Space becoming the Pentagon's next frontier
If the Cold War had ever defaulted into the suicidal orchestration of "mutually assured destruction," the men and women in this room would have served as the final conductors: tracking the missile launches, validating the satellite findings, cross-checking the data with ground radars, and matter-of-factly advising the National Command Authority that, yes, this was the real thing. But on this February afternoon, no longer gripped by the fear of an all-out Soviet missile assault, the operations center simulates a more modest attack--a single missile launched from North Korea, targeting the United States. Using the largest and most complex command-and-control network in the world--comprising more than 200 computer systems and 600 communications circuits--technicians "detect" the missile launch with a constellation of early-warning satellites, and after double-checking the data and estimating the missile's likely impact point, calmly communicate the warning over redundant communications hot lines to the Pentagon, the White House, and the U.S. Strategic Command. In fact, practically the only thing the operations center couldn't do during the missile's 28-minute virtual flight was to take any action to stop it.
The Bush Administration's determination to develop and deploy the capability to shoot down a rogue intercontinental ballistic missile is just one reason why Cheyenne Mountain and nearby military facilities in Colorado Springs have become the focus of new interest, and speculation, in military circles.
In addition to serving as the headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and as the likely nerve center of any future missile defense system, Cheyenne Mountain is the command center for the U.S. Space Command, the Pentagon's center for space operations and issues, which includes members of all four military services--Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. The command's headquarters is at nearby Peterson Air Force Base. One of Space Command's facilities at Cheyenne Mountain is the Space Control Center, where technicians track the movement of each of the man-made objects currently orbiting the Earth--all 8,300 of them. The wall-mounted video display in the control center shows swarms of satellites and space debris careening around the Earth in crisscrossing orbits; the center's powerful computers constantly plot and update the position of each object. Inside the control center, experts in the esoteric science of "orbitology" inform U.S. military commanders around the world when unfriendly spy satellites are lurking overhead.
Also nearby are the separate headquarters of the Air Force and Army space commands. Together, all of these facilities make Colorado Springs "Space Town, USA," perhaps the most important place in the country for what may be a coming revolution in the military's exploitation of outer space. The way some defense experts see it, U.S. military control and dominance of space will be as vital in the Information Age as U.S. shipyards and factories were in manufacturing "the arsenal of democracy" for the Industrial Age.
Indeed, America's use of space, both by the Pentagon and by business, is now so extensive, it has become a vital lifeline--one that an enemy, someday, might want to cut off. "The United States' utilization of space today is enormous, and it is increasing at a rate that makes this nation very dependent on space assets for a host of services whose importance we don't even fully recognize yet," said retired Navy Adm. David Jeremiah, who served on a national space commission that Congress directed to look at ways to safeguard the country's investments in the skies above. The commission reported its findings in January. As one example of this dependency on space, Jeremiah cites the rapid proliferation over the past decade of Global Positioning Satellite systems for everything from advanced weapons and military aircraft to cars and recreational boats. "History also tells us that, as we have increasingly explored every medium--land, sea, and air--that medium has eventually seen military conflict. Experience suggests that space will be no different."
Now a rare confluence of events has conspired to ensure that the report of the national space commission--officially called the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization--will not follow many of its predecessors onto a dusty and ignored shelf in the basement of the Pentagon.
First, the chairman of the space commission, Donald Rumsfeld, is now the Defense Secretary. Second, the space commission report came hard on the heels of a report issued by another commission chaired by Rumsfeld, this one focused on the ballistic missile threat. That commission concluded that the threat to the United States from rogue states armed with ballistic missiles is "broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly than has been reported" by the intelligence community. Soon after that report, North Korea unexpectedly launched a multistage rocket that sailed over Japan and well into the Pacific toward Alaska.
Rumsfeld is in the unique position of being able to push through the recommendations of his own recent commissions on missile defense and space, both of which argue for a far more aggressive exploitation, and militarization, of space. And any doubts that Rumsfeld plans to follow through on the commissions' recommendations have been largely dispelled by a recently circulated Pentagon briefing paper listing the Secretary's top five priorities, which include deploying a missile defense system; modernizing U.S. command, control, communications, intelligence, and space capabilities; and "transforming" the military with new technologies, many of which use space-based systems. Rumsfeld's space recommendations are scheduled to arrive on Capitol Hill on April 12.
