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Full-Spectrum Dominance

The Future of War: Part 3 of 3

July 3rd, 2006 · Written by · 2 Comments

Unrelenting efforts by the Pentagon and U.S. Air Force are hell-bent on creating outlandish space-based weapons. Critics assert the result will be a free-for-all orbiting arms-race.

Space War

When Donald Rumsfeld chaired a commission on space and national security just before taking office in 2001, the precursors for a deluge of spending on new space-based weapons programs were put into place. The commission concluded that to avoid a so-called “space Pearl Harbor” the U.S. must “vigorously pursue the capabilities called for in the National Space Policy to ensure that the President will have the option to deploy weapons in space.”

In 2002, President Bush — at the urging of the commission — withdrew from the 30-year-old Antiballistic Missile Treaty, a cornerstone of our agreements with Russia at the end of the Cold War. One of the reasons: the treaty prohibited weapons in space.

Fast-forward four years. Numerous programs buried in the Pentagon’s 2007 budget request may result in the development of space-based weapons. The programs — including plans for a space vehicle able to deliver military payloads to any geographic location within an hour, and tests that would create de facto anti-satellite weaponry — are the result of years of pressure within the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to weaponize and dominate space.


“Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny,” former head of the Air Force Space Command, Gen. Lance Lord, told a USAF conference in 2004. “Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision of the future.”

The latest Flight Plan details America’s right to “full-spectrum dominance”—the control of land, sea, and air, as well as space.

These comments echoed the strategy recommended in an unclassified 2003 USAF document entitled Transformation Flight Plan. The latest Flight Plan details America’s right to “full-spectrum dominance”—the control of land, sea, and air, as well as space. According to the document, space superiority includes three main capabilities: protect space assets, deny adversaries access to space, and quickly launch vehicles into space to replace damaged or destroyed space assets. The document also lists the types of technologies desired to maintain these goals.

A subsequent USAF document called Counterspace Operations represents the first U.S attempt to detail what a conflict in space would entail, and develops elaborate strategies to defend “space superiority.” Potential targets in such a conflict would include commercial spacecraft, enemy satellites, and neutral countries’ launching pads.

Theresa Hitchens, vice president of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, explains the significance of the two documents.

“Transformation Flight Plans are long term planning documents,” she says. “A doctrinal document like Counterspace Operations tells the military services how to conduct certain types of operations. It states that the USAF intends to conduct both defensive and offensive actions in space. The Transformation Flight Plans elaborate on what types of technologies and capabilities would be required to do this.”

The ultimate goal of the USAF Space Command is the issuance of a new national security directive on the use of space, sanctioning its far-fetched research into a plethora of space-based weaponry.


“The Pentagon, in the words of famous physicist Dick Garwin, is investing in a ‘technological sandbox’ of concepts that could allow development of multiple sorts of space weaponry,” says Hitchens.

Much of this falls under the purview of the national Missile Defense Agency. After investing nearly $100 billion and 22 years into developing a ground-based missile defense system and yielding dismal results, the U.S is setting its sights on launching satellites capable of shooting down missiles. The Space-Based Interceptor Test Bed program — scheduled to begin in 2008 — would launch up to five such satellites.

Other programs are focused on offensive capabilities, such as the disruption or destruction of enemy satellites. In April of 2004 the Air Force launched the XSS-11, an experimental micro-satellite with the ability to disrupt other nations’ communications and reconnaissance satellites. The 2007 budget also includes plans to launch a missile at a small satellite in orbit and tests to determine if high-powered ground-based lasers can destroy a satellite.

A look at the Transformation Flight Plan reveals long-term designs for weapons capable of striking targets on the planet’s surface from space.

A look at the Transformation Flight Plan reveals long-term designs for weapons capable of striking targets on the planet’s surface from space. One such proposal, nick-named “rods from God,” consists of tungsten bars hurled from an orbiting platform to hit terrestrial targets. The “Hyper-Velocity Rod Bundle” would travel at 120 miles a minute and impact the Earth with the force of a small nuclear weapon. Another seemingly science-fiction scheme, code-named EAGLE, would bounce laser beams off mirrors suspended from satellites or massive high-altitude blimps, refocusing death-rays down onto the planet’s surface.


Senior military and space officials with the European Union, Canada, Russia, and China have all publicly objected to the notion of American space superiority. Last fall, the U.S. voted to block a United Nations resolution calling for a ban on weapons in space. Currently, the only international treaty on the subject is a 1967 agreement, ratified by 91 countries, that bans weapons of mass destruction in space.

“Almost unanimously, the rest of the world is seriously concerned about the direction of the U.S. with regard to military space,” comments Hitchens. “Because most nations hold that no one can own space, a move by the U.S. to try to establish ‘space dominance’ will be seen as highly threatening, and other nations are likely to react in a variety of negative ways.”

According to Hitchens and other defense analysts, one of the main consequences of America’s pursuit of space weapons will be an arms race in the heavens. It is expected Russia and China will follow suit, and this will lead to heightened tensions and instability among space-faring nations.

America’s viewpoint of space superiority is yet another example of U.S. policy at odds with the world community. Thankfully, there are still many political hurdles between the USAF and the “full-spectrum dominance” it so desperately desires. The House Armed Services Committee has cut funding towards programs in the 2007 budget request which mention anti-satellite technology — though the Senate has yet to make any similar moves. However, in an era of American empire operating on principals of unilateralism and preemptive, indefinite warfare, a lethal armament encircling the Earth doesn’t take much to envision.

Read Part I
Read Part II

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