By TIM WEINER
Published: May 18, 2005
The Air Force, saying it must secure space to protect the nation from attack, is seeking President Bush’s approval of a national-security directive that could move the United States closer to fielding offensive and defensive space weapons, according to White House and Air Force officials.
Steve Cline/U.S. Air Force
A Minotaur rocket successfully lifted an XSS-11 microsatellite into orbit last month from California.
Any Time, Any Space
ARSENAL OF THE FUTURE
Previous articles have examined weapons of the future for the military.
First Article in the Series: Pentagon Envisioning a Costly Internet for War (Nov. 13, 2004)
Second Article in the Series:
A New Model Army Soldier Rolls Closer to the Battlefield (Feb. 16, 2005)
Third Article in the Series:
Drive to Build High-Tech Army Hits Cost Snags (March 28, 2005)
Fourth Article in the Series: Navy of Tomorrow, Mired in Yesterday’s Politics (April 19, 2005) The proposed change would be a substantial shift in American policy. It would almost certainly be opposed by many American allies and potential enemies, who have said it may create an arms race in space.
A senior administration official said that a new presidential directive would replace a 1996 Clinton administration policy that emphasized a more pacific use of space, including spy satellites’ support for military operations, arms control and nonproliferation pacts.
Any deployment of space weapons would face financial, technological, political and diplomatic hurdles, although no treaty or law bans Washington from putting weapons in space, barring weapons of mass destruction.
A presidential directive is expected within weeks, said the senior administration official, who is involved with space policy and insisted that he not be identified because the directive is still under final review and the White House has not disclosed its details.
Air Force officials said yesterday that the directive, which is still in draft form, did not call for militarizing space. «The focus of the process is not putting weapons in space,» said Maj. Karen Finn, an Air Force spokeswoman, who said that the White House, not the Air Force, makes national policy. «The focus is having free access in space.»
With little public debate, the Pentagon has already spent billions of dollars developing space weapons and preparing plans to deploy them.
«We haven’t reached the point of strafing and bombing from space,» Pete Teets, who stepped down last month as the acting secretary of the Air Force, told a space warfare symposium last year. «Nonetheless, we are thinking about those possibilities.»
In January 2001, a commission led by Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the newly nominated defense secretary, recommended that the military should «ensure that the president will have the option to deploy weapons in space.»
It said that «explicit national security guidance and defense policy is needed to direct development of doctrine, concepts of operations and capabilities for space, including weapons systems that operate in space.»
The effort to develop a new policy directive reflects three years of work prompted by the report. The White House would not say if all the report’s recommendations would be adopted.
In 2002, after weighing the report of the Rumsfeld space commission, President Bush withdrew from the 30-year-old Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which banned space-based weapons.
Ever since then, the Air Force has sought a new presidential policy officially ratifying the concept of seeking American space superiority.
The Air Force believes «we must establish and maintain space superiority,» Gen. Lance Lord, who leads the Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently. «Simply put, it’s the American way of fighting.» Air Force doctrine defines space superiority as «freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack» in space.
The mission will require new weapons, new space satellites, new ways of doing battle and, by some estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars. It faces enormous technological obstacles. And many of the nation’s allies object to the idea that space is an American frontier.
Yet «there seems little doubt that space-basing of weapons is an accepted aspect of the Air Force» and its plans for the future, Capt. David C. Hardesty of the Naval War College faculty says in a new study.
A new Air Force strategy, Global Strike, calls for a military space plane carrying precision-guided weapons armed with a half-ton of munitions. General Lord told Congress last month that Global Strike would be «an incredible capability» to destroy command centers or missile bases «anywhere in the world.»
Pentagon documents say the weapon, called the common aero vehicle, could strike from halfway around the world in 45 minutes. «This is the type of prompt Global Strike I have identified as a top priority for our space and missile force,» General Lord said.
The proposed national-security directive could move the U.S. closer to fielding offensive and defensive space weapons.
By TIM WEINER