Space Is Part of Our Security : Some Defense Functions Can Only Be Conducted From Above


THe United States is destined to become the world’s premier space-faring nation in much the same way--and for many of the same reasons--it came of age as a seafaring country during the last century. We are entering an era in which space will be looked on as a medium rather than a barrier to man’s progress, just as the world’s oceans provided mobility rather than obstacles to human development.

Civil and military operations are in space to stay. Space capability will greatly influence the relationships among nations by the end of the century. The ability to operate beyond the bounds of the atmosphere is rapidly becoming a major determinant of national power.

The United States, as leader of the Western democracies, should not hesitate to assume the mantle of being a “space power,” just as it did not shrink from becoming a sea power. As a sea power, the United States continues to scrupulously uphold international law, established through custom and treaty, assuring freedom of the seas for all nations. Similarly, our support of space law such like the Outer Space Treaty recognizes the common interest of all mankind in the guaranteed right to explore and use space freely for peaceful purposes.

Space has captured the American imagination through programs such as the space station and the evolving plans for planetary exploration. Indeed, space has become a practical part of most of our lives. Its use as a place for basing navigation, communication, weather and Earth observation satellites has saved many lives, is providing valuable environmental information and serves as a catalyst for world commerce.


Within the U.S. defense force structure, the space component has been designed to ensure uninhibited access to space for all such peaceful uses. Unthinking critics have labeled those portions of U.S. defense policy related to space as the “militarization” of space. The Soviets in particular have unfairly characterized both civilian and military programs like our space shuttle as moving the arms race into space.

We must not be misled by Soviet charges that we are contributing to a so-called arms race in space. Unlike our space activities, which are largely for non-military purposes, those of the Soviet Union are 90% military in nature. This situation reflects the Soviet Union’s commitment to provide its armed forces with all the resources necessary to ensure maximum space-based military support for offensive and defensive combat systems on land and sea, in air and outer space. The Soviets launched five times as many military payloads into orbit between 1983 and 1987 as did the United States.

For the United States, space-based platforms provide a range of capabilities that underpin deterrence. U.S. forces depend on such systems for early-warning, communications, surveillance, navigation and arms-control treaty monitoring to such an extent that space is more than just a medium of choice; space has gradually become the only medium in which some important defense functions can be conducted efficiently on a global basis.

A clear, though controversial, example of the importance of space to U.S. national security has moved back into the headlines. Even as our dependence on satellites increases in the 1990s, the world’s only operational anti-satellite (ASAT) system--owned and operated by the Soviets--will have the capability to destroy vital U.S. and allied satellite systems. The Defense Department recently told Congress that our lack of a comparable capability is one of the most serious U.S. military deficiencies. We are unable to deter a Soviet ASAT attack by the threat of retaliating in kind.


This critical deficiency means that the United States is unable to protect our terrestrial forces, such as the U.S. Fleet, from Soviet radar and electronic targeting satellites--so-called gunsights in space. In view of the fundamental importance of U.S. and allied access to the seas in wartime, active means of holding the Soviet military space threat at risk must be developed. Doubters should take note: The case for a U.S. anti-satellite capability encompasses more than just deterrence theory; it is essential for protecting the men and women of our armed forces.

The human race is in the process of moving to space. As the United States adapts its national-security policy to this new reality, we must carefully define and integrate that part of our overall strategy that involves military space activity. The worth of assigning particular space missions to our military should be based on whether the operation contributes to national security, and not on the fact that the mission takes place in space.

Space will affect all aspects of our lives in the next century. Just as on the high seas, space-related peaceful activities will only flourish if assured of the backing of an on-call military capability to protect our space assets. An American capability to operate beyond Earth’s atmosphere without interference will help ensure peaceful use of space by all friendly nations.