The Militarization Of Space--Spurring Or Deterring Future Conflict?
AUTHOR Major Christopher A. Davis, USMC
SUBJECT AREA - National Military Strategy
TITLE: THE MILITARIZATION OF SPACE --
SPURRING OR DETERRING FUTURE CONFLICT?
I. Purpose: To report on the militarization of space and
comment on the likely destabalizing effects to mutual
II. Problem: Although the militarization of space is
inevitable, our goal should be to develop and employ those
weapons which enhance deterrence.
III. Data: Parallels exist between the militarization of
the atmosphere in years past and our current space arms-
race. Balloons and early aircraft were initially used for
reconnaissance and spotting. Likewisse, the first
satellites served similiar functions. As the United
States, with its global commitments, came to depend upon
communications satellites for the preponderance of its
military communications, the Soviets developed an anti-
satellite (ASAT) capability for dealing with these
strategic targets. Similiarly, the Soviet's recent
reliance upon satellites has created targets worthy of U.S.
ASAT initiatives. U.S. Strategic Defense Initiatives (SDI)
represents a resurgence of the arms-race. SDI can be
compared to the early airplane of WW I which many advocated
would dominate future warfare. But SDI, however capable
when and if perfected, does not protect against low
trajectory submarine launched ballistic missiles, or
against bomber launched cruise missiles.
IV. Conclusions: SDI is an ill-conceived attempt to make
obsolete the nuclear ICBM. It does not address non-space
means of delivery and can, as can any defensive system, be
overwhelmed or otherwise countered by numerous, some very
basic and low-cost, countermeasures. Research is necessary
to ensure U.S. parity in basic weapons research, but to
fund a vigorous program aimed at denying the Soviets use of
space in wartime, if not in peacetime, is destabilizing to
the policy of deterrence.
V. Recommendations: The doctrine of mutually assured
destruction has worked for the past 35 years and should
work until a new peace ethic evolves. Until then careful
application of weapons and counter-weapons to enhance
deterrence should be our goal.
THE MILITARIZATION OF SPACE --
SPURRING OR DETERRING FUTURE CONFLICT?
Thesis: Although the militarization of space is
inevitable, our goal should be to develop and
employ those weapons which enhance deterrence.
1. Develop parallelism between militarization of atmosphere
a. Era of ballooning
b. Early development of aircraft
2. Detail exploitation of space.
a. Early exploitation
b. ASAT development
c. SDI ramifications
3. Peace ethic
THE MILITARIZATION OF SPACE --
SPURRING OR DETERRING FUTURE CONFLICT?
Since the thermonuclear arms-race began in the 1950's
the doctrine of mutually assured destruction has deterred
global conflict. The recent resurgence of the space arms-
race in the form of antisatellite and strategic defense
initiatives, raises serious concerns about the risks
engendered by space weapons development and the militar-
ization of space. Although a unique period in history,
since this is the first time humanity has had to deal with
thermo-nuclear weapons, a study of the past provides many
clues for the future of mankind.
Space is the latest frontier to be exploited for war-
fare. History has shown very explicity that we are in an
itterative process. As each new frontier is conquered, a
new military doctrine is developed to exploit that medium.
Although the militarization of space is inevitable, our
goal should be to develop and employ those weapons which
Conquest of the air began when the Mongolfier brothers
first flew their balloons over Paris in 1783. Captive
manned balloons were the first military aircraft and were
used by the French army at the battle of Maubeuge in 1794.
The first aviator (aeronaut), Capt. J.M. Coutelle, was able
to conduct aerial observations of the movement of Austrian
troops for five days until the enemy manuvered a 17 pound
cannon within range and commenced the first use of anti-
aircraft artillery. Capt. Coutelle prudently ceased obser-
vations until the gun was captured. The effect of the
observations, in addition to providing the French with the
tactical advantage of battlefield intelligence, was to
demoralize the Austrian troops.2
Napolean Bonaparte was an advocate of balloon tech-
nology and in 1812 proposed to expand its role in warfare.
