Space Cowboys

Reining in the Bush Administration’s Space Weapons Policy

Space can be a powerful tool for the military, but deploying weapons is both an enormous expense and risk.

President Bush last year signed a revision of our National Space Policy that rejects all future agreements that might limit U.S. weapons in space. The move is expected to 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.

So it’s no wonder that the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security is now holding a hearing to assess whether or not our current space weapons strategy is actually helping our national security.

The Bush administration claimed last year when the new National Space Policy was signed that it was not intending to pave the way for deploying space-based weapons systems. Yet the top goals of the 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.”

It is needless to say that the United States’ defense system is already stretched to the breaking point with overextended money, resources, and manpower in Iraq. Yet even without this crisis, deploying space weapons would undermine national security and enormously misallocate our defense resources. Consider these four points:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 United States 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.

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. Hopefully the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee will use its time tomorrow to get the United States back on the right track.

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