The U.S. Air Force has asked for permission, and lots of money, to develop space
weapons. The announcement was a bit vague, but what it actually refers to are a
string of wargames and studies over the last decade that have revealed America?s
increasing vulnerability in space. A large chunk of commercial, and military,
communications are via space satellites. The military also uses dozens of spy
satellites, not just for taking pictures, but for listening to electronic
traffic below. It?s also been noted that it?s getting cheaper and cheaper to go
after large, expensive, communications or espionage satellites. Smaller
satellites are the main weapon in space weapon, little ?suicide satellites? who
are directed to the general vicinity of their targets by ground controllers,
then use onboard sensors to make the final run, and destroy a billion dollars
worth of someone else?s satellite. A slightly larger ?attack satellite,?
carrying more fuel for maneuvering, could carry small rockets, enabling it to
take out more than one satellite.
The problem with space warfare is that
it?s so expensive to get up there (over $5,000 a pound), and once you are there,
you need fuel to power small rockets that enable you to change orbit, and get
near other satellites. If you are the United States, you defend your hundreds of
communications and espionage satellites with your own little ?hunter-killer?
satellites that will go out and destroy enemy ?hunter-killers.? No lasers or
photon torpedoes, just shooting lead balls at each other.
other options in space, like nuclear weapons and lasers, but the former is
dangerous to have in orbit, and the latter is very expensive (requiring a lot of
power) to operate. To date, nothing is more efficient at destroying a
(preferably larger) satellite, than another (preferably much smaller) one
smashing right into it. Smaller, cheaper and more powerful electronics have made
it possible to build more effective and, most importantly, lighter,
hunter-killer satellites. In any future war, Americas major vulnerability will
be in orbital space. If a hostile nation builds even a few effective (it isn?t
easy to design and launch these things) hunter-killer satellites, the United
States is in trouble. So the U.S. Air Force wants to get prepared, to build
battle satellites to keep hostile hunter-killers away from American
communications and espionage birds up there. The air force also wants to stake a
claim on another large pot of money. Cash is power in the Pentagon, especially
when it?s denominated in the billions. Fighting in space will cost a lot, a
whole lot, of money.