May time frame—that’s my understanding—you might want to clarify that; I hate to speak for a congressman, especially since I don’t work for him [laughter], but that’s my understanding. And so there will actually start to be a real policy-level debate about this. And that’s what we’ve been lacking.

When we don’t have a national policy that’s clear, and we have advocates of certain strategies being very vocal, people get very confused about what it is we actually plan to do. I’m going to give one quick example: The Air Force, when they come out and talk about their space-control policy, they say temporary, reversible, localized means. When you read the documents, they very carefully say, “But we don’t rule out blowing things up in space.” We don’t rule out a preemptive attack. Of course, we don’t plan to shoot first, but we don’t rule out a preemptive. So you, you know, you look at this from the outside, and you’re in another country and you’re reading these documents, again, the perception is quite frightening. It’s frightening to me. I’m frightened by it.

DEBLOIS:  Thank you, Theresa. So we’re going to have to wind it up now. We’re a few minutes over, and Daniel’s going to hold me to the timeline. I would like to thank Theresa and Randy for being willing to come down here and take the questions. And you fielded them very well. And also the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this, and [Council on Foreign Relations’ Washington Program Assistant] Daniel Karl for putting it all together. Thank you. Thank you very much.







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