Playing Defense

The Best Defense Is a Good OffenseThe Bush administration reacted with a sharp protest when China successfully conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test in January and the chattering classes viewed it with alarm, calling it the "weaponization of space." Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley said in April that he considered the ASAT test a "strategically dislocating" event on par with the launch of Russia's Sputnik I satellite in 1957. Moseley said the Air Force needed to re-evaluate its space defense options and based on the objectives of an Air Force Space Command Space Control procurement, which is nearing award, that defense includes a wide range of Offensive Counterspace operations. While most details of the space control contract are hidden in the walled garden of the Federal Technical Data Solutions Web site, designed to keep sensitive acquisition information away from mere mortals, the unclassified statement of objectives for the procurement shows offensive space operations stood at the top of Air Force space control operations well before China's ASAT test. According to the objectives released in September 2006, space command wants the capability to conduct offensive counterspace operations in the following areas:
  • Countercommunications
  • Counterintelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)
  • Counterprecision, timing and navigation (GPS)
The Air Force also intends to use the contract to develop forces that can engage in operations against communication, ISR and Global Positioning System satellites, according to the space control documents, an indication that offensive space operations were well thought out by the service before China knocked out an aging weather satellite in its ASAT test. I submitted to the space command public affairs office a bunch of questions on the offensive space operations outlined in the contract, but the office declined to answer any of them because the contract is, conveniently, in source selection. The usual suspects pursuing the space control contract include Boeing and General Dynamics, based on a list of attendees at an industry day held by space command in 2006. Of Lasers and JammingThe Institute for National and Strategic Studies at the National Defense University released a special report in June on Chinese ASAT efforts, warning the missile test "appears to be part of a larger Chinese ASAT program that includes ground-base lasers and jamming of satellite signals." The paper, authored by Phillip Saunders and Air Force Col. Charles Saunders, senior fellows at NDU, said if deployed, Chinese systems "could threaten a wide range of U.S. military capabilities" that rely on space systems. ASAT missiles could knock out low-orbit ISR and weather satellites while ground-based lasers could target reconnaissance satellites. No wonder space command is developing offensive capabilities, an option the NDU report says carries risks; development of space-based ASAT weapons by the United States to counter the Chinese would be costly and take years to develop and deploy. Cold-Turkey Satellite WithdrawalThe NDU report proposed a number of space defense options, including re-learning how to fight wars without satellites, a kind of high-tech, cold-turkey withdrawal that may be necessary if China or other nations perfect ASAT systems. The NDU report also suggested that the United States increase its reliance on foreign communications and imagery satellites to reduce the Chinese ASAT threat - an idea that I am sure would give U.S. satellite manufacturers and operators the vapors. Goofing Around With a GPS BackupOn Sept. 10, 2001, the Volpe Transportation Center issued a report that said the GPS used to guide precision missiles and civil aircraft, which also serves as a linchpin of timing systems essential to the operation of the Internet and cellular communications systems, is vulnerable to jamming - the same point made in the NDU report. But here we are almost six years after the Volpe report and the Transportation Department has yet to make a decision on whether to continue operating an advanced, land-based navigation backup to GPS known as enhanced LORAN (Long Range Radio Navigation). The Coast Guard still operates LORAN, which was developed during World War II, and the enhanced version, called e-LORAN, provides near-GPS accuracy from chains of high-powered, low-frequency transmitters more immune to jamming than low-power, high-frequency GPS signals, according to a paper prepared for the Federal Aviation Administration last year. Transportation asked for public comments on whether to keep the e-LORAN system in operation this January, and has yet to make a decision. Are officials waiting until China starts jamming GPSes 24/7? Or maybe they want to make the announcement on Sept 10, 2007, the sixth anniversary of the Volpe report. Truman and TenetI've spent the past month reading Harry Truman's two-volume autobiography and find that the thoughts of the plain-spoken, accidental president from Missouri resonate with events of today. After the end of WWII, Truman decided to set up what was known as the Central Intelligence Group, which morphed into today's CIA. Truman said he believed that if the United States had centralized intelligence operations before 1941, "it would have been more difficult, if not impossible, for the Japanese to succeed in the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor." But the CIA and former director George Tenet did not predict the Pearl Harbor of the Bush administration: the Sept. 11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The CIA inspector general said this week that Tenet did not use all his available powers and the U.S. spy community lacked a comprehensive plan to stop al Qaeda in the run-up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Tenet dismissed the IG report, saying the agency had a "robust plan marked by extraordinary effort and dedication" to hunt down the al Qaeda cell that carried out the Sept 11 attacks. I'll give Harry the last word: "The war taught us this lesson - that we had to collect intelligence in a manner that would make the information available where it was needed and when it was wanted, in an intelligent and understandable form. If it is not intelligent and understandable, it is useless."
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