Re: "Only Power Can Protect Peace"
9:25 AM, Nov 3, 2009 • By STUART KOEHL
But all of these options will be expensive and take time to deploy. Satellites in low earth orbit (LEO), such as our imaging surveillance satellites, are the most vulnerable, because they can be intercepted by something as simple as a ballistic missile lofting a keg of nails into its flight path. Maneuvering the satellite would make its orbit less predictable, but every maneuver burns up fuel that is needed to keep the satellite in orbit. Moving the satellites out to geosynchronous orbit (GEO) would offer a number of benefits in addition to enhancing survivability. Present satellites can only observe a given spot on the earth for a few minutes each day, while one in GEO can stare at a given spot 24/7 -- the kind of "persistent" surveillance that is so useful in low intensity warfare. But nothing is free: the resolution of the cameras on surveillance satellites is a factor of altitude and aperture size. Moving our surveillance satellites from LEO to GEO will require the development of very large mirrors which cannot fit inside the satellite (as is presently the case), but which must be unfolded like an umbrella once the satellite is on station. This represents a whole set of technical challenges that will take years to resolve (much of the research is being done under the aegis of NASA's next generation space telescope programs).
For this reason, it will be necessary for the U.S. to continue developing robust offensive space capabilities, such as ASAT interceptors; "fighter" satellites that could protect our vulnerable satellites from enemy ASATs; and ground-based anti-satellite lasers to blind enemy surveillance satellites. Again, this is going to take time and money, but not doing so is to cede the high ground to potential adversaries.
But, before any of this can happen, the U.S. has to get its military satellite programs under control. Practically every new satellite system is years behind schedule and billions over budget. Most of the blame can be ascribed to the loss of experienced space program management personnel who have retired and not been replaced, forcing the military to rely on space system contractors to serve as "lead systems integrators" -- the people who build the satellites are also the ones who manage the program on behalf of the government. The results should have been expected. The military compounded the problem by attempting to inject "competition" and "innovation" into its space programs during the last decade or so. Entrenched incumbents with many years of experience were displaced by newcomers who tended to over-promise on capabilities while low-balling costs. Since nobody remaining on the government side had the experience to provide a sanity check, the disconnect between what was promised and what could be delivered within the schedule and budget was discovered only after the fact, placing the military in the position of either backing off on requirements or pumping more money into the program in the hope that the contractor could fix the problem. But space is an unforgiving environment, in which one learns only by making costly mistakes. Hence, the U.S. will be saddled for years with aging and obsolescent space systems while its new programs play catch-up.