Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Weaponizing Space

An excellent article in IEEE Spectrum online about weaponizing space.
One idea that it did not address is that once one nation starts putting weapons in space then others would follow quickly. There would probably be a race to gain an advantage in space. The hyper development would attract much more money and science and would probably lead to significant imprvements in technology and reductions in cost.
It may actually help to accelerate commercial use of space, including space tourism.

Here are some quotes:
(This may be long. The article is over 6000 words)
From orbiting lasers to metal rods that strike from the heavens, the potential to wage war from space raises startling possibilities—and serious problems

By Bruce M. DeBlois, Richard L. Garwin, R. Scott Kemp & Jeremy C. Marwell

No country today is known to have weapons deployed in space, and many countries oppose their development. However, at least some U.S. Pentagon officials have been arguing that the United States must now, after decades of debate, develop and deploy offensive space weapons. In fact, over the past 10 years, the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars researching and testing such weapons. If deployment became official U.S. policy, such a step would have profound--and, we feel, profoundly negative--implications for the balance of global power.

Realizing the growing strategic value of space, in January 2001 a congressionally mandated space commission headed by incoming Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld urged the United States to maintain the option of weaponizing space, identifying three potential missions for space weapons:

* Protecting existing U.S. systems in space.

* Denying the use of space and space assets to adversaries.

* Attacking from space a target anywhere on land, at sea, or in the air.

WHAT IS A SPACE WEAPON? As commonly defined, it is a system designed to project destructive force between Earth and outer space or within space itself. Antisatellite weapons, space-based lasers, space-based platforms that fire projectiles, and ground-based lasers that rely on orbiting mirrors to reflect beams to space or back down to Earth--all fit the definition. On the other hand, intercontinental ballistic missiles, ground-based electromagnetic jammers aimed at satellite signals, and explosives used to attack satellite ground stations are not considered space weapons.
For the most part, space weapons can be classified into four categories: directed-energy weapons, kinetic-energy weapons, conventional warheads delivered to or from space, and microsatellites.

The last objective is perhaps the most alluring: the prompt and deadly projection of force anywhere on the globe. The psychological impact of such a blow might rival that of such devastating attacks as Hiroshima. But just as the unleashing of nuclear weapons had unforeseen consequences, so, too, would the weaponization of space. What's more, each of the leading proposed space weapons systems has significant physical limitations that make alternatives more effective and affordable by comparison.

How easy would it be to detect and track such space mines, and thereby thwart their attack? The U.S. Air Force Space Command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, indicates that it "is responsible for tracking objects larger than 10 centimeters orbiting Earth" and currently tracks some 9000 such objects.

Even without space weapons, the United States could respond to an attack on its satellites with its unmatched terrestrial military capabilities. Adversaries would expect a heavy toll to be exacted as a result of any attack on U.S. satellites; that expectation alone would almost certainly suffice to deter any such attack.

In an all-out shooting war on Earth, we cannot expect that space would be a sanctuary for military systems supporting the weapons of that war. But the scenario sketched here, with the United States leading an urgent effort to ban space weapons and antisatellite tests or use, would help ensure that a shooting war on Earth would not be provoked by weapons in space.

Feature Article


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