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reflections

Dec 14, 2006 | 08:40 GMT

3 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Maintaining U.S. Space Dominance

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Robert Joseph, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, publicly insisted on Wednesday that the United States opposes any ban on the weaponization of space. He was careful, however, to say that the United States will continue to abide "scrupulously" by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans the placement of nuclear weapons in space. This comes as no surprise as it has been the position of the U.S. military for years. In 1957, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Thomas D. White forecast that, "Whereas those who have the capacity to control the air control the land and sea beneath it, so in the future it is likely that those who have the capability to control space will likewise control the Earth's surface." The 2004 Air Force Counterspace Operations doctrine lays out the "five Ds" of targeting an adversary's space system: deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction. Maintaining the high ground has always been the foundational principle of military strategy. Space is the ultimate high ground. The U.S. military advantage rests heavily on space — from navigation and communication to intelligence (including MASINT) and the detection of a nuclear attack. Space assets guide the most accurate munitions in the inventory and allow bombing missions to be re-tasked midflight. The importance of space to the U.S. military's overwhelming advantage cannot be overstated. As such, official U.S. policy states in no uncertain terms that, "Purposeful interference with U.S. space systems will be viewed as an infringement on our sovereign rights" and could warrant a retaliatory use of force. In the coming years, U.S. dominance of space will be challenged, and the United States intends to maintain its advantage. During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Russian-built jamming systems attempted to locally disrupt the United States' global positioning system (GPS). They failed — and were destroyed by GPS-guided bombs. This was one of the earliest attempts to challenge the United States in space warfare. The Chinese have reportedly tried to blind or disable U.S. satellites with ground-based lasers. The United States has not officially recognized any Chinese attempt to interfere with its satellites in orbit. But, while targeting a fast-moving satellite and hitting it with a focused laser beam through the varying layers of the atmosphere is a difficult proposition to say the least, even the prospect of such an incident has not gone unnoticed. The U.S. Air Force — which controls the majority of U.S. space assets — takes these potential threats seriously and views them as an indication of things to come. The Air Force has already adjusted the design architecture of its next-generation satellites in an attempt to counter such interference. There is no doubt that the United States will vigorously defend its advantage in space — and it will not hesitate for even a moment to use offensive force against an adversary's space assets.

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