An Air Force report is giving what analysts call the most detailed picture since the end of the Cold War of the Pentagon's efforts to turn outer space into a battlefield.For years, the American military has spoken in hints and whispers, if at all, about its plans to develop weapons in space. But the U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight Plan changes all that. Released in November, the report makes U.S. dominance of the heavens a top Pentagon priority in the new century. And it runs through dozens of research programs designed to ensure that America can never be challenged in orbit -- from anti-satellite lasers to weapons that "would provide the capability to strike ground targets anywhere in the world from space."Space has become an increasingly important part of U.S. military efforts. Satellites are used more and more to talk to troops, keep tabs on foes and guide smart bombs. There's also long been recognition that satellites may need some sort of protection against attack.But the Air Force report goes far beyond these defensive capabilities, calling for weapons that can cripple other countries' orbiters.That prospect worries some analysts, who fear the U.S. may spark a worldwide arms race in orbit."I don't think other countries will be taking this lying down," said Theresa Hitchens, the vice president of the Center for Defense Information. The space weapons programs listed in the Air Force report went largely unnoticed until Hitchens circulated them in an e-mail Thursday. "This will certainly prompt China into actually moving forward" on space weapon plans of its own, she added. "The Russians are likely to respond with something as well."My Wired News article has details on the Air Force's space war plans.THERE'S MORE: Quicker, cheaper ways to get into orbit -- that's also a key component of the Air Force report. Right now, space launches have to be planned months in advance. But the Air Force wants to orbiters to be able to take off "on demand" -- just like planes do today.Another goal is a hypersonic missile, launched from the United States, that can strike almost anywhere in the world. That's something Defense Tech discussed in detail here.AND MORE: Gen. Lance Lord, who heads Air Force Space Command, told Inside the Air Force that he's focusing on "reversible effects" in space -- weapons that can "temporarily degrade enemy capability, but do not permanently damage their space systems," according to the journal. "However, he did not rule out pursuing more damaging counterspace capabilities for use when it is in the interest of national security."AND MORE: Space.com has a killer round-up of what's in the Air Force plan.
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