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The Cape, Chapter I, Section 9

USAF Space Organizations and Programs

U.S. and Soviet Military Space Competition in the 1970s and 1980s

A wide variety of military spacecraft were launched from the Cape during the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. Some of them have already been mentioned in connection with launch vehicle programs presented in this chapter, and most of them will be addressed in somewhat greater detail (where security guidelines allow) as individual military missions in the next two chapters. Before we move on, we should note the operative principles that put all those individual efforts into a growing national military space strategy in the 1980s.

It is safe to say that the U.S. and Soviet "space race" of the 1960s had already given way to a very low-key, sophisticated competition for military superiority in space by the late 1970s. Like the five fingers of a hand, the U.S. and the Soviet Union measured their military space capabilities in terms of: 1) communications, 2) navigation, 3) reconnaissance/early warning/weather surveillance, 4) offensive systems (i.e. ballistic missiles) and 5) defensive systems. American political leaders saw military space systems mature in the 1970s, but they were soon confronted with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) reports that suggested the Soviet Union had narrowed the "technology gap" between itself and the United States. The Reagan Administration maintained that Soviet defense outlays exceeded American defense spending by 20 percent in 1972, by 55 percent in 1976 and by 45 percent in 1981. Throughout that period, the Soviet Union had reportedly spent 10 percent more than the U.S. in the crucial areas of research, development, test and evaluation. (In the area of defensive/offensive space capabilities, some officials believed years of Soviet research into the principles of directed energy might yield experimental particle beam and laser "devices" by the mid-1980s.) Though many Democrats and some Republican congressmen challenged those claims, popular support for a stronger national defense grew. Thus, despite program cost overruns and launch failures, three factors-politics, Soviet military competition, and rapidly changing technology-coalesced to commit the United States to deploy more capable military space systems and launch more sophisticated space experiments in the late 1980s. In the next two chapters, we will examine those efforts, and we will look at the field agencies and contractors who made those individual launch operations possible.48

The Cape: Miltary Space Operations 1971-1992
by Mark C. Cleary, Chief Historian
45 Space Wing Office of History
1201 Minuteman Ave, Patrick AFB, FL 32925

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