Supremacy in outer space will be critical to 21st-century warfare, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested yesterday, as he unveiled sweeping changes to his country's military structure that may boost development of futuristic orbiting weapons.
The United States won't permit any nation to threaten its superiority in space, Mr. Rumsfeld said as he announced a new command structure that will control most military space programs, part of a major overhaul designed to create a new U.S. military now the Cold War is over.
Washington is expected to pour billions of dollars into developing space-based weapons, not only as part of its controversial plan to deploy missile interceptors, but also to protect satellites crucial to its military forces.
A major step by the U.S. government in turning the heavens into a war zone.
Karl Grossman, author of Weapons in Space and a professor at the State University of New York
"Satellites are our worldwide eyes and ears," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "U.S. space capabilities enable military forces to be warned of missile attack . . . and precisely attack targets in ways that minimize collateral damage and protect the lives of U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen."
Mr. Rumsfeld, who first served as defence secretary a quarter-century ago under former president Gerald Ford, is widely regarded as a hawk on the militarization of space, and has suggested that war in space, or at least the stationing of weapons there, is inevitable.
Last year, Mr. Rumsfeld led a congressional commission that spent six months examining U.S. security in space. He resigned the post after being nominated to the cabinet of President George W. Bush, and the panel's report was released just days before Mr. Bush took office.
Unless the United States develops and deploys weapons capable of defending its military and civilian assets in space, it could someday face a crippling surprise attack, "a space Pearl Harbor," the report warned.
"We know from history that every medium -- air, land and sea -- has seen conflict. . . . Reality indicates that space will be no different," the panel concluded.
Deploying a global missile shield to protect the United States, its troops abroad and its allies will only be part of the new U.S. military focus on outer space.
Although he did not provide specific details yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld made it clear that Washington is prepared to spend heavily on developing a variety of missile defences, some of which might be based in space.
"There are going to be eight, 10 or 12 different things that the Ballistic Missile Defense Office has come up with that they think merit attention," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "To the extent they work -- terrific, we'll put more money behind them. To the extent they don't, we'll try to find a better way to do these things."
He also announced the creation of a new senior military position, which will command various activities in space, to be filled by a four-star Air Force general as yet unnamed. The Air Force will be the primary arm of the U.S. military in space.
For years, military planners have toyed with an array of space-based weaponry -- from hypersonic bombers that could reach any place on Earth within a few hours to satellites armed with powerful lasers and suicide satellites capable of manoeuvring close to an enemy satellite and then blowing up.
The United States already has developed limited weapons against missiles and satellites, including a missile fired from a high-flying warplane that can attack a low-orbiting satellite.
Mr. Bush has said he wants a new focus on advanced military technology, including unmanned aircraft and remote-fired weapons that would further reduce the risk of U.S. casualties in any conflict.
Karl Grossman, author of Weapons in Space and a professor at the State University of New York, called the announcement "a major step by the U.S. government in turning the heavens into a war zone."
Flanked by members of the commission, Mr. Rumsfeld said Washington remained "committed to the exploration and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes," but said that wasn't incompatible with the United States developing systems to defend its assets in space. He said the changes he outlined yesterday will allow Washington to "focus on meeting the national-security needs of the 21st century and sustain the United States' position as the world's leading spacefaring nation."
But he also said it was premature to consider creating a self-contained space force, separate from the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force.
"It is conceivable we could end up there in some period of years," Mr. Rumsfeld said, adding that if the U.S. Air Force copes well with its added responsibility as the lead military arm in space, it would be a "space-air entity."
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