Pentagon strategy stresses the importance of satellites

By Lolita C. Baldor
Monday, February 21, 2011

The U.S. military needs to better protect its satellites and strengthen its ability to use them as weapons as the uncharted battlefield of space becomes increasingly crowded and dangerous, Pentagon leaders say.

A new military strategy for space, as mapped out by the Pentagon, calls for greater cooperation with other nations on space-based programs to improve the United States' ability to deter enemies.

"It's a domain, like air, land and sea," said Gen. Kevin Chilton, who led U.S. Strategic Command until he retired late last month. "Space is not just a convenience. It's become a critical part in every other [battlefield] domain."

The United States, Chilton said, needs to make sure that it protects and maintains the battlefield capabilities it gets from space, including global-positioning data, missile warning system information, and communications with fighters or unmanned drones that are providing surveillance or firing missiles against the enemy.

As the United States and other countries depend more on their satellites for critical data, those assets become greater targets for their enemies.

"It's prudent to anticipate that, at this point, we will not go into a future conflict with a sophisticated adversary and not expect to be challenged in the space domain," Chilton said in an interview.

While the newly released strategy stresses the peaceful use of space, it also underscores the importance of satellites in waging war and deterring war.

"We need to ensure that we can continue to utilize space to navigate with accuracy, to communicate with certainty, to strike with precision and to see the battlefield with clarity," said William Lynn, deputy defense secretary.

Lynn and other Pentagon leaders say space has become more congested, competitive and contested, and the United States needs to keep pace on all fronts.

Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States and other nations must develop rules of the road for space that lay out what is acceptable behavior and movement.

At a forum put on by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Cartwright said nations need to have guidelines that govern the approximately 22,000 man-made objects orbiting Earth, including about 1,100 active satellites.

For example, he said, there is nothing that requires objects to pass left to left, or that says which country should move its satellite if two objects are on a collision course.

While avoiding crashes is an important goal, officials said nations also need to ensure that their communications and other signals passing through the satellites are not in conflict.

The strategy offers little detail about offensive operations in space. But defense officials say that China, Iran and other countries have demonstrated their abilities to take action in space.

In January 2007, China startled world leaders when it took out a defunct weather satellite with a warhead launched on board a ballistic missile.

China's actions made it the first country to destroy a satellite with a ground-based missile. The United States and Russia had shot down satellites, but the United States did it in 1985 with an air-launched missile and the Soviets with a hunter satellite.

The China shoot-down alarmed officials, who said it signaled the beginning of space wars and would set off a race to militarize space.

- Associated Press

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