11 March 2020
Space Force: The tragic weaponization of space
By Barton Kunstler
Nation of Change
The United States has a new sixth branch of the military, Space Force, created by Donald Trump in December, 2019. Space Force is a tragic idea, exemplifying America’s inability to shed its knee-jerk militaristic responses to complex global dilemmas. However, the usual objections—”typical Pentagon fantasy”, “defense industry boondoggle”, “Trump playing with toys at his desk”, “US militarism run amok”, etc.—while valid, are by themselves too glib and dismissive to identify the real dangers involved.
Space is already militarized. It is being contested by the three superpowers: China, Russia, and the US. Militarizing space is not about hot-rod laser-armed starship dog-fights back-lit by the moon. It is about protecting satellite communications; defending satellites and space missions from earth-emplaced weapons such as existing laser “artillery”; and defending against space-based weapons capable of destroying targets on earth.
The stakes are high. Space satellites are vital for worldwide communications and transport systems. They regulate power grids, preventing blackouts and more significant breakdowns. Hospitals, air travel, food and water supply—all depend on satellites. But satellites are vulnerable to earth- and space-based weapons as well as cyber-attacks. Given current global rivalries among heavily armed goliaths, they need to be addressed. China’s space program appears heavily tilted towards military ends and Russia and China are pursuing GPS- and satellite jamming technologies. We’re not the only ones striving for military superiority in space. These are legitimate concerns.
Outer space, like aviation space, offers offensive military advantages, including first-strike capabilities. Given the world as it is, space will not be disarmed, tragic and stupid as that might be. However addressing defensive concerns is not the same as ramping up the space arms race. A defensive, treaty- and inspection-based approach does not require a new military service that opens the floodgates to the weaponization of space, saturating it with weapons of mass and mutual destruction throughout accessible space, as we have already done on earth.
Retired Lieutenant General Steven Kwast laid out the Space Force vision in a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on November 20, 2019: “The reason for a space force is simple: space is the strategic high ground from which all future wars will be fought [emphasis mine]. If we do not master space, our nation will become indefensible.” Elsewhere, he complained that “entrenched bureaucrats and military leaders across the Department of Defense [DoD], especially in the Air Force, have been resisting the President’s [Trump’s] directive [to expand Space Force] in every way they can.”
According to Kwast, the overly cautious DoD envisions Space Force as merely “supporting wars on the surface of the Earth”, while the Air Force is “mired in an outmoded industrial-age mindset. It sees the Space Force as projecting power through air, space, and cyberspace, understood in a way that precludes space beyond our geocentric orbit”—as Kwast states, everything between the earth and the moon.
Despite Kwast’s complaints, every indication is that Space Force advocates and officials already agree with him. Trump’s 2021 budget allocates $15.4 billion to Space Force, most transferred from the Air Force. The Air Force itself has been feeling under-funded and under-appreciated. An editorial in airforcemag.com on November 13, 2018, cites a 20% shortfall in the number of Air Force squadrons needed for global readiness; shortages of pilots, parts, and maintainance staff; and an average aircraft age of 38 years, twice what it was during the 1990-91 Gulf War. The air fleet is only about 50% mission ready. Meanwhile, Space Force advocates believe the Air Force too focused on earth-based defense to adequately attend to space combat.
The Air Force-Space Force disagreement speaks to a disturbing political truth. The military is, despite protests to the contrary, political by nature. It shapes the objectives and scope of conflicts both planned and underway. It oversees the budgets and infrastructure required for waging war. It determines weapons development and national war-making capacities. Informally, generals have enormous influence over policy makers, now more than ever. Every program other than defense has to trim its expectations to fit military demands. The trillions spent in the Middle East since 9/11 has virtually bankrupted the U.S., whicih is currently running on the fumes of a derivative economy.
Using public relations and propaganda, the military has convinced America that its mission is sacrosanct, its personnel universally heroic, and its budgets—and wars—everlasting. No DoD official will ever state outright that our wars mainly serve political and financial agendas irrelevant to our defense, i.e., corporate profits and military and political careerism. And without getting sidetracked, we must note the national paranoia that has governed US military policy since 1945.