A `Space Pearl Harbor'Proponents of a national missile defense and the further use of space for other security needs are elated. "With the completion of the Rumsfeld national missile defense and space commissions, followed by the choice of Rumsfeld to serve as the first Secretary of Defense for the 21st century, we were already batting three-for-three," said Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., an Armed Services Committee member who was instrumental in getting the Republican-led Congress to launch the space commission. "Now, if Rumsfeld is able to weave space and missile defense into our national defense posture in a way that makes them absolutely essential, which I'm convinced he is determined to do, then the potential is there for a historic grand slam." Smith added a noted of caution, but asserted that this is a genuine turning point in how America defends itself. "The devil will be in the details, and it won't happen overnight, but 25 years from now, I think we'll look back at this time and see that President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld were the keys to changing the fundamental dynamics in a way that turned space into a national priority."
In the space commission's report, Rumsfeld recommends a new space hierarchy for the White House, Pentagon, and individual military services, to ensure that space issues get more attention in defense deliberations. The President would consult a new presidential space advisory group. The National Security Council would have a new standing interagency group on space. The Defense Department would get a new undersecretary for space, intelligence, and information. A senior Air Force civilian would take over as director of the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation's constellation of supersecret intelligence satellites. Meanwhile, the four-star commander in chief of the U.S. Space Command would be relieved of his duties as head of the Air Force's own Space Command in order to focus solely on the role of chief advocate for space for all four military services.
Experts believe that Rumsfeld's focus on a hierarchy of space advocates seeded throughout the national security command chain could work to bring space to the forefront of defense policy. Brig. Gen. Michael Hamel, the Air Force's director of Space Operations and Integration, said the military's space efforts need a unitary focus. Since the end of the Cold War, the use of space capabilities has become so popular among the military services and various defense agencies that each has developed its own separate space office. "Fragmentation has become a central ill in today's military space business, because with authority and responsibility for space so diffused among many agencies, it is hard to develop a coherent vision and a set of well-orchestrated space programs and initiatives," Hamel said.
Noting that funding for space-related activities is notoriously fragmented and prone to falling through the cracks in the budgets of various agencies and military services, the space commission also recommended that a new single line item for space be established in the defense budget. (Currently, Washington spends roughly $26 billion annually on space, an amount almost evenly split between the Pentagon and NASA.) The commission also argues for increased investment in advanced science and technology projects needed to maintain American dominance of space.
Although the space commission stopped short of saying so, experts and influential lawmakers suggest that the growing importance of space will eventually argue for a separate Space Force to complement the Army, Navy, and Air Force. "Just as superior airpower was essential to our security in the past century, I think dominance of space will be absolutely critical in this century," Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Procurement, said in an interview. "With U.S. dependency and vulnerability in space growing so rapidly, space initiatives need to get priority when budget decisions are made. If that doesn't happen, we may well have to look at creating a separate Space Force, and giving it a seat at the budget table."
Finally, in its most controversial finding, Rumsfeld's space commission predicted that warfare in space is a "virtual certainty," and said that the United States must begin now to develop the means to both deter and defend against attacks on its satellites-and to mount offensive operations against the space assets of potential adversaries. To do anything less, the commission claimed, would invite a "Space Pearl Harbor."
Desert Storm WatershedBy nearly every account, the Persian Gulf War was the watershed event that enlightened U.S. military commanders--and eventually the rest of the world--about the vast, largely untapped military potential of space. To be sure, throughout the Cold War, secret imaging satellites and missile-warning satellites had told us a lot about the Soviet Union's strategic nuclear forces. With the Cold War over, the Pentagon found those same satellites to be quite useful in tracking the movements of the Iraqi Republican Guard and the launches of Iraqi Scud missiles. U.S. ground forces also used thousands of GPS receivers to navigate over the featureless Saudi and Iraqi deserts. And satellites carried 90 percent of the U.S. military's long-distance communications in and out of the Persian Gulf region.
"Desert Storm marked the beginning of the military's focus on space assets as a way to more efficiently conduct conventional operations," said Barry Watts, an analyst with Northrop Grumman Corp. and the author of a recent report by the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments titled "The Military Use of Space." "Today, the Pentagon has become driven, both by strategic need and by preference, to make the direct, nearly real-time exploitation of space assets an integral part of how we conduct conventional war," Watts said.
