Sunday, October 03, 2004

We come in peace and shoot to kill

The slightly hysterical tone of Wired and others over the impending "militarization of space" is nothing new to Canadians; we've been getting fearmongering of the typical damn warmongering Americans spin for ages, though actual vocal condemnation of joint missile defense programs only became an applause line for the Liberals and NDP this past election. Even if I was opposed to enhancing the US military's ability to carry out more effective operations anywhere in the world - and, of course, I'm not - I like to think I'd at least try to rely more on practical logic than these naysayers. Space will be a battleground at some point. Maybe not soon, but eventually. The only other powers remotely capable of contesting American supremacy in this emerging theatre of operations are the EU, and China. Most member states of the EU can't even be bothered to spend enough to adequately defend themselves, let alone put out a capital investment of billions or trillions for R&D in space. That leaves China. Every time I hear Jack Layton whine about the "American militarization of space," I want to slap him, hard. If there's no American militarization of space, there'll be a Chinese militarization of space - and that will be much worse. China will eventually get there. It's not as if their motives haven't been obvious. But giving the ChiComs the upper hand by default under a policy of FUD-based retreat is no kind of intelligent foreign policy. That, however, is part of the broader shallowness of anti-Americanism. This particular article is less reasonable and more disingenuous than even that old chestnut. The policy Wired's staff writer is railing against is strategic planning to deal with satellite infrastructure: 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." If a satellite is being used, with or without consent of its owners, to relay information or direct troops attacking American forces, it is a threat, and must be disabled. Who it belongs to is utterly immaterial. Consider, if you will, a repeat of 9/11. Hijacked passenger jets would and should be shot down immediately. Afterwards, we can worry about whether it's offended the management of, say, American Airlines (or their foreign contract carriers) - not before. However, the consequences of these assaults -- potentially leaving millions without access to weather forecasts, satellite-assisted navigation and emergency communications -- could be politically catastrophic, Hitchens observed. The Air Force readily acknowledged the potential bear traps hidden in attacks against neutral satellites. That's why the service would rather temporarily jam an enemy's access to space than destroy it. Thus, it turns out that the USAF wouldn't even shoot down such hijacked, coerced or rented satellites - just jam their signals. My understanding is that this would leave them entirely functional afterwards. No property damage, no casualties, just temporary disabling of temporary threats. So what's the problem, then? The problem is that the author has an animosity for even the topic, one revealed by using such terms as "outlandish" for the very notion of orbiting weapons systems. I respond to his faint-hearted sneering just as I do for the same coming from the NDP: Do you really want China to get there first?

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