Saturday, October 02, 2004

Star Wars: A Reality?

All's Fair in Space War

By Noah Shachtman

The American military has begun planning for combat in space, an Air Force report reveals. And commercial spacecraft, neutral countries' launching pads -- even weather satellites -- are all on the potential target list.

"Air Force Doctrine Document 2-2.1: Counterspace Operations" is an apparent first cut at detailing how U.S. forces might take out an enemy's space capabilities -- and protect America's eyes and ears in orbit. Signed by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper, the unclassified report sketches out who would be in command during a space fight, what American weapons would be used and which targets might be attacked.

In that way, the report is similar to hundreds of others in the Pentagon's archives. But buried in the report's acronyms and org charts are two striking sentiments, analysts say. First, the document declares that the U.S. Air Force is duty-bound to slap down other countries' space efforts, should the need arise. Then, Counterspace Operations (.pdf) declares that a satellite or ground-control station doesn't have to belong to one of America's enemies in order to get hit.

"You could be inflicting large costs on a company or country that has no role in a war. And that introduces great possibilities for backlash and political fallout," warned Theresea Hitchens, vice president of the Center for Defense Information. "You could wind up damaging the capabilities of our allies -- or even ourselves."

But the Air Force may not have much of a choice, really. Nearly all the world's militaries -- including America's -- rely on private companies' satellites for relaying messages, taking pictures or guiding bombs. During the Iraq invasion, for example, commercial orbiters carried 80 percent of U.S. forces' satellite communications.

In the opening pages of Counterspace Operations, the Air Force announces that it has a new job: to maintain America's "space superiority" -- the "freedom to attack as well as the freedom from attack" in orbit. This emerging mission has become just as important to American forces as control of the skies, the report states. And together, the two form "crucial first steps in any military operation..."


Read the whole article on All's Fair in Space War at Wired.com

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