Political agendas are manipulated to support our military agenda. No sooner did General John Raymond take command of Space Force than he accused Russia of hostile action against us in space by having their satellite, Cosmos 2542, synch its orbit with a U.S. reconnaissance satellite, USA 245. After a few days it apparently moved away from 245. Raymond irresponsibly equated this with aggression, stating, “We remain committed to preferring that space remain free of conflict. But other nations have turned space into a war-fighting domain. Russia is developing on-orbit capabilities that seek to exploit the United States’ reliance on space-based systems.”
His logic is—impervious to logic. Russia is supposedly turning space into a “warfighting domain” by maybe observing US efforts to turn space into a warfighting domain. But it is Space Force that is explicitly committed to achieving offensive dominance in space. By the way, several U.S. satellite analysts have challenged the report that Cosmos 2542 even approached USA 245.
Raymond, perhaps realizing the USA 245 scenario might sound spacey, trotted out a 2017 report that a Russian satellite may have “exhibited characteristics of a weapon” when it “released a projectile into space.”
A projectile? If this 2017 projectile were a missile, the US would know it. Raymond’s dishonesty is transparent: the vagueness of the 2017 report; his trotting out a three year old, highly dubious event; and the uncertainty over Cosmos 2542’s maneuvers. Space is teeming with more than 2,000 satellites, many conducting surveillance and/or tracking one another. Russia’s annual defense budget would run out before the end of January were it applied to US defense spending. Indeed, the militaries of India, Saudi Arabia, China, and those eternal romantics, the French, all outspend Russia’s. We have 800 overseas military bases. Russia 21, none as large as America’s 200 major bases. So how exactly has Russia “turned space into a warfighting domain”? Why are we suddenly in space-crisis, arms-race mode?
Answer: Raymond is firing an early propaganda salvo to spread the public fear needed to justify a full-fledged space weapons race. His alarmist rhetoric about Cosmos 2542 sets the stage for a false flag attack, such as the 1964 Pentagon-engineered Gulf of Tonkin incident used to justify a steep escalation of the Vietnam conflict. This tactic was used throughout the Cold War to justify interventions, arms expenditures, and war. It is time-worn but time-honored and Raymond’s claim against Cosmos 2542 follows this classic playbook.
Let us return to General Kwast, whose speech at Hillsdale appeared in the January, 2020 issue of Imprimis, a Hillsdale publication. Hillsdale, founded by abolitionists in 1844, is now explicitly dedicated to ultra-conservative causes. It is closely tied to the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which has “stocked” the Trump administration with many key figures. Imprimis’s masthead claims ‘over 4,800,000 readers monthly”. Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, is an alum, and recent commencement speakers include Clarence Thomas and Mike Pence. Politico called it “the college that wants to take over Washington”. Pursuing the right wing agenda of winning the hearts and minds of children, it is linking up with a network of charter schools across the country, especially disturbing as Erik Prince’s sister is Secretary of the Department of Education, Betsy de Vos.
In other words, Imprimis and Hillsdale are “influencers”, in the current lingo, and when they devote an entire issue to Kwast advocating for Space Force, the message is clear: this is an important part of the right wing agenda and the military has hopped right on board.
The modern military mind tends to view the world in terms of enemies, vulnerabilities, and extreme outcomes. Any rivalry or assertion of national or popular will that we don’t approve of can be described as a potentially catastrophic threat. Land reform, human rights, and labor activism are viewed as signs of incipient insurrection that can spread like a virus throughout entire continents. Usually the threat is just a specter raised to justify intervention on behalf of corporations exploiting that land or a way to satisfy the evangelical cravings of those for whom spreading capitalism—their capitalism, their profits—holds the authority of a Crusade.
Our military never raised a voice against this bastardization of its true function of national defense. It developed its own self-justifying myth: “You naive civilians don’t know the real threats out there in the real world. We’ve seen what the Commies are capable of. You bleeding hearts don’t realize we’re in a fight to the finish.” Unfortunately, “Commie” meant anyone who could give the military-industrial-intelligence-financial complex an excuse to run operations and remove the threat to profits, budgets, and power. The U.S. perpetrated most of the military interventions in the world, leading to millions of deaths. And Russia and China are well aware that during the Cold War many of our generals favored launching a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union, which would have ended our nation and global civilization as well.