He envisioned a fleet of ballons, each of which would carry
6000 armed soldiers, to transport his troops across the
English Channel to attack the British. The inadequacy of
the technology obviously precluded the scheme from ever
The Union army used observation balloons during the
Civil War. T.S.C. Lowe was the first U.S. military
balloonist and conducted reconnaissance of Confederate
positions and reported on the accuracy of artillery for
General McClellan. 4
With the turn of the century, technology had advanced
sufficiently to produce the first airplane. The first
military use of the airplane occurred during the Balkan
Wars of 1912.5 The mission was the same as that of the
balloon: reconnaissance and artillery spotting. Little
other military use was deemed appropriate for it. Military
leaders, then as now, tended to be conservative and did not
always embrace new technologies. Marshal Foch of France
dismissed the flimsy aircraft of the early 1900's as "noisy
toys" which would never be practical for combat. Neverthe-
less, aircraft were mounted with machine guns for the
military and by the end of WW I, airplanes had evoloved
sufficiently to play a major role. Initially used against
observation balloons and dirigibles, flights soon spent
most of their time engaged with one another. By the close
of the war, large lumbering biplane bombers were delivering
bombs to the front.7 By WW II, the technology of air
warfare was increasing at a rapid rate. Control of the air
determined the outcome of WW II.
The development of military space systems appears to
be following the same evolutionary path as aviation:
initial deployment in the classic role of spies making use
of the "high ground" to view the surface of the Earth from
space. The militarization of space is now evolving, just
surely as the militarization of the atmosphere evolved --
and before that -- the militarization of the oceans.
Military exploitation of space has been going on since
1944 when the first V-2 crossed the threshold of space
enroute to its target in London. The idea of placing a
satellite in space to spy on an enemy's activities was
first discussed by the military in 1946.8 But it was not
until the development of the large rockets capable of
delivering a nuclear warhead across oceans in the mid
1950's, that the means became available. The militar-
ization of space began with the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1
on October 4, 1957, followed by the U.S. launch of Explorer
I on February 1, 1958.9 Both countries utilized military
launch vehicles to deploy their ostensibly nonmilitary
payloads. By 1960 military satellites were being launched
regularly. Since then over 2500 military payloads have
been delivered to space orbit by the United States and the
Soviet Union.10 While both countries downplay their mili-
tary space programs, the fact is that about three fourths
of the world's space launches each year have military
missions. With the development of sophisticated military
satellites and the dependence that the armed forces would
come to depend on them, it was inevitable that antisatel-
lite (ASAT) weapons would sooner or later be developed.
In fact, within a few years of the first satellite
being launched, space engineers, both East and West, were
devising ways of shooting them down. The very same weapons
that are currently being developed were all proposed in a
remarkably similiar manner during the late 1950's and early
1960's. Even the arguments that were used to promote the
space weapons proposals are similiar. For example, the use
of such concepts as "space denial," "space control," and
the need to take the "high ground," which are familiar
today, were just as common in the early years of the space
The first ASAT test was an accident. Prior to the
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the United States exploded
a 1.4 megaton device 248 miles above Johnston Island in the
South Pacific while conducting nuclear tests in outer
space. The resulting electromagnetic pulse unintentionally
rendered three of our country's satellites useless and
played havoc with several others.11 Although the Soviet
Union fielded the first true ASAT weapon system, the United
States was the first to deploy a predecessor to ASAT. The
system was more accurately described as an Orbital Bomb
Defense (OBD) system. It was deployed on Kwajalein atoll
and Johnston Island in 1963-64 to intercept possible Soviet
attack via the Pacific Ocean.12 At the time, the Soviets
were testing a Fractional Orbital Bombardment Sytem (FOBS)
which was patterned after the V-2 attacks of WW II only it
flew much higher and farther.13 FOBS was capable of trav-
eling a fourth of the way around the world to its target.
It allowed the Soviets to circumvent the Distant Early
Warning Line which stretched across the northern borders of
North America guarding the most direct attack routes. The
American OBD system was dismantled in 1975 when the Soviet
Commencing in 1968, the United States detected the
first Soviet testing of satellite interceptors, the first
real ASAT weapon. The testing continued until 1971.
Ater a five year hiatus, it resumed in 1976. It is specu-
lated that a poor navigation system coupled with the neces-
sity to navigate a non-nuclear ASAT to within a few miles
of its target rendered the system unreliable. The resump-
tion of Soviet tests was a major consideration which led
then-president Ford to resume U.S. ASAT development.
