White House

More on space weaponization policy

As you might expect, the New York Times report yesterday that the Bush Administration was considering a space policy revision that would permit the deployment of weapons in space got some traction in the media. The White House offered some clarification on that policy revision yesterday, saying that the proposal was still in an interagency review and “has not risen to the presidential level; it has not risen to the level of the National Security Advisor; it has not risen to the level of department heads,” in the words of Scott McClellan.

McClellan also noted that the policy was not “looking at weaponizing space” but added that the administration wants “to make sure that those space systems are protected.” This suggests that a revised policy could endorse what is sometimes called “defensive counterspace” (DCS) systems designed to protect satellites from attack. There have been studies along these lines within the Air Force and industry on both DCS and offensive counterspace (OCS), which, as the name suggests, involves attacking enemy satellites. However, I think we’re a long way from “rods from God”, or other weapons deployed in space for use against targets on Earth.

At least one newspaper editorial has sounded off on the proposed policy change: the Seattle Post-Intelligencer finds the proposal, as reported in the NY Times, to be “substantial and alarming”.

13 comments to More on space weaponization policy

  • At present it seems the NY times article was either very poorly researched or deliberately distorted the truth for a more sensational story. DefenseTech has more details…

  • First, the New York Times writes about an array of Air Force research projects to invent and deploy Buck Rogers weapons into space. Then Defense Tech (apparently Noah Schachtman’s blog) scoffs that these porjects are ludicrous, therefore the New York Times article is inaccurate.

    But I don’t see the contradiction. Just because some radical weapons projects are ludicrous, that doesn’t mean that the Pentagon won’t spend billions of dollars on them. They might well, and the White House might well trade diplomatic capital for these projects too.

  • Remember; you have no idea what a really radical weapons project is.

  • The crazy thing is based on the Outer Space Treaty, Once a person is in/on a celestial body, he is out of control of any Earth Government. So independent groups could put weapons in space, just not a government.

    The Out Space Treaty Implodes on itself

  • Brent

    Space weapons are important for many reasons: military, economic, social, and thousands of others.

    1) They are more ethical than alternatives. Current military doctrine now relies on the “iron bomb ASAT” to destroy enemy space systems, which has the unfortunate side effect of killing or wounding inhabitants of the ground segment (antenna, control station, etc..) An (insert random dude from hostile country here) won’t give a rats pitoot about maintaining a “sanctuary” of space if gutting his inanimate satellite on orbit saves his office from a cruise missile.

    2) Economically, the huge infusion of cash necessary to make the US and humanity in general is nly possible from defense spending. Sure, hundreds of launches will be necessary to revolutionize military space forces into a vibrant tool. Good reason to build cheaper launchers, huh? Also, the military will focus on near- Earth space and would likely build a space infrastructure which wouldn’t only support military objectives, but would be able to serve commercial and exploration endeavors as well.

    3) Throughout history, the military have been explorers as much as warriors. Through distorted visions like Eisenhower’s, the military has no exploratory role in space. NASA only. And NASA, especially the astronaut corps, are one of the most conceited bunches of elitists in history. Joining the USAF is a whole lot easier than joining NASA. If regular people (ie. not fighter pilots, PhD’s, and other ivory tower supermen types) were allowed a role in space, society would look up again at space.

    Making space a human environment requires people to think about space like land, sea, and air. We have to open it up to all human endeavors, including war. The more we praise space as “the heavens” that should be protected like Antarctica or restricted in use because its somehow “special”, the more people will think of it as alien and unapproachable, something to be read about, not experienced.

  • Brent

    correction to 2)

    it should read “the huge infusion of cash necessary to make the US and humanity in general spacefaring is only possible through defense spending”

    I am reasonably certain no more defense spending is required to make the US or humanity in general possible.

    Stupid telephone calls in the middle of trying to form a coherent sentence!

  • Incidentally, during the short lifetime of this story CNN ran a poll on whether or not the US should pursue space weapons. I was surprised to read a figure of around _40%_ saying yes we should.

    Didn’t get a chance to see what the sample size was before the poll was replaced, and I can’t seem to find it now.

  • Cecil Trotter

    “Didn’t get a chance to see what the sample size was before the poll was replaced, and I can’t seem to find it now.”

    Imagine that, perhaps the results didn’t please CNN? ;)

  • anon

    Anyone who’s taken a stats class should know the complete unreliability of spot polls or self-selected samples. But in the interest of a quick and dirty addition to the dataset:


    Should any country have offensive and defensive weapons in space?

    26.8% Yes. It’s better to prepare for space-based warfare than to be surprised
    8.0% Yes. But only the United States
    57.5% No. Keep weapons out of space, particularly offensive ones
    7.3% No. If space weapons are needed, they should be under United Nations control
    0.4% Not sure
    Total Votes: 261

  • Rob Fabian

    In a Seattle (generally NOT a Bush stronghold…) paper at the bottom of a web page bearing a rather alarmist editorial on the subject. I’m astounded the pro side scored that well.

    I too saw the CNN poll. When I saw it it was running 46% to 30 something in favor.

  • Brent

    I don’t think an overwhelming majority of people are opposed to space weapons, many people just don’t care. The inconvenient fact that makes space weaponization hard is that many still believe that Space Activity = NASA and many people at NASA go on record saying space weaponization is a bad idea (I remember a news piece a while back reporting that an astronaut testified before Congress that weaponizing space is a bad thing because it would cause more space debris), even though NASA has no institutional expertise in military matters. Also, a very vocal branch of anti-war groups focus specifically on military space policy and become self proclaimed “experts” because the media listens to them. They even go around calling themselves by more or less professional sounding names like Center for Defense Information or Union of Concerned Scientists Even UCS’ name displays bias, yet the media trumps their opposition to mean that all scientists are against space weaponization, rather than just a bunch of peace-child lab laborers that think they’re smarter than everyone else. I might listen to the opinion of a Union of Disinterested Engineers, since scientists generally are imbibed with a humanist, determinist, and self-important philosophy while engineers (arguably better technical experts) are concerned only if they can get something to work correctly. I think the zeal of anti-space weapons people is far greater than those who would like to see space weapons, so it seems that the majority of Americans are against it when the reality is that most who have no problem with them don’t care enough to argue with the hippies.

    Of course, the fact that Eisenhower’s inane policy almost fatally crippled space development by fracturing agencies that exist to this day (NASA, NRO = good. USAF, no space for you!) and perpetuating the myth that space is “special” and should be “for peaceful purposes” which is used by leftists to caricature space weaponization proponents as bloodthirsty murderers who bathe in human blood and plan world domination on a throne of skulls. It doesn’t help that even military people claiming to be realists use these arguments to stab space in the back and protect their old way of thinking (how dare you think an airplane would be a better scout than cavalry!) like a recent article in the Naval War College Review did.

  • “Anyone who’s taken a stats class should know the complete unreliability of spot polls or self-selected samples.”

    Agreed, but a figure of 40%ish is surprising nevertheless and suggests it might be worth conducting a real poll to ascertain for sure what people are thinking and how deeply held their beliefs are. Until the other day I thought that >90% of people are staunchly against the idea of space weapons.

  • 80% of so the called experts on Space technology have no idea what is meant by “space weapons” so it’s doubtful that 99% of the general public do either.