Since Desert Storm, the U.S. military's reliance on, and exploitation of, space assets has indeed grown dramatically. Soon after the war, the U.S. Space Command began sending out "joint space-support teams" to work side by side with the war-planning staffs of the various U.S. regional commands around the world. The Space Operations Center at Cheyenne Mountain now provides daily "space updates" to far-flung U.S. commands, telling commanders what U.S. satellites are seeing and hearing-and what enemy satellites might be finding out about U.S. forces. And technology upgrades at Cheyenne Mountain have significantly improved the timeliness and accuracy of warnings about short-range, SCUD-type missile launches.
This growing reliance on satellites for conventional operations was evident during the 1999 air war over Kosovo. For the first time in combat, U.S. forces used the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, an all-weather precision-guided bomb that, at roughly $21,000, offers an affordable and accurate alternative to the $1 million-plus Tomahawk cruise missile. U.S. commanders were also able to transfer satellite information directly into the cockpits of long-range bombers, including information on threats, targets, and positions of friendly aircraft. The Air Force now plans to outfit its entire bomber fleet with the new satellite links.
Almost inevitably, the U.S. military's growing dependence on space assets has been accompanied by a growing sense of unease among national security experts about the vulnerability of those systems. Since 1997, a series of reports has warned of increasing access to space by potential enemies. A 1998 letter to President Clinton by 43 retired admirals, generals, and senior civilian defense officials warned: "We can think of few challenges likely to pose a greater danger to our future security posture than that of adversaries seeking to make hostile use of space-or to deny us the ability to dominate that theater of operations."
As pointed out by the space commission, neither the degree of U.S. reliance on space assets nor the potential threats to those systems are well understood. Often, U.S. satellite operators are not even sure whether interruptions to satellite transmissions are the result of jamming or of such natural phenomena as solar interference. In 1998, U.S. businesses were caught badly off guard when a Galaxy IV satellite malfunctioned unexpectedly, resulting in the shutdown of 80 percent of U.S. pagers. Several key U.S. intelligence satellites went blind for more than three hours early in January 2000, after computers in ground stations malfunctioned, apparently because of the Y2K bug. In warning of a potential space Pearl Harbor, the space commission noted that China is apparently developing "parasite" satellites designed to attach themselves to and destroy other satellites.
The information that U.S. military commanders gain from space has lifted the "fog of war" to a degree unprecedented in the annals of warfare, and is largely what distinguishes America as the sole remaining superpower, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense think tank in Northern Virginia. Although many potential adversaries have armies, navies, and air forces, he notes, none approaches the U.S. military in their use of space for secure communications, missile warning, surveillance, navigation, and intelligence gathering. "If you are a China or North Korea, and you want to thwart the American style of warfare, taking out our imaging and communications satellites might prove to be far more effective than sinking an aircraft carrier or shooting down a stealth bomber, because those satellites are our eyes and ears. In that sense, our potential vulnerability in space has grown."
Space WarsThe world's pre-eminent experts in space warfare cannot be found on a Hollywood back lot or at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic. Rather, they are clustered at isolated Schriever Air Force Base on the eastern scrub plain of Colorado, out where the road runs straight to the horizon, and the Front Range of the Rockies remains a distant, snow-capped promise. There, behind a barbed-wire moat in a mostly windowless building, the men and women of U.S. Air Force Space Command's Space Warfare Center immerse themselves daily in the task of wresting control of outer space from enemies both real and imagined.
"Our role is to anticipate threats to U.S. control of space, and to develop ways both to protect our space assets and to deny an adversary his own access to space," said Col. Robert Ryals, deputy commander of the center. Ryals likens the U.S. position in space today to the early days of flight during World War I, when primitive airplanes were initially used primarily for observation and reconnaissance. "In the interwar years, a lot of smart people such as Gen. Billy Mitchell developed new concepts for arming aircraft and projecting airpower, so that when World War II came along, we had a plan on how to prosecute an air war," said Ryals. "Today, the United States is likewise using space assets primarily for observation and communication purposes. If called upon by the National Command Authority in the future, however, our mission is to be ready to prosecute space warfare."
Experts at the Space Warfare Center say that the threat is already real--and growing. In fact, the recently formed 76th Space Control Squadron and the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron at Schriever attest to just how seriously the Air Force takes the threat. The 76th develops advanced concepts and doctrines for controlling space. The 527th acts as a space sparring partner for U.S. forces, mimicking enemy capabilities and constantly probing for U.S. weaknesses.
