Air Force: Revenge of the Stiffs
Maybe it was a fluke that news of the Air Force's space warfare plans broke this week just as the final installment of the Star Wars series was opening in theaters. It wouldn't be the only odd twist in the story of America's quest to gain military domination over the Final Frontier.
For example, Air Force officials said the new presidential directive they are seeking "did not call for militarizing space," in the words of The New York Times. The paper quoted Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Karen Finn as saying, "The focus of the process is not putting weapons in space . . . The focus is having free access in space."
But of course, access to a new realm is never sought for its own sake. You do something with it, like put weapons there.
As the Times reports, a number of space weapons programs are already underway. They are directed by the Air Force Space Command, whose other projects include Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance, which sounds like something Han Solo would tell Chewie to activate right before the Falcon made the jump to hyperspace. But while Solo was just trying to make a buck, or maybe to take a shot at Princess Leia, the Space Command is downright candid about its goal: "To defend the United States of America through the control and exploitation of space."
Exploitation, eh? That probably sounds fantastic to Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world, who (according to Global Security) have a combined 88 military satellites deployed, to the 135 that the U.S. alone has in orbit. Of those 88, 61 are Russia's. While China's 10 satellites do everything from communications to imagery, America has nine devices dedicated to electronic intelligence alone.
But the U.S. isn't satisfied with that lead in space, even in an era where its toughest fight is against car bombers, IEDs, and terrorists who hide in caves. As General James E. Cartwright, head Of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress in March:
- [Our] growing national dependence on space-based and space-enabled capabilities establishes a true imperative to protect our space assets and our ability to operate freely in, and from, space. We currently enjoy an asymmetric advantage in space, but our adversaries are gaining on us.
But the prospect of even more U.S. dominance of space is why scholar Theresa Hitchens recently told the Council on Foreign Relations, "There is not going to be any other nation on Earth that's going to accept the U.S. developing something they see as the death star. It's not going to happen. And people are going to find ways to target it and it's going to create a huge problem."
Kudos for the Death Star reference, Theresa. (The force is strong in that one.) But you know, diplomatic obstacles didn't stop the Bush administration from abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in order to create the national missile defense. With no treaty explicitly barring the weaponization of space, the Bush administration might face even less trouble over Star Wars than it did over withdrawing from the ABM agreement.
Indeed, the toughest obstacle to missile defense so far hasn't been diplomatic entanglements, treaty requirements, or (snicker) a skeptical Congress. It's been that the boys over at the Missile Defense Agency are having a right hard time getting the darned thing to work. Tests in December and February failed, and they weren't the first flops. But the military keeps deploying missile batteries anyway.
We are safer already: This Death Star is fully operational.