Spacelift Washington: National Security Space Needs May Drive Bush Space Policy - A Special White Paper Background Report

Spacelift Washington
Spacelift Washington Archive

Everybody interested in U.S. space policy these days is salivating over the prospect that new president George W. Bush will institute some form of a National Space Council. Such a council -or some centralized management structure for overarching space goals- was strongly proposed by some who advised the Bush campaign on space matters last summer. These concepts and comments were widely interpreted as focused on U.S. civil space needs.

But with NASA clearly on the back burner on the administration's current menu of political choices and reforms (given the Goldin 'temporary extension' stance), it would at least appear that civil space might not be the sector of space that is given strong early attention by the Bush team. In fact, it might be National Security Space needs that are addressed first. That this might be more than just idle speculation is based on two facts.

First, one of the strongest players in the new Bush team is Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. And the second is that Rumsfeld was the head of a recent commission report that recommended a whole new reorganization of how space is managed-with emphasis on defense space needs. For those interested in gleaning a clue as to the thinking of Bush's team on space issues, it might be wise to look at the detailed fine print of the commission's full report. For the Rumsfeld report did not call for a space council at all. Instead it called for reinstitution of a Senior Interagency Group (SIG) for space akin to that employed during the Reagan administration. And some of the tasks proposed for the SIG-Space group might be well worth examining for their possible impact on civil space (*editor's note: this column reported in error the commission supporting a space council in the days prior to the release of the report. What we saw was a preliminary version of a proposal made to the commission last summer. We were regrettably wrong in our reporting-and hereby admit it).

The structure of 'SIG-Space' II

Rumsfeld's report blasted the Clinton administration's management of military space issues. "The current interagency process is inadequate to address the number, range, and complexity of today's space issues", the report says. It recommends the president establish what is termed a "standing interagency coordination process" to focus on policy formulation and coordination of space activities pertinent to national security "and to assure that representation in domestic, and international fora effectively reflects U.S. national security and other space interests".

The report goes on to recommend that a Senior Interagency Group for space be established "within the National Security Council structure". While the central thrust of the SIG Space group would be national security, the report suggests that its scope could be expanded "to include officials from other departments and agencies as issues warrant". What would SIG Space's mandate be? According to the report:

* Leverage the collective investments in the commercial, civil, defense, and intelligence sectors to advance U.S. capabilities in each.

* Advance initiatives in domestic and international fora that preserve and enhance U.S. use of and access to space.

According to the report, the group's agenda should include:

  • Space control
  • Military missions in space
  • Space Transportation
  • Space utilities
  • Earth remote sensing
  • A deliberate, coherent approach to the implementation of space policy.

    Staff support should come, the report suggests, through the National Security Council, "with experience across the four space sectors (civil, commercial, military, and classified)".

    Of course, this does not preclude establishment of a space council, nor does it assure that civil space policy will be either diminished or overlooked in the new administration. What it does suggest, however, is that National Security Space needs are more thought through and more clearly defined than those of the civil space arena at this early stage. Why? Well, in part, because there is a strong military space advocate in place in the administration-Rumsfeld.

    At the same time, civil space is being 'addressed' only by keeping Daniel S. Goldin in place as NASA administrator indefinitely. During the Clinton administration, Goldin was the major player in space policy. Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen abolished the centralized defense space office in the Pentagon- the DUSD-Space- in what was euphemistically termed a "cost-saving" move in 1997. Goldin emerged as the single figure most identified with Clinton space goals, such as they were.

    With Rumsfeld bringing a cogent military space policy- and possibly a program to go with it- to the new administration's highest ranks, it will take a strong NASA administrator to defend civil space needs-and NASA budget needs as well. At this early stage, it looks like if there is more dollars to be allocated to space programs, those programs may well be aligned to space segments of missile defense than new human spaceflight missions. And, of course, such a strong emphasis on military space-long neglected under the previous administration by any reasonable review of its programs and priorities in space-is certainly not necessarily a negative.

    The U.S. is not alone in this renewed appreciation of military space. Last week, Russian President Putin established a new military space force which Moscow announced would have the responsibility of not only designing and launching military satellites and launch vehicles but commercial craft as well. China has also embarked upon a development program for microspace sized parasitic satellites that could act as a-sat weapons. The PRC has also accelerated its own space reconnaissance program as well.

    A review of recent-and some not-so-recent history

    The eight Clinton years marked a growing and somewhat accelerating evolution of the importance of military uses of space while at the same time a decline in actual number of military space programs. Three new starts marked the period: the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS), and Discoverer II space radar prototype. Of the three, EELV became a commercial program, SBIRS high and low were delayed until 2002 and 2004 respectively, and Discoverer II was killed by a skeptical Congress. While these programs moved through the system, three Defense Secretaries (Aspin, Perry, and Cohen) as well as the CINC-Space at U.S. Space Command and the Air Force Secretary addressed military space policies. The CINC-Space was always an Air Force bluesuiter and former pilot-after all, CINC-Space was also CINC-Air Force Space Command and CINC-Norad, too, a process that the Rumsfeld report attempts to change by separating the 'hats'.