During one recent war game, the Space Aggressors chagrined a U.S. field commander when they handed him an image from a commercial satellite that revealed the makeup and position of his forces to an accuracy within 1 meter. The commercial availability of such high-resolution imagery--once the exclusive realm of advanced spy satellites--has grown dramatically in recent years.
"Using available commercial-satellite imagery, we were able to acquire pictures of a U.S. commander's marshalling areas, his order of battle, and his critical support base," said Lt. Col. Conrad Widman, commander of the Space Aggressors. "Hopefully, we helped make him aware of his vulnerability to space systems." The Space Aggressors have also used off-the-shelf technology to jam U.S. satellite transmissions during exercises, as a way of preparing field commanders for the challenges they are likely to face in a war.
"All you need is a spectrum analyzer, a signal generator, a satellite transmit-and-receive terminal, a computer with a couple of modems, and 200 lines of software--and you can effectively jam a satellite signal," Widman said. "A lot of commanders are surprised when we replicate the satellite-jamming threat for their exercises, or show them the excellent resolution of the satellite imagery now available to anyone with a credit card. That's why we, as Aggressors, need to constantly remind people that our dependence on space systems is growing."
U.S. space and intelligence experts say that the threats to satellites in orbit are also growing. The U.S. military has long worried that an adversary might detonate a crude nuclear weapon in space, frying the delicate electronics of all satellites, and disproportionately hamstringing U.S. troops who rely on satellites for missile and bomb guidance and for communications. During Operation Allied Force over Kosovo, for instance, 60 percent of all communications between U.S. military forces in the Balkans region and the United States were carried on commercial satellites, which typically have not been "hardened" against such threats. In the 1960s, the United States inadvertently destroyed a number of foreign satellites during an atmospheric nuclear weapons test.
U.S. intelligence experts have also reported that potential adversaries are researching or developing parasite anti-satellite satellites, ground-based anti-satellite lasers to blind or "dazzle" sensitive satellite optics, satellite-frequency jammers, and experimental electromagnetic-pulse weapons to destroy satellite circuitry. "There are any number of companies, both in the United States and abroad, that are developing and preparing to deploy micro-satellites," which could one day loiter in space, and then attach themselves to other satellites to destroy them, said Stephen Cambone, the former staff director for the space commission. "Indonesia has already jammed a Chinese satellite that was broadcasting information to Muslim fundamentalists, information that Indonesia found objectionable," added Cambone, who now works for Rumsfeld in the Pentagon as a special assistant. "So there is already activity in space that causes us concern, and it's not going to affect just the United States."
Experts at the Air Force's Space Warfare Center are focusing on measures to parry each of those threats to U.S. military operations and space assets. Although they may have little sway over the release of commercial imagery from non-U.S. satellite companies, for instance, center experts are studying whether they could make commercial agreements to delay the release of imagery from U.S. satellite companies in times of crisis. With both the Defense Department and the CIA poised to replace virtually their entire inventories of satellites over the next decade, at a combined estimated cost of more than $60 billion, experts are also studying new and innovative ways to shield satellites against laser and directed-energy weapons. Another alternative is to put satellites into higher orbits, where they are less vulnerable to lasers. Space Warfare Center technicians are also devising data links between satellites that could bypass the jamming of a specific satellite ground station.
To gain better insight into future space threats, the Space Warfare Center recently conducted the first major war game to focus on space as the primary battlefield. Dubbed Schriever 2001, the five-day exercise postulated a conflict between the United States and a China-like country in the year 2017. Extrapolating from current trends, exercise coordinators assumed that the "Blue" and the "Red" forces would have a host of space forces and weapons at their disposal, including anti-satellite satellites, ground-based anti-satellite lasers, offensive viruses to attack opposing computer networks, and space-shuttle-like planes that could rapidly repair or replace damaged satellites.
One concept the war game seemed to endorse was development of micro-satellites, which are individually cheaper, easier to launch, and harder to destroy in mass than larger satellites. "One major observation was that redundancy is a very good thing in space systems, because it allows you to absorb the initial `Red' attack and still retain a number of options, rather than suffer the `Space Pearl Harbor' that the Rumsfeld Report warns about," said Rob Haegstrom, the war game director.
