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New Terrain for the U.S. Military

The deployment of space-based weapons would undermine national security and be an enormous misallocation of defense resources.

President Bush signed the first full revision of National Space Policy earlier this month, rejecting all future agreements that might limit U.S. presence in space.

The Bush administration insists that this policy change is not meant to pave the way for deploying space-based weapons systems. Yet the top goals of the new policy are to “ensure that space capabilities are available in time to further U.S. national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives,” and to “enable unhindered U.S. operations in and through space to defend our interests there.”

This policy shift will undoubtedly raise international suspicions, risk enraging American allies, fan the flames of anti-American sentiment around the world, and give rogue nations further motive for building nuclear arsenals of their own.

The deployment of space-based weapons would not only undermine U.S. national security, but would also be an enormous misallocation of defense resources.

  • Spaced-based weapons would not significantly expand U.S. military superiority. Our conventional and nuclear weapons are already capable of destroying any of the ground targets that space-based weapons could, and at a fraction of the cost.
  • Space-based weapons will always be exceedingly vulnerable. Land, sea, and air-based forces can be repositioned, concealed, or hardened to avoid being destroyed, while space-based weapons are locked into predictable orbits, have literally no place to hide, and are very delicate.
  • Non-space-based weapons have a distinct advantage when it comes to dictating the timing of an attack. Space-based lasers can only strike while passing over enemy territory; after the first orbit, an enemy would know precisely when such an attack would be possible and when it would not.
  • Deploying space-based weapons is an ineffective way of maintaining the military advantage that the United States currently derives from its space assets. Enemies will not allow themselves to be drawn into an expensive, high-tech arms race that the U.S. would surely win. They are more likely to take a page out of the Iraqi insurgents’ playbook and fight with far more cost-effective and low-tech asymmetric tactics.

The federal government should learn from its experience in Iraq and invest in the U.S. military’s capacity to fight wars with countries that will not seek to engage us in direct force-to-force combat, rather than pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into a space-weapons program that will not enhance existing U.S. assets.

Space is a powerful tool for the U.S. military, and it should look to maintain and expand this advantage rather than jeopardize it. Rather than investing in space-based weapons, the U.S. government should develop satellites that can operate from farther away to ensure safety from attack, and build a stockpile of satellites in case existing ones are jammed or destroyed.

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