Arms control advocates in the United States and abroad are expressing concern with the Bush administration's push for military superiority in space.
A series of Pentagon doctrinal papers, released over the past year, have emphasized that the U.S. military is increasingly dependent on space satellites for offensive and defensive operations, and must be able to protect them in times of war.
The Air Force in August put forward a Counterspace Operations Doctrine, which described "ways and means by which the Air Force achieves and maintains space superiority" and has worked to develop weapons to accomplish such missions.
On March 1, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed a new National Defense Strategy paper that said the use of space "enables us to project power anywhere in the world from secure bases of operation." A key goal of Rumsfeld's new strategy is "to ensure our access to and use of space and to deny hostile exploitation of space to adversaries."
The Pentagon is developing a suborbital space capsule that could hit targets anywhere in the world within two hours of being launched from U.S. bases. It also is developing systems that could attack potential enemy satellites, destroying them or temporarily preventing them from sending signals.
Michael Krepon, president emeritus of the Henry L. Stimson Center and an arms control official in the Clinton administration, said the United States is moving toward a national space doctrine that is "preemptive and proactive." He expects the Bush administration to produce a new National Space Policy statement soon that will contrast with the one adopted in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
"We adopted the traditional U.S. position of being a reluctant space warrior," Krepon said of the Clinton position. "Space was to be used for peaceful purposes, but if someone messed with us, we couldn't allow that to happen. But it was not our space policy preference."
Krepon last week attended a conference in Geneva organized by the Chinese and Russian governments on preventing an arms race in outer space. Moscow and Beijing have for years promoted a new treaty to govern arms in space, since the current international agreement prohibits only nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in space.
One of those attending last week's session was Hu Xiaodi, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations Disarmament Conference. At a U.N. disarmament meeting last year, Hu criticized efforts to achieve "control of outer space," as well as research into weapons that can be used there. "It is no exaggeration to say that outer space would become the fourth battlefield after land, sea and air should we sit on our hands," he said.
Krepon said a new treaty is needed because "if the U.S. proceeds to weaponize space, anyone can compete, and that makes sure everyone loses."
Theresa Hitchens, vice president of the Center for Defense Information, also attended the Geneva session and said a low-ranking U.S. diplomat attended as an observer but did not speak. She said experts there discussed where the issues stood and how one could verify a treaty for space security. "That included a code of conduct and even just banning kinetic anti-satellite weapons," she said.
Analyzing the proposed Pentagon fiscal 2006 budget just sent to Congress, Hitchens and her colleagues pointed to $60.9 million for an experimental XXS spacecraft whose "microsatellite payloads" could attack enemy satellites. Another $68 million is earmarked for a Near Field Infrared Experiment that would use infrared technology to disable enemy satellite transmissions.
Pentagon officials make no secret that they are working on new defensive systems to protect the nation's satellites.
"I think everybody that I know in the United States military and the Department of Defense understands the important role that our space assets play in our national security," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of the Space Command, told the House Armed Services Committee March 10. "One of the biggest issues that we had to deal with was trying to figure out what was happening to a particular capability if the function was interrupted."
One system under development would be able to identify a ground station or satellite interfering with U.S. satellites, so that it could be destroyed.
As another defensive measure, the United States last October announced deployment of its first mobile, ground-based system that can temporarily disrupt communications from an enemy satellite. The Counter Communications System uses electromagnetic radio frequency energy to silence transmissions from a satellite in a way that is reversible. Two more units are due later this year.