ASAT is the 20th century space equivalent of the 18th
century cannon utilized against the earliest balloonist.
It is already a reality for the Soviets and will be for the
United States by the end of the decade. The Soviet's ASAT
capability evolved first because U.S. military forces,
with its worldwide commitments, developed a dependence upon
satellites at a more rapid pace, making them worthwhile.
targets. In contrast, during the early years of the space
age with the concentration of forces close to home, the
Soviets developed a relatively low dependence upon satel-
lites. This meant countering them in wartime would have
made little difference to the effectiveness of ground
forces. They posed little threat, therefore the U.S. ASAT
efforts languished. Now both countries have come to rely
much more significantly on satellites. Eighty percent of
the U.S. armed forces' communications rely on satellites.
The incentives for both sides to perfect their ASAT capa-
bility have increased, thus the new initiatives. In a
future conflict, one of the first moves by the aggressor
will be to eliminate the enemy's space-based intelligence,
communications, and command and control assets. Former top
scientific advisor during the Reagan administration, George
A. Keyworth, admitted:
"Even in a limited war, we would have an
absolutely critical dependence on space today.
Survivability of our space-assets is one of our
most important priorities."15
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) is the newest
term for what previously was known as the Ballistic Missile
Defense (BDM). SDI is an attempt to render the nuclear
ICBM obsolete, just as the musket made the bow and arrow
obsolete. It proposes building an impenetrable defense
utilizing space-based lasers, particle beams and kinetic
energy weapons. It is designed as a four-tier defensive
system to match the four phases of an ICBM's flight. Each
tier is aimed at eliminating 90 percent of the attacking
warheads with an overall "leakage" of 0.1 percent repre-
senting only three or four warheads actually hitting their
targets, a wildly optimistic figure according to critics.
To further put this figure into perspective, consider that
a one percent leakage has been calculated to devastate 80
percent of American cities. A five percent leakage, some
scientists believe, would be sufficient to trigger a
SDI appears to be easily countered. None of the
proposals currently under consideration deal with a defense
against submarine launched ballistic missiles fired on a
low trajectory or cruise missles lauched from bombers or
sub-marines. Richard D. Delaucer, former Under Secratary
of Defense for Research and Engineering, testified before a
Congressional Committee saying, "A defensive system can be
overcome with proliferation and decoys, decoys, decoys,
The Soviets make it clear what they would do if a U.S.
BDM was deployed. In May 1984, six Soviet scientists
listed those steps they considered their country would take
to render Star Wars useless:
1. Deploy clouds of heavy balls in an orbit counter
to the defense. If they missed the first time,
they would make contact on the second orbit or
third orbit, ad infinitum.
2. Shoot down U.S. Star Wars assets in space by small
3. Deploy satellites armed with short-range missiles
close to U.S. space stations to be fired when
4. Use ground-based lasers to blind U.S. satellites.
5. Exhaust the fuel supply of U.S. laser battle
stations by false missile launchings.
6. Employ special coatings on Soviet ICBM's to
reflect or dissipate the energy from SDI. 18
Is SDI the modern equivalent of WW I's biplane? In
1921 the Italian air stragist, General Giulio Douhet,
inspired by the role of aircraft in WW I, penned the first
theory of strategic airpower. Douhet perceived the next
major war as one in which great fleets of aircraft would
disable the enemy with poison gas and high explosives be-
fore ground troops could engage. His theories were tested
in WW II and failed. Poison gas, admitedly, was not used
but relentless allied bombing raids into Germany, while
materially reducing the country's war production, did not
eliminate the country's will to resist. Likewise, General
Clair Chennault's 14th air Force did little to stop Japan-
ese ground advances through China. Chennault's bases kept
being overrun by the forces they were supposed to be
There is a parallel between Douhet and the modern
advocates of space power. Just as Douhet's aircraft were
to start and finish a war before traditional elements of
power could be brought into piay, so is SDI advocated to
render obsolete nuclear war by destroying enemy missiles
with irresistible power. History tells us, however, that
space warfare will not make our air forces obsolete just as
air forces have not made navies and armies obsolete. New
forms of combat have complemented the old forms, not re-
History also leads one to the inescapable conclusion
that people are always going to fight. To quote Will and
"War is one of the constants of history,
and has not dimished with civilization or
democracy. In the past 3,421 years of recorded
histroy, only 268 have seen no war....Peace is
an unstable equalibrium." 20
In his book Confrontation in Space, G. Harry Stine
proposes two very basic reasons for human conflict. It is
possible, he claims, to trace the aggressive tendencies of
humans to the biological law of least effort known as the
Attila Syndrome -- take from others rather than go to the
greater effort to make it. When the scratch plow, a
simple invention developed about 10,000 years ago in the
Tigris-Euphrates River Valley of Mesopotamia, allowed
people to give up their nomadic life and settle down to
raise seasonal cereal crops, a new philosophy slowly
developed to protect them from the Attilas of the time: the
Neolithic Ethic.22 In a world of scarcity, which has been
the circumstances of 99 percent of all humans in the past
and is still the norm today, the Neolithic Ethic was very
sucessful. Anthropologist Carleton S. Coon stated it most
"You stay in your village, and I will stay
in mine. If your sheep come to eat our grass,
we will kill you. We may kill you anyway to
get your grass for our sheep if we run short.
