Our Unfinished Business--an Anti-Satellite Capability

<i> Frank C. Carlucci served as secretary of defense in the Reagan Administration. </i>

As I make the transition to private life, I look back on a number of significant accomplishments while at the Department of Defense--many of which involved the cooperation of Congress. However, there is one area where we have left a significant gap in our deterrent posture: the lack of an effective U.S. anti-satellite, or ASAT, capability. I believe this is the single most serious deficiency in our military posture.

Today, the Soviet Union possesses the means to damage, destroy or interfere with key U.S. satellites. These include ground-based lasers, their co-orbital ASAT weapon, and anti-ballistic missile interceptors deployed as part of the Moscow ABM system. Despite their public rhetoric about the peaceful uses of outer space, the official Soviet military dictionary makes their view of the role of space quite clear: “The Soviet armed forces shall be provided with all resources necessary to attain military superiority in outer space sufficient both to deny the use of outer space to other states and to assure maximum space-based military support for Soviet offensive and defensive combat operations on land, at sea, in air and in outer space.”

This assertion of policy is backed up by robust Soviet military space capabilities including numerous space-launch facilities, an extensive space-booster inventory, and their ASAT capabilities. Lacking a means to respond in kind to a Soviet attack on one of our satellites, the United States would be forced either to do nothing or resort to other military actions that could be viewed as dangerously escalatory. This is an unacceptable situation.

In addition to its extensive ASAT capabilities, the Soviet Union possesses space-based reconnaissance systems that are specifically designed to identify American and allied naval and ground forces, and to direct attacks against those forces. This poses a grave threat to our security. For example, the Soviets could use their space-based targeting systems to threaten U.S. naval forces involved in the reinforcement of Europe. Our obligation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization hinges on our ability to execute our rapid reinforcement plan. Hence, the lack of an ASAT capability plays a decisive role in our ability to fight--and thus deter--conventional conflict. I do not accept the argument that we should not be able to hold at risk what are essentially observation posts directing hostile fire against our forces.


One year ago, with great reluctance, I canceled the F-15-launched miniature homing vehicle ASAT program because Congress, for the third straight year, had imposed a moratorium on testing the system against objects in space. I could not justify developing a system if it could not be tested adequately. I was encouraged to see that the amendment to extend this testing moratorium into fiscal 1989 was defeated in the House last year. Consequently, in the fiscal 1990-91 defense budget, the Pentagon has proposed a major ASAT initiative.

As the centerpiece of this initiative, funding has been requested to develop, test and produce a kinetic energy ASAT interceptor derived from the midcourse interceptor program being developed under the Strategic Defense Initiative. Funding is also requested to pursue options for a directed energy ASAT capability. This includes modifications to the free-electron laser being developed under SDI, to enable it to perform an ASAT mission, and other technology development efforts in laser devices, beam control and atmospheric compensation.

In addition, I have decided to retain the Sealite beam director for the mid-infrared advanced chemical, or MIRACL, laser, thus allowing us us to continue ASAT development work and to provide a limited, interim ASAT capability. Finally, our initiative includes funding to upgrade our space surveillance system to improve our ability to identify threats to our key space systems, and to hold at risk hostile space systems.

Some defense commentators have suggested that the SDI program is being redirected away from its goal of developing an effective defense against hostile ballistic missiles in favor of this more limited ASAT mission. This is simply not the case. The Defense Department is requesting funding to continue an aggressive SDI program. I am very encouraged by the tremendous technical progress that has been made in the program, and by the significant reductions in the estimated cost of the first phase of a Strategic Defense System. By taking advantage of the kinetic- and directed-energy technologies being developed under SDI and applying these technologies to the development of ASAT capabilities, we are getting leverage from the investment we have already made. In the current budget environment, it would be irresponsible for the department to propose redundant technology development programs in both areas.


We have a responsibility to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who willingly put their lives at risk to defend our freedom to provide them with the tools they require to do their jobs effectively. We are not living up to this responsibility if we ask them to embark on dangerous missions in defense of vital national interests--vulnerable to hostile attacks that are made possible by these space-based reconnaissance systems. This potential Achilles heel in our defense posture must be corrected, and I urge Congress in the strongest possible terms to support the Defense Department’s initiative to do so.