SPACE CHIEF: THINK ATTACK FIRST

Major General Daniel Darnell, head of the Air Force's Space Warfare Center, has some advice for satellite companies. If there's trouble with your orbiter, your first response should be think possible attack.SSA.jpgNever mind the fact that "no country, not even the United States, currently has a working anti-satellite system in its arsenal... outside of the remote chance of someone launching a nuke into space," as the Center for Defense Information's Theresa Hitchens points out. (Although the U.S. is putting some jammers in place.) And never mind the fact that "the Air Force does not have the capability at this time to ascertain on the spot whether any disruption of satellite operations is due to a malfunction, such as faulty software or space weather, or the result of some sort of deliberate interference or attack."Nope, satelitte operators should go ahead and assume their machines have been sabotaged by evildoers. And that's a serious problem, Hitchens reminds us. Because under current U.S. military doctrine, a strike against a satellite "would be considered an act of war subject to military response. In other words, we will shoot back."

But at whom or what? The satellite that happens to be nearest the disabled one? The "rogue state" du jour?The wholesale adoption by the Air Force of such trigger-happy thinking would obviously be a recipe for disaster, raising the likelihood of the United States launching an accidental war... Suffice it to say, there will be a price to pay the first time a U.S. anti-satellite weapon shoots down an innocent Chinese communications satellite because a crucial widget on a U.S. satellite conked out due to faulty manufacturing processes.
Hitchens sees this all as an attempt to help sell space weapons to a sometimes-reluctant Congress and Pentagon brass. And I can see her point.But what if the bosses already believe the Chicken Little talk? After all, wasn't it Donald Rumsfeld, the big boss himself, who warned in 2001 of a "space Pearl Harbor." Then Gen. Darnell's warning wouldn't be a sales job at all. It'd be an official expression of U.S. policy to shoot first, and ask questions later.THERE'S MORE: "In the absence of a clear national strategy and policy on new military missions in outer space, the administration of President George W. Bush is funding programs that will create 'facts in orbit,'" Hitchens and friends write in a separate CDI report, which gives a program-by-program breakdown of what the Pentagon has in store for space in the upcoming budget.
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