Anyone who tries to make us change is a witch
and we will kill him. Stay out of our village!"23
The Neolithic Ethic, Stine elaborates, worked reason-
ably well for hundreds of centuries, permitting the human
race to build civilization against those who would have
destroyed it through greed and covetousness. He contends
that the Neolithic Ethic is the reason why conflicts build
up slowly for years, then explode in an orgy of violence
and end up in a situation that is often worse than the
With each succeeding generation, mankind has increased
the effectiveness of his weapons until, with the recent
development of thermonucear weapons, he is capable of de-
stroying civilization. We have progressed to the point,
Stine argues, where we can no longer live by the Neolithic
Ethic and must, therefore, develop a new ethic. Stine
"It will take centuries of worldwide
education -- using near-earth space as a
location for communications satellites
capable of beaming information to any spot
on Earth for the education of humans every-
where -- before the Ethic can be changed,
before the memories of past wrongs are erased
by time, and before the fires of vengeance
can be damped."24
Stine contends that a new ethic for a world of peace,
cooperation and unity can be developed. But until then,
people are going to fight. We need to investigate all
technological possibilities and prepare the weapons, the
counter-weapons and other safegaurds as they become tech-
nologically feasible. But we need to do so with a pur-
poseful goal -- to deter war in the hopes of buying time to
transition to the new ethic.
Thus far there are no weapons in space. Thus far no
battles have been waged in space or for dominion over
space. Thus far the military use of space has contributed
greatly to the knowledge that prevents adversaries from
misjudging each other. The best way to avoid war is to
employ those systems, in space as well as terrestrially,
which contribute to the policy of mutual deterrence -- a
policy which has worked over the past 35 years.
William J. Durch, National Interests and the Military
Use of Space (Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing Company,
1984), p. 5.
G. Harry Stine, Confrontation in Space (Englewood
Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981), p.50.
David Richie, Spacewar (New York: Antheneum, 1982),
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Durch, p. 19.
Nigel Flynn, War in Space (New York: Exeter Books,
1986), p. 12.
Flynn, p. 18.
Paul B. Stares, The Militarization Of Space (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 108.
Durch, p. 39.
Richie, p. 85.
Richie, p. 89.
Nigel, p. 12.
Nigel, p. 50.
Nigel, p. 91.
Nigel, p. 93.
Durch, p. 7.
Stine, p. 9.
Stine, p. 7.
Stine, pp. 7-8.
Stine, p. 9.
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and Day, 1982.
Burke, James. Connections. Boston: Little, Brown and
Durch, William J., ed. National interests and the Military
Use of Space. Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing Company,
Flynn, Nigel. War in Space. New York: Exter Books, 1986.
Karas, Thomas. The New High Ground. New York: Simon and
Lupton, David E., LtCol, USAF (Ret). On Space Warfare: A
Space Power Doctrine. Maxwell Air Force Base: Air
University Press, 1988.
Peebles, Curtis. Battle for Space. New York: Beaufort Books
Ritchie, David. Spacewar. New York: Antheneum, 1982.
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