The war game participants also relearned the lesson that in times of crisis, space assets can actually have a deterrent effect. Enemies are less inclined to try to launch a surprise attack if they know their military movements can be seen. A crisis is also less likely to escalate out of control if each adversary is confident, through data gathered from satellites, that the other side is not making preparations for a devastating first strike.
"That goes back to the lessons of the Cold War," Ryals said. "Before we successfully put the first Corona satellite into orbit, President Eisenhower was very worried that the Russians were developing a first-strike capability" to destroy U.S. nuclear missiles before they could be fired from their silos in response. Corona also allowed President Kennedy to take a more measured approach during the Cuban missile crisis, Ryals said, because it gave him early warning of Russian actions. "In that sense, it wasn't even a bad thing that the Russians had the Sputnik satellite, because we also wanted them to know that we weren't planning an offensive nuclear strike," he added. "The point is, we spend a lot of time at the Space Warfare Center maximizing space assets as a deterrent to war."
Militarizing SpacePrecisely because space systems can serve as a deterrent to war, and because space itself has remained a sanctuary essentially free of offensive weapons, critics object to the idea that the United States should move aggressively toward deploying anti-satellite weapons or "weaponizing" space. "We need to develop specific solutions to the vulnerability of our satellites, but it doesn't follow that we need to aggressively develop anti-satellite weapons," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org. "Because the United States has, by far, the most important targets to attack in space-and the rogue nations we're always concerned about have no satellites-it's in our narrow interest to make attacks on satellites the moral equivalent of attacking a hospital ship. If, on the other hand, we imply that shooting at satellites is a normal part of warfare, it will be very difficult for us to discourage other nations from developing anti-satellite weapons."
Spurgeon Keeny, now president of the Arms Control Association, was an arms control expert in the Nixon and Carter Administrations. He finds unpersuasive the Rumsfeld space commission's conclusion that warfare in space is a virtual certainty. "I don't think the commission documented the basis for that finding very well at all," he said. "The ideal outcome for the Untied States would be for space to remain a sanctuary free of weapons, while we focus on defensive measures to protect our space assets. I would certainly be very careful not to foul our own nest in space with aggressive moves that brought minimal advantage to U.S. forces."
The critics are not in power, however, and Rumsfeld now is. And his space commission urged the development of anti-satellite weapons and preparations for conducting space warfare. Indeed, the globe-spanning missile defense favored by the Bush Administration is not only likely to require scuttling the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which specifically excludes space-based anti-satellite systems, it is also likely to include space-based lasers, or interceptors, for destroying ballistic missiles. Such weapons would also have obvious anti-satellite capabilities.
Legal experts at U.S. Space Command point out that there is no blanket prohibition in international law against placing or using weapons in space, applying force from space to Earth, or conducting military operations in space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty bars only the stationing or orbiting of weapons of mass destruction in space, and the building of military bases on the moon or other "celestial bodies." The Limited Test Ban Treaty bars the testing of nuclear weapons in space. "But anti-satellite weapons in general are not prohibited by any treaty," said a Space Command lawyer. "There are a number of countries, such as Canada, China, and Russia, that have interpreted the Outer Space Treaty as a demilitarization not only of the moon but of all of outer space; but the fact is, the military is well-entrenched in outer space through its early-warning, communications, and navigations satellites. Those countries are now pushing for additional treaties calling for a blanket demilitarization of space."
Nervousness about U.S. intentions in space was evident last month, when the Chinese delegation to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament circulated a paper identifying the prevention of an arms race in space as a "present and pressing necessity." A treaty forestalling the "weaponization" of space would have "the greatest bearing on global peace and security," according to the Chinese delegates. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently offered to host an international conference this year to explore ways to prevent the "militarization of space."
"U.S. moves to weaponize space ring alarm bells in capitals all over the world, because many countries see it, and the push for a national missile defense system, as part of a new, more militantly aggressive posture that the United States is adopting," said Joseph Cirincione, a senior associate and arms control expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Because other countries don't perceive this grave threat, they fear elements within the United States are gearing up for war. This fear that the United States is extending military competition into space is contributing to a stalemate of virtually all arms control negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva."
