One year ago the Chinese military conducted a successful test of a new anti-satellite (A-Sat) system, highlighting to the world the vulnerability of space-based systems. In spite of this historic event, one year later the [U.S. President George W.] Bush administration’s continued “stay the course” approach raises important questions: Has the Bush administration developed a policy or doctrine that outlines our response if our satellite assets are compromised? Has it analyzed military strategy to explore alternatives if satellite support is suddenly unavailable? Is the administration taking seriously the need to develop a code of conduct outlining acceptable behavior by all spacefaring nations? We can no longer assume that satellite capabilities will be available in a future conflict, and we can no longer have a “go it alone” approach to space.
Space systems are integral parts of every American’s life; the services they provide are no longer “nice to have” elements of the modern global economy – without them, entire sectors of our economy simply would not function. Billions of dollars of transportation, commerce and banking transactions use satellite communications and navigation systems for everyday business. Interruptions to these systems can have far reaching and irrevocable repercussions. Space-based capabilities are even more essential to U.S. troops deployed around the world. Like modern commerce, the U.S. military is interlinked and dependent on space-based capabilities; whether it is GPS technology, protected communications, or satellite imagery for reconnaissance.
A strong, 21st century space policy must include new efforts to protect the key elements of our existing space systems and reduce the vulnerability of the entire network of capabilities. Space assets can be better protected by utilizing emerging defensive technologies; while reduced vulnerability will require a paradigm shift from monitored, garrisoned systems to a “defense in depth” approach for our space architecture and infrastructure.
One deeply flawed response to the Chinese A-Sat test has been to advocate deploying offensive weapons in space as a form of defense. In fact, putting weapons in space will simply prompt others to follow suit, jeopardizing the very assets we seek to protect and spurring a destructive arms race. In addition, were such weapons ever used, the effects would only compound existing threats to our satellites by creating more orbiting debris.
To maintain dominance in space, the United States should pursue a mix of defensive technologies and overlapping capabilities. What is required is a military force posture that adopts a defense-in-depth posture in space that reduces the single-point vulnerability of today’s space infrastructure. This requires developing a layered architecture with various systems that complement each other without having similar vulnerabilities. We need to use commercial assets for rapid transition and reinforcement of existing capabilities. For example, U.S. news networks
buy individual transponders on commercial communications satellites for their exclusive use, rather than launching their own
satellites. Cooperative agreements with allies to allow distribution of data from their assets to augment U.S. military space systems are also essential and are a way to create reserve capacity for U.S. space systems. These actions will complement next-generation defensive technologies currently being developed for future systems, which are also crucial.
Fundamentally, as former head of U.S. Strategic Command, Marine Corps Gen.
James Cartwright said in remarks last February: “Every solution for our problem in space does not have to be accomplished in space.” To create a more dynamic architecture, we also must consider enhancements to user equipment and ground systems. Aircraft also could provide greater diversification of capabilities and would further reduce single points of vulnerability. Nor are all space solutions technological. Policies for working with industry and allies also must be in place before a crisis for the technology to be effective.
Such an approach would provide the adaptive and predictive space systems required in this new environment, and together, can build space assets analogous to the “1,000 ship fleet” concept of naval strength. This approach also can promote negotiations with our allies who have been to this point shut out of space systems planning. That not only provides for economies of scale that will stretch limited funds further, but it broadens the pool of technology and ideas and makes any future architecture more robust.
Strength of ideas and technology require the exchange of ideas and the engagement of allies. Little progress has been made to build international structures to maintain security in and access to space. The last major outer space treaty was signed in 1967. Rather than a go-it-alone strategy, we must pursue greater cooperation and seek international alliances to ensure access to and build international coalitions to defend our interests in space. It is vital that the United States lead the international community in setting norms for acceptable behavior of spacefaring nations to minimize the possibility for conflict and address common challenges. Greater cooperation also should be pursued through public-private partnerships and investment in other nations’ capabilities. This course of action requires a fresh look and updates to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and other export control policies.
The Chinese A-Sat test a year ago was a dramatic and disturbing reminder of the vulnerability of our critical military space assets. To meet the challenges highlighted by this event, Congress is willing to work with the national security community toward solutions that will realign the space community and our investment strategy to directly address this vulnerability. Our aim must be that on the second anniversary of the Chinese A-Sat test, we are better prepared for the future.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher is a six-term congresswoman representing California’s 10th district. She is chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.