    At the same time, it would appear that two Deputy Defense Secretaries, John Deutch and John Hamre were strongly and mildly anti-space, respectively. Deutch led a redirection of space-based early warning that would lead to SBIRS, a substantially scaled back version of a much larger program (FEWS) proposed earlier. Documents made available in 1993 and 1994 reveal a Deutch tone that was strongly skeptical of military space programs. Hamre came to his office from the Pentagon's Comptroller in a shake-up following, among other things, the abolishment of DUSD-Space.

    The major space 'event' of Hamre's tenure as Deputy Defense chief was helping to administer Clinton's 1996 line item veto of several defense projects. Three were at the heart of the Air Force's space agenda: military spaceplane, KE-A-sat (kinetic energy anti-satellite), and Clementine II microsatellite research. Hamre said at the time that the three projects were killed because they were put on the thrash heap by the Air Force leadership, a fact only partially accurate.

    Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall during the first Clinton term, and concurrent with the Aspin/Perry period at the DoD helm, pushed to begin an Air Force evolution from an "Air force to an air-and-space force, to a space-and-air force". The idea wasn't thought to be too serious a policy path at the time by some critics because of a lack of either timetable or budget for such a massive change. In hindsight however the proposal might well have played a role in the current thinking about a space corps within the Air Force, and an ultimate, separate space corps in the decades ahead.

    U.S. and Air Force Space Commands moved during these years to embrace space control and begin a doctrinal shift towards defense of space assets that, if the truth be spoken, lies at the center of the thrust of the Rumsfeld report. With growing reliance on commercial space assets and other space systems for normal commerce and projection of military force, the vulnerability of these assets has increasingly worried military space planners. A series of space war games conducted by the Army Space Command as well as the Air Force have revealed how truly exposed the U.S. force structure was to such potential attacks and disruption. When added to missile defense, space was increasingly seen during the period as a critical area for U.S. national security, culminating in the congressionally-mandated Rumsfeld study. When taken in the larger context of these changes in attitudes, its recommendations came as no surprise to military space analysts and observers. But how to implement these ideas? That's another story entirely.

    And how to fund the space programs that would surely be required for space control and defense of space assets that are recommended by these reviews, studies, and war games? Which of the services are prepared to give up airplanes, tanks, ships or submarines to pay for new spacecraft, space fighters, or space systems? Most likely, very few. Which leaves us with a policy roadblock: no current way to implement what a growing list of supporters believe is the crucial need of the U.S. in space: some practical way to in essence patrol low earth orbit and defend commercial spacecraft from denial of service or other attack. And it is this fact that may well serve to threaten any hopes for increased civil space budgets, unless the Bush team grows all of space spending, unlikely at this early point.

    The prospect of this renewed competition for space R&D only heightens the need for a cogent rationale for civil space goals, for offloading as many operational elements of NASA to privatization as prudent, and a laying out of a true vision for human spaceflight as soon as possible. If, ultimately NASA's budget will not be increased, then realignment of its spending may well be the subject that the U.S. space policy community will need to forge a consensus. The time to start building that consensus is at hand.

    Rumsfeld the key?

    Rumsfeld brings his strong views on defense-related space issues to the Pentagon formed over years of previous service. But his views on the role and importance of the civil space program might also be worth reviewing in the days and months ahead. In the spring of 1963 congressional critics of Project Apollo made what would turn out to be their last major attempt to either kill or redirect the moon landing. In an attachment to a report by the House Committee on Science and Astronautics (H.R. 7500, House Report 591), six dissenting Republicans proposed that military space needs-not the lunar landing goal- be at the center of the U.S. space program. While they said they supported Apollo "because there exists no other comparable program to develop space technologies at this time", they categorized the Apollo mission as mainly one of "largely prestige" without lasting significance to the U.S. space program. Wrote one of the dissenters: "This country should direct itself toward (military development of) inner space* (*defined as 500 miles up and lower) and not place our top priority in the direction of the Moon." The name of that dissenter 38 years ago? A Congressman from Illinois named Donald H. Rumsfeld.


    SPACELIFT WASHINGTON 2001 by Aerospace FYI Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction allowed with permission. The information contained herein are the authors own and are not affiliated with any other society, organization, or institution. Publication does not constitute endorsement of either editorial content or sponsoring web site. Have information about space transportation? Email the editor at sietzen@erols.com


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