Paying the Bills for Space Control

Active for Justice, 13 April 2001

by Loring Wirbel

For the advocates of total planetary domination through space, who occupy virtually every level within the defense bureaucracy these days, the first months of the incoming Bush administration represent the proverbial best and worst of times. Certainly, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is a full-blown advocate of militarizing space in order to insure U.S. control of world resources, as spelled out in the Rumsfeld Commission's January 2001 report to "Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization." And missile defense is a pet project of the entire Bush team ? regardless of whether it works and who it alienates ? though the fiscal details will not be known until May.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon was placed on notice in late January that the Bush team intends to scrutinize weapons procurement very carefully, and is likely to pare down some expensive systems in order to improve troop readiness. At this year's National Space Symposium, held April 9-12 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, it began to dawn on the lead representatives of the space national security establishment that space-based imperialism could be very expensive.

The National Reconnaissance Office, the nation's largest intelligence agency, was the first to be placed on notice that it needs to get its fiscal house in order. The agency was wracked with continuous budget scandals in the mid-1990s, leading to the resignation of top staff. During the Clinton administration, the NRO won approval for a new generation of imaging spy satellite called the 8X Future Imagery Architecture. The initial contracts awarded in the $25 billion program, to Boeing Corp. units in El Segundo and Seal Beach, are one of the few factors cushioning the effects of the economic downturn in southern California.

But on other fronts, the NRO hasn't been so lucky. It wanted a multi-function space radar system called Discoverer II, but Congress killed the bulk of the project last year, leaving only a transitional fund to allow the NRO keep minimal study of the program alive. And the agency's latest generation of listening satellites, called the Integrated Overhead SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) Architecture, or IOSA, was supposed to be followed by IOSA-2, a network made up of smaller, more agile listening satellites. IOSA-2 never won approval.

The Bush transition team was examining even bigger changes in the NRO's mission, and as a result, NRO Director Keith Hall resigned April 11. Hall may go down as the first victim of the struggle between imperial bluster and budgetary realities.

As befits the type of military leader for whom all offense is another type of defense, none of the speakers at Space Symposium saw any irony in the Rumsfeld Commission's warning of a "Space Pearl Harbor." The United States, of course, maintains a military tens of times the size of any potential adversary, and could not be threatened by a space adversary under any circumstance. But the first Rumsfeld Commission, which examined missile-defense in 1998, concluded that we had to be terrified of tiny North Korean intermediate-range missile programs, so it is not surprising that the second Rumsfeld Commission saw threats where none existed.

The newer commission calls for reorganizing space assets to attract the president's direct attention, forming a special advisory group in the near term, a Space Corps in the next few years, and eventually a full-fledged Department of Space. The report called for expanded military capabilities in space to "deter attack, strengthen intelligence, and defend our capabilities." It also called for examining the Outer Space Treaty and other international treaties to "shape" the treaties for U.S. interests.

Already, though, members of the service-specific Space Commands within the Pentagon are complaining that the reorganization would prevent them from having their own space weapons. Air Force Maj.Gen. Designee Mike Hamel, the director of space operations and integration for the Space Command, said that the Air Force has too much expertise to give it up to a centralized space regime. Rear Adm. Robert Nutwell, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications, intelligence, and space, said that the Defense Department wants to be sure the Navy, Army, and Air Force all can preserve their own space missions in the new structure.

Former Air Force Secretary Whit Peters was the most critical of the commission report, saying that it calls for continuous operations in space, without showing how operations like cyberwar and ground war truly require that presence. He said there is not enough money in the budget to take on the type of duties the Space Command talks about in its literature, and that all space forces will have to go through the type of paring that the NRO faced last year.

Carol Staubach, director of advanced systems and technology at the NRO, said that the U.S. is forsaking any long-range research spending on space intelligence, in favor of solving short-term problems. The result could be a serious deterioration of intelligence satellite capabilities in the future, she said. A special presidential commission on the NRO issued a report last November, calling for the creation of a special Office of Space Reconnaissance within NRO, which would be capable of bending rules and busting budgets in order to come up with revolutionary new snooping platforms. Staubach said that NRO can't perform detailed work on creating such an office until the program is approved by Congress, though it is making initial studies on how to change its long-range research.

But despite all the soul-searching, chutzpah remained in heavy supply, from the "Arsenal of Freedom" speech by Lockheed-Martin executive vice president Al Smith, who called for a "new order of battle" in space; to Space Command chief Gen. Ed Eberhard, who indicated that the command would take even greater strides in using space to aid "warfighters" in the future.

Advertising displays on the show floor of the symposium were toned down from years past, perhaps in recognition that too much bombast does not make for good PR. But the cheerleaders for the Rumsfeld Commission's report may face a future problem as vexing as moral criticism: the inability to pay for all the plans to dominate the planet through space.

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