Weapons in Space (9/99)

The Persian Gulf War convinced the US military that "space dominance and space control" were necessary. Using its satellite supremacy, the Pentagon pre-targeted Iraq’s vital military installations, and hit over 90 percent of its targets within the first few hours. This gave the US the ability to control the entire battlefield. The rest of the war was essentially an opportunity to test new weapons systems.

Afterward, Pentagon spokespersons predicted that if other enemies could be prevented from gaining access to military space assets, the US could dominate any battlefield situation. An urgent call went out for anti-satellite weapons that could knock out competitors’ eyes and ears. Less than a decade later, the war in Kosovo was used to show the world that the goal has been achieved.

In a June 17 news release, the US Space Command proclaimed, "Any questions about the role or effectiveness of the use of space for military operations have been answered by NATO’s Operation Allied Force." The statement concluded with the determination that "the Space Command’s Global Positioning System constellation of 24 satellites is credited with providing navigation and timing support to coordinate the actions of allied aircrews and naval forces operating in the region."

The Pentagon is so sure that whomever controls space will control the Earth and beyond that they are feverishly working to deploy anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) that will enable the US to knock out competitors’ "eyes in the sky" during any future hostilities. As the Space Command says in its slick Vision for 2020 brochure, "Control of space is the ability to assure access to space, freedom of operations within the space medium, and an ability to deny others the use of space if required."

The military’s early deployment strategy is to put into orbit the Kinetic Energy ASAT, which would essentially smash into a rival’s satellite. Space Command hopes to deploy the KASAT within the next five years.

While attending the 36th Space Congress at Cape Canaveral in Florida, I asked a panel of military officers about the status of the ASAT program. One panelist, Col. Tom Clark, responded that the issue was "politically sensitive," then went on to say that ultimately the US would "need an event to drive the public to support ASAT deployment. But it will happen. We are now talking, planning, doing research and development. Someone will attack one of our systems."

In the meantime, Clark assured the audience of NASA workers, aerospace industry representatives, and military officers that we already have the "defensive" Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system that was recently approved by Congress. It’s "obvious that dual use is clear," he noted, referring to the fact that lasers in space could be fired either defensively or offensively.

Still, one of the military’s problems is providing the massive power needed to project their space-based weapons. In a study commissioned by Congress, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years, author John Collins notes that "nuclear reactors thus remain the only known long-lived, compact source able to supply military space forces with electric power." He concludes that nuclear reactors "could meet multimegawatt needs of space-based lasers, neutral particle beams, mass drivers, and railguns."

In fact, because of the growing demand for nuclear power in space, the Department of Energy (DoE) may reopen previously closed production facilities at a string of labs across the US. Between NASA’s demand for future nuclear-powered space probes and the Space Command’s desire for nuclear-powered space weapons, the result could be a return of massive contamination problems at the labs. Over 244 cases of worker contamination were reported at Los Alamos labs in New Mexico from 1993-95 as DoE prepared the plutonium generators for NASA’s Cassini space mission. Los Alamos is also developing the rocket to Mars, with nuclear reactors for engines.

The Space Command’s Vision for 2020 not only speaks of controlling the Earth and the sky above our planet. It also envisions controlling the vast region beyond as NASA and aerospace corporations move toward mining the Moon, Mars, and other planetary bodies for minerals. Like Queen Isabella of Spain, who paid for the Columbus exploration in hopes of greater economic rewards, these forces are lining up to harvest the enormous benefits expected from exploitation of the outer reaches.

As Vision for 2020 states, "Due to the importance of commerce and its effects on national security, the US may evolve into the guardian of space commerce – similar to the historical example of navies protecting sea commerce."

And to make sure, the aerospace industry is taking no chances. Engaged in a campaign called the "Declaration of Space Leadership," a coalition of corporations has had their congressional allies introduce the plan as a US House resolution. Among other things, the "declaration" calls for funding of space "defensive" systems and NASA at levels that guarantee "American leadership in the exploration of space."

One organizing tactic is to brainwash young people into a knee jerk support of everything "space." To this end, NASA has launched a program to reach every science teacher in the country. Think of it this way. In 2020, their students will be taxpayers, and the industry hopes that they’ll not only believe we should spend whatever it takes to go to Mars, but also that war in space is inevitable.

Not everyone is cheering, however. Russia and China are deeply concerned, both about US circumvention of the ABM and Outer Space Treaties, and US plans to be "Master of Space," as the Space Command uniform patch reads. Both nations have called for the UN Conference on Disarmament to form an ad hoc committee on the "prevention of an arms race in outer space." But the US is blocking that initiative.

During the past year, the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space has expanded its efforts to oppose the US agenda. As the reality of the recent congressional vote on ballistic missile defense sinks in, the need to halt space exploitation and warfare becomes increasingly clear. The International Space Station has already cost $100 billion. Another $100 billion has been spent on Star Wars so far. Regular launch failures at Cape Canaveral waste billions more, while people are told that there’s not enough money to adequately fund health care, childcare, and other important programs.

But in order to build their pyramids to the heavens, the aerospace industry must still convince the public that these schemes are vital, exciting, and patriotic. Thus, the time has come for a rigorous international debate about the entire space program.

Bruce Gagnon coordinated the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice for 15 years, and currently leads the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power. To learn more, check the Global Network website, www.globenet.free-online.co.uk/, or the industry’s website, www.spaceconnection.com.