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American Forces Press Service

Space Important to U.S. National Security, General Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2005 Almost 70 years ago, actor Buster Crabbe first portrayed space swashbuckler Flash Gordon, battling Ming the Merciless to protect Earth. Few theatergoers then would have imagined that space would become an important component of national defense.

Flash’s adventures on the planet Mongo were fantasy, but mankind conquered space on July 21, 1969, when American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

Today “the importance of the space mission to our national security cannot be overstated,” Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright said in his April 4 testimony before the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Cartwright heads the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., which oversees U.S. military global strategic planning, including nuclear deterrence and space operations. In June 2002, U.S. Space Command and U.S. STRATCOM were merged.

The U.S. economy and Americans’ quality of life and national defense, Cartwright observed, “are all linked to our freedom of action in space.” Today’s orbiting satellites, he pointed out, help conduct routine financial activities such as automatic teller machines or international currency and stock market transactions.

The telecommunications and transportation industries and federal, state and municipal governments are also highly dependent on space operations, the general noted. Airliners, ships, trains, trucks, police, fire departments, and ambulances, he said, rely on space-based global positioning systems to enhance efforts to safely deliver people, goods and services.

However, potential U.S. adversaries, Cartwright noted, are aware of America’s dependence on space for commerce and security. That’s why, he said, it’s important to “protect our space assets and our ability to operate freely in -- and from -- space.”

And, while America currently leads the world in space technology, Cartwright noted that competitors “are gaining on us.”

Cartwright pointed to the need to revamp America’s space surveillance systems that are responsible for scanning the outer-atmospheric region for potential terrestrial-based threats, like missiles, and non-terrestrial-based threats, like asteroids. Today’s space-launched payloads, he pointed out, are more numerous and smaller in size than those launched in years past.

Also, current surveillance systems were created in the latter part of the 20th century and weren’t designed “to detect or track the current magnitude of new, smaller objects, including micro-satellites,” Cartwright said. He added that this situation enhances “the chances of collisions” and threatens U.S. manned space flight programs.

DoD, other U.S. government agencies, and American industry “must do a better job of leveraging the capabilities of our space assets,” Cartwright said.

“We must also maintain the ability to protect our own space assets and capabilities, both actively and passively, while denying our adversaries the military use of space -- at the time and place of our choosing,” he concluded.

Flash Gordon would have understood.

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