U.S. military officials are well aware that the issue of putting weapons in space remains controversial. In 1997, an Air Force test of a chemical laser against one of its own aging satellites touched off an international furor. As a result, U.S. military officials have skirted the issue by calling for development, but not deployment, of such space weapons. "All military people worth their salt will try to anticipate the nature of future conflicts and threats to U.S. security, and to advocate systems we believe will be essential to protect the next generation of Americans," Gen. Hamel said. "If we wait until the threat materializes before we respond, we will have opened a terrible window of vulnerability.... The question of whether that leads us to cross the threshold into the weaponization of space, or the use of space as a medium for actual combat operations, will eventually have to be answered by a national debate on the issue."
Meanwhile, the pressure is increasing on the Air Force to elevate the priority of its space activities, lest Congress and the Administration decide to spin off those responsibilities and give them to a separate Space Force. Air Force officials have thus concurred with the space commission's recommendation that the Air Force focus on training and promoting a cadre of space experts, and elevate them to a status equal to that of aviators. Today, experts at Air Force Space Command typically have pilot ratings, and only flight-rated officers are eligible to lead U.S. Space Command, even though many pilots know little about space and its uses. Given the growing importance of space operations, however, many experts believe that it's only a matter of time before the U.S. christens the world's first dedicated Space Force.
"People call space the `final frontier,' but it's really the `permanent frontier,' " said Sen. Smith of New Hampshire. "Space is going to be there forever, and unquestionably we're going to eventually need a Space Force to explore its dimensions and keep America pre-eminent in space. First you need a foundation, however, which is why I believe the Rumsfeld space commission will eventually be to a U.S. Space Force what Billy Mitchell and the Army Air Corps were to the U.S. Air Force."
A Blastoff for Space SpendingIf Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld follows through on the recommendations of his space commission, and the Bush Administration continues to push for a global missile defense system, insiders expect an increase in funding for space hardware. The following are some of the cutting-edge space programs likely to prosper.
Satellites. According to the Rumsfeld space commission report, the Defense Department and the CIA will replace virtually their entire inventories of satellites over the next decade or so, at an estimated cost of more than $60 billion. The top priority is the Space-Based Infra-Red System-Low satellite program, which is designed to replace the Pentagon's aging constellation of satellites that give early warnings of missile launches worldwide. For fiscal 2001, Congress appropriated $241 million for the SBIRS-Low program, which is considered an essential element of any eventual missile defense system, and for which many contractors are competing. Current plans call for launching a 24-satellite array beginning in 2006. In 2001, Congress also gave the Pentagon $412 million to upgrade the Boeing and Lockheed Martin Navstar Global Positioning Satellite system, and $237 million for Lockheed Martin's Milstar secure military communication satellites.
National missile defense. Though the Bush Administration has yet to outline the system that it will champion, the multilayered system advocated by many Bush appointees and by Republicans on Capitol Hill could cost more than $100 billion over the next decade. In 2001, Congress appropriated nearly $2 billion for missile defense research and development.
Space-based radar. The space-based radar demonstration program, known as Discover II, is a favorite of the Rumsfeld commission and remains the No. 1 technology investment priority of the U.S. Space Command. If successful, these radars-in-orbit could provide an unprecedented, all-weather surveillance capability for U.S. military commanders around the globe that would greatly improve their "situational awareness" of a battlefield by tracking both fixed and moving targets from space. Congress last year killed the program; Rumsfeld wants to revive it.
Space-based laser. The Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the Pentagon's research arm for missile defense, plan to flight-test a space-based laser in 2012. If successful, such a weapon is expected to be able to intercept missiles just after launch, in their vulnerable boost phase. Such a system would also have obvious anti-satellite capabilities. In 2001, Congress appropriated $435 million for the space-based laser, and another $233 million for an experimental airborne laser carried aboard a Boeing 747 aircraft.
Space launchers. Several recent commissions and reports have bemoaned the United States' lack of abundant and affordable launch capabilities. Because rapid repair or replacement of damaged satellites may prove critical in a future "space war," the U.S. Space Command is a strong advocate of something called the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, a low-cost, versatile rocket designed for faster and less-expensive launch of payloads into space. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are building competing versions. In 2001, the EELV program is costing $616 million. Recently, NASA canceled another reusable alternative, Lockheed Martin's $1.3 billion X-33 space plane, ending for the time being the dream of a single-stage spacecraft that can fly up to space and return on the same engine.