Militaries Buy Bulk of Space Assets

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NEW YORK — Cold War paranoia may have eased up on the Space Race decades ago, but a new report finds that military projects still account for nearly half of all spending worldwide on space assets.

The United States is by far the biggest spender on defense-related space programs, yet its technical savvy also makes it the country most dependent on such systems, according to “Space Security 2010,” a report released in September by a consortium of academic, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, including the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal and the Secure World Foundation in Superior, Colo.

U.S. efforts to project military power across the globe have helped drive such dependence on space power, said military and security analyst John Pike, who runs GlobalSecurity.org.

“If we want to blow somebody up, we have to go to the other side of the planet, and need lots of space support to do so,” said Pike, who was not involved in compiling the annual report.

That dependency may leave the United States most vulnerable to anti-satellite measures aimed at taking out the country’s watchful orbital platforms. While the United States, China and Russia have perhaps the most advanced capabilities for destroying satellites, India also has announced plans to develop anti-satellite capabilities.

According to the report, the U.S. Department of Defense allocated $10.7 billion to boost space-based capabilities in 2009. But that figure did not include money for the National Reconnaissance Office, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency or Missile Defense Agency.

Much of that defense spending focused on satellites that provide services such as communications, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, as well as weather forecasting, navigation and weapons guidance applications.

The United States operated about half of the world’s 175 dedicated military satellites that were in space at the end of 2009, according to the report.

Pike considered that count of U.S. military satellites “significantly low,” and said a count of 115 satellites by the Union of Concerned Scientists came much closer. Russia was said to operate a quarter of the military satellites with 38, and China had 12.

The Russian number “sounds about right,” Pike said in an e-mail. He pointed out it is just a third of the total number of Soviet military satellites that were aloft during the Cold War.

The United States’ dependence on space power goes far beyond dedicated military satellites. Many of its navigational and targeting systems also depend on GPS satellites that guide civilian smartphone users and drivers.

The Air Force launched the first of a planned fleet of 12 ultraprecise GPS-2F satellites in May.

Russia has pushed forward its own GPS-like satellite constellation, called the Global Navigation Satellite System, or Glonass. That has its own budget of $1 billion.

The United States, China and Russia have the most advanced ground-based missile systems that can destroy satellites, according to the report; the United States and China demonstrated theirs in recent years.

In 2007, China shot down an ailing weather satellite with a ground-launched missile, and the U.S. Navy shot down a defunct spy satellite with a ship-launched missile in 2008.

Such countries also have access to advanced laser programs that could temporarily dazzle or blind the sensitive optics of satellites in low Earth orbit.