A year ago Kwast himself, writing in The Hill, proposed that the U.S. use diplomacy to meet the challenge of China’s alleged aggressive space initiatives. Underwriting the security of our alllies’ spacecraft; cleaning up space debris; providing worldwise access to 5G broadband “for pennies”—are all sensible first steps in creating a network of mutual interest in space that could slow the arms race. Kwast argues credibly for space exploration’s benefits to humanity. Unfortunately, the thrust of Space Force is military domination of space which supposedly will yield a golden age of virtually free energy and peace under the benign military umbrella of a dominant America. That vision may have sounded persuasive in 1945 but 75 years later it is cruelly laughable. The United States has almost always used its military power to quash opposition to corporate expansionism and dictate policies to its allies. Kwast could have proposed that we lead with diplomatic overtures to China and Russia and other space-exploring nations, and take our cues for military development from the progress of diplomacy, rather than going all in on weaponization and then proclaiming its inevitable diplomatic benefits.
It is impossible to view Space Force in its defenders’ benign terms. This is not about defending satellites against enemies’ laser “cannons” or regulating an arms race: those capabilities either already exist or can be pursued through existing agencies. Perhaps no one illustrated the thinking behind Space Force more explicitly than the former head of Air Force Space Command with the eerily apt name of General Lance Lord. In September, 2004, he told an Air Force conference: “Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future.” The House of Representatives eagerly passed the 2021 defense budget bill that established Space Force by a 377-48 vote.
The military for too long has gotten a free pass from a public bamboozled by Cold War propaganda and a post-911 public relations blitz. When does the military take a look at its reigning assumptions—not merely about how to wage war but whether we should be bloating military budgets and filling the skies with world-destroying weapons? $15.4 billion (already 60% of NASA’s budget), is mere seed money for Space Force’s start-up year. One can expect its budget to achieve full Military Service stature: Army $244.8 billion, Air Force $170.6 billion, Navy $142.2 billion, and Marines $40.6 billion (the Coast Guard receives $11.4 billion). Kwast argues that Space Force funds should not be allocated via the Air Force as that would subordinate it to the USAF. Overall U.S. defense spending is over $900 billion (the $738 billion DoD budget does not represent all defense expenditures). Space Force’s budget will fund the most expensive, advanced, “blue-sky” weapons. Defense already devours moneys being cut from housing, food, education, medical care, the environment, infrastructure, and small business support. Space Force will only cut deeper.
The spread of the corona virus adds an especially lurid cast to Space Force. Donald Trump has slashed funding and personnel in every agency devoted to monitoring and fighting disease and combatting epidemics. He and his cohorts are happy to splurge on ramping up hair-trigger “kill-chain” capacities. Perhaps decimating our public health system is simply part of that mission.
The weaponization of space brings us closer than ever to nuclear holocaust. Military experts agree that we have no idea how a conflict in space will play out, or even the unforeseen effects of relatively simple weapons. For instance, blowing up several satellites would be like exploding several cars on a busy highway with the traffic moving at 90 mph: debris and collisions will take out many more satellites, disrupting the very communications we are trying to defend as well as those used to wage that very war. In fact, the “Kessler Effect” envisions a cascading sequence of destruction wherein each destroyed satellite—which can generate tens or hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris—triggers more destructions, roughly akin to a nuclear reaction, that could effectively send Earth life back into the pre-industrial era. Needless to say, billions of us won’t survive that event.
The scenario’s feasibility is absurd for other reasons. The algorithms that direct fire will be subjected to chaotic conditions for which they cannot be programmed. The entire battlespace will be “read” digitally by officers and officials basically playing a video game, most likely in subterranean vaults. A mistake on the ground with conventional weapons can be intercepted or explained before crossing the threshold into mass destruction. In space, the response time will be hair-trigger and space weapons will, logically, have enormous destructive capacity, just a faulty electronic component away from misfiring.
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