Thursday, September 30, 2010

America's Low Orbit Chip On The Shoulder

It may just be the biggest scam in the history of the American military.  "It" is the U.S. national security space programme exemplified by the U.S. Air Force Space Command.   Now top military brass and aerospace officials are waging a campaign for big bucks to restore America's dominant position in space, warning that America's national security space capabilities are at a dangerous "tipping point."
The bogeyman this time, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Global Security Newswire, is China's supposed antisatellite capability and the lack of backup satellites to replace any U.S. assets knocked out by hostile action.
Chalmers Johnson, currently professor emeritus University of California, San Diego, presents a revealing look into American space policy in his recent book Nemesis:
"The head of the Air Force Space command, General Lance Lord, has led the charge.  'Space superiority is not out birthright, but it is our destiny,' he told an air force conference in September, 2004.  'Space superiority is our day-to-day mission.  Space supremacy is our vision for the future.'  'Simply put,' he said to Congress, 'it's the American way of fighting.'  We must have 'freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack' in space.   ...Keith Hall, Clinton's assistant secretary of the air force for space, whom the George W. Bush administration retained, commented, 'With regard to space dominance, we hve it, we like it, and we're going to keep it.'"
Wowee, zowee - if that sounds like something ripped out of the heart of Dr. Strangelove, it is.  Johnson argues that his country's air force's unquenchable thirst to weaponize space is inherently self-defeating:
"Virtually all of the air force's rhetoric about a future space war is ideological posturing, similar to the propaganda it put out at the end of the Eisenhower administration and the beginning of the Kennedy years about a 'missile ga' with the Soviet Union.  ...there can be no rationale for a space war because one unintended but unavoidable consequence would be to destroy our own preeeminent position in space.   ...a conflict in space using antisatellite weapons of any kind would vastly increase the amount of orbiting garbage, which would threaten our whole network of military and commercial spacecraft.  That, in turn, would threaten the whole American - even planetary - way of life.  Yet space debris is a subject that the air force's 'counterspace doctrine' never so much as mentions."
An antisatellite strike in space would create masses of highly destructive debris that would probably trigger the Kessler Effect, a cascade of so much debris that it would pick off one satellite after another, exploding the lot in turn until nothing usable remained.   If you're not familiar with the mathematical basis for NASA scientist Donald Kessler's 1970 predictions, you cannot imagine what your own life would be like the day following an anti-satellite strike.   You would be back to the 1950's in a world that no longer remembers how to function that way.
If the Chinese launched an antisatellite strike of the scope required to blind America and destroy its satellite capabilities, the Kessler Effect cascade is a virtual certainty.   In that case America could have warehouses full of satellites and it wouldn't make the slightest difference.   There would be far too much space junk racing about that the orbital belts would be unusable for upwards of sixty years.
The only conceivable solution is to give up the hyper-aggressive and hopelessly hegemonic Bush space doctrine that undermines rather than enhances anyone's security.   Neither Russia nor China is going to allow the Americans to dominate space or to imperil their access to it.   If there is an answer it must lie in an anti-satellite weapons treaty.    There's too much at stake - for everybody - not to ban these weapons.   We have to establish space as belonging to no country and all countries.

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