Historically, military forces have evolved to protect national interests and investments — both military and economic. During the rise of sea commerce, nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests. During the westward expansion of the continental United States, military outposts and the cavalry emerged to protect our wagon trains, settlements, and railroads. As air power developed, its primary purpose was to support and enhance land and sea operations. However, over time, air power evolved into a separate and equal medium of warfare. The emergence of space power follows both of these models. Over the past several decades, space power has primarily supported land, sea, and air operations–strategically and operationally. During the early portion of the 21st century, space power will also evolve into a separate and equal medium of warfare. Likewise, space forces will emerge to protect military and commercial national interests and investment in the space medium due to their increasing importance.
— United States Space Command Vision for 2020 (1997)
available (.pdf format) here.
The New York Times reported yesterday that the Air Force, just in time for the release of “Episode III,” is requesting President iPod’s permission to develop and deploy new offensive and defensive weapons in space:
The Air Force believes “we must establish and maintain space superiority,” Gen. Lance Lord, who leads the Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently. “Simply put, it’s the American way of fighting.” Air Force doctrine defines space superiority as “freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack” in space.
The mission will require new weapons, new space satellites, new ways of doing battle and, by some estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars. It faces enormous technological obstacles. And many of the nation’s allies object to the idea that space is an American frontier.
The awesomely-named Pete Teets, former COO of Lockheed Martin and former acting secretary of the Air Force, told The Times that while “[w]e haven’t reached the point of strafing and bombing from space. . . we are thinking about those possibilities.” One of the new capabilities, called “Global Strike,” would involve a “space plane” carrying up to a half-ton of munitions; according to Lance Lord — where are they finding these incredible names? — Global Strike would offer “an incredible capability” to reach targets “anywhere in the world” in (no, Saddam, I’m not making this up) 45 minutes. It gets even better:
In April, the Air Force launched the XSS-11, an experimental microsatellite with the technical ability to disrupt other nations’ military reconnaissance and communications satellites.
Another Air Force space program, nicknamed Rods From God, aims to hurl cylinders of tungsten, titanium or uranium from the edge of space to destroy targets on the ground, striking at speeds of about 7,200 miles an hour with the force of a small nuclear weapon.
A third program would bounce laser beams off mirrors hung from space satellites or huge high-altitude blimps, redirecting the lethal rays down to targets around the world. A fourth seeks to turn radio waves into weapons whose powers could range “from tap on the shoulder to toast,” in the words of an Air Force plan.
Why are these new weapons necessary, you ask? Because bloody missile defense doesn’t work!
The Air Force’s drive into space has been accelerated by the Pentagon’s failure to build a missile defense on earth. After spending 22 years and nearly $100 billion, Pentagon officials say they cannot reliably detect and destroy a threat today.
“Are we out of the woods? No,” Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, who directs the Missile Defense Agency, said in an interview. “We’ve got a long way to go, a lot of testing to do.”
The Times claims, erroneously, that these new proposals represent “a substantial shift in American policy” away from the more “pacific” uses for space imagined by the Clinton Administration. If anything, the Air Force proposal affirms what many people have argued since 1967, when Lyndon Johnson proposed the Sentinel program, the forerunner of what is now called “national missile defense” — that the push for “defensive” space weapons is little more than a cover for the full-on weaponization of space. This is why the 1972 ABM Treaty and the lesser-known 1967 Outer Space Treaty were signed in the first place. With the cold war long over, however, the US has spent the past 13 years developing — under three successive presidents — a broad foreign policy demeanor that brooks no opposition to its “full-spectrum dominance.” In the rejuvenated culture of American imperialism, treaties and conventions are rendered “quaint,” and so they may be violated, obeyed or ignored as the situation requires. Got a problem with that? Suck on it, world! We’ve got “interests” to protect.
There are, however, no “national interests” worth defending through the deployment of weapons in space; the unsustainable expense of these projects would quite likely make the nation even more vulnerable to attack by diverting resources away from more worthwhile programs. (For some perspective on this just ask all the people working at American ports and nuclear plants how all that Homeland Security money is working out.) Moreover, the laughable failures of “missile defense” would lead a reasonable person to suspect that “Dildos from God” — or whatever they’re calling it — are probably more thrilling in name than in practice.
None of this matters, though, when you’ve got a hard-on like Lance Lord. “Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny,” he told an Air Force conference in September. “Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future.”
(cross-posted on Axis of Evel Knievel)