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Talk of Satellite Defense Raises Fears of Space War

U.S. Says Attacks on Crucial Systems Are Possible, Warns It Would Respond 

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 17, 2006; A12

For a U.S. military increasingly dependent on sophisticated satellites for 
communicating, gathering intelligence and guiding missiles, the possibility that
those space-based systems could come under attack has become a growing worry -- 
and the perceived need to defend them ever more urgent. And that, in turn, is 
reviving fears in some quarters that humanity's conflicts could soon spread 
beyond Earth's boundaries.

In a speech last week, a senior Bush administration official warned that other 
nations, and possibly terrorist groups, are "acquiring capabilities to counter, 
attack and defeat U.S. space systems." As a result, he said, the United States 
must increase its ability to protect vital space equipment with new technologies
and policies.

Elaborating publicly for the first time since the October release of a new 
national space policy, Undersecretary of State Robert G. Joseph made clear that 
the administration would react forcefully to any attempt to interfere with U.S. 
space technology -- whether used by the military or by businesses ranging from 
paging services and automated teller machines to radio and television providers.

"No nation, no non-state actor, should be under the illusion that the United 
States will tolerate a denial of our right to the use of space for peaceful 
purposes," said Joseph, undersecretary for arms control and international 

"We reserve the right to defend ourselves against hostile attacks and 
interference with our space assets. We will, therefore, oppose others who wish 
to use their military capabilities to impede or deny our access to and use of 
space. We will seek the best capabilities to protect our space assets by active 
or passive means."

The administration insists that there is no arms race in space, although the 
United States is the only nation that opposed a recent United Nations call for 
talks on keeping weapons out of space.

The statement of American resolve in space came against the backdrop of an 
intensifying debate between those who criticize any push to put weapons in space
and others who say the nation cannot afford to let potential adversaries get the
upper hand.

Some Democrats and representatives of other nations are becoming more vocal in 
their concern about the administration's rhetoric and possible plans regarding 
space defense. Although the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty, signed by the United 
States, allows only peaceful uses of space, some believe that the United States 
is moving toward some level of weaponization, especially related to a missile 
defense system.

Both the new space policy and Joseph's speech "left a lot of room for 
weaponization of space, which is something that our members have been very 
concerned about for a while," said Loren Dealy, spokeswoman for the Democratic 
majority on the House Armed Services Committee. "It also took a very unilateral 
approach and did not address the issue of multinational agreements to protect 
satellites that are there."

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) earlier criticized the president's new 
national space policy, saying, "As we deal with the threats to peace and 
security from the proliferation of land-based weapons, surely we need to think 
long and hard before creating potential space-based proliferation threats."

Theresa Hitchens, director of the nonpartisan Center for Defense Information, 
said she found the tone and substance of Joseph's comments last week puzzling.

"It is somewhat ironic that while he kept saying 'There is no arms race in 
space' -- which says to me no real threat in space -- his whole pitch was how we
have to protect our satellites, including using weapons," she said, citing 
Joseph's mention of "active means" of defending assets. "The truth of the matter
is that the most likely threats are from the ground -- jamming, hacking, blowing
up a tracking station -- and anti-satellite weapons and/or space-based weapons 
do nothing to resolve those threats."

The deputy head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Vitaliy Davydov, was the 
most blunt. He called the Bush space policy "the first step towards a serious 
escalation of the military confrontation space," according to the Russian news 
agency Interfax. He also said that, unlike air and sea weapons, space weapons 
would be "global and would hang over the entire world." He said, moreover, that 
Russia has the capability to "also roll out certain military elements into outer

Some Capitol Hill staffers on military affairs committees said they think the 
administration's tough talk on space defense may be setting the stage for a 
future budget request, especially for funds to start a controversial space-based
"test bed" of missile interceptors that could be used in a future missile 
defense system. One staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of 
committee rules, said the Pentagon has been hinting that it wants to make such a
request for 2008, but it is unclear whether it would be in the budget due out in
early February. A Pentagon spokesman said it would be inappropriate to discuss 
possible budget requests because they are in a "pre-decisional position."

The recent emphasis on space defense coincides with the release of several 
Government Accountability Office reports criticizing the Pentagon's management 
of space programs designed to enhance "situational awareness" -- the essential 
ability to know what is happening to satellites in space and why. In its most 
recent report, the GAO said last month that "on a broad scale," Defense 
Department space programs are behind schedule and over budget.

The department "starts more weapon programs than it can afford, creating a 
competition for funding that encourages low cost estimating, optimistic 
scheduling, over-promising, suppressing of bad news," the GAO wrote.

Nonetheless, Capitol Hill staffers said there is bipartisan agreement that U.S. 
space assets are vulnerable and need to be better protected, although there is 
disagreement about how to do that.

Joseph's comments were especially well received by the group that sponsored his 
talk, the George C. Marshall Institute, a nonprofit group that specializes in 
technical aspects of defense and environmental debates. Institute President Jeff
Kueter said Joseph highlighted a major and growing U.S. vulnerability that needs
to be addressed.

He said China, in particular, is a potential adversary in space and one that 
appears to be developing its capacities quickly. The publication Defense News 
reported this fall that the Chinese had succeeded in focusing a ground-based 
laser on an American satellite in a test of anti-satellite capabilities.

Given the nation's reliance on satellites and space technology as well as the 
vulnerability of the equipment, Kueter said, "the administration and Congress 
need to think quite seriously about what we do about countering space threats 
and protecting space assets. Not enough thought is being given to implementing 
the space policy, to taking those next steps."

Kueter said his institute hopes the Pentagon will ask Congress to fund the 
space-based "test bed" for national security purposes, though not necessarily as
part of an immediate space-based missile defense system. His views were captured
in the title of a Marshall Institute policy statement he wrote in October: "The 
War in Space Has Already Begun."

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