Washington, June 8: The US is planning to take control of parts of space and develop patrolling military aircraft in orbit as part of a revived Star Wars proposal for an American military empire above the ozone layer.
According to James Roche, the US air force secretary, America’s allies would have “no veto power” over projects designed to achieve American military control of space.
The key theme of the ambitious plans is described as “negation” — the denial of the use of space for military intelligence, or other purposes, without American endorsement.
The plans come after the successful use of global positioning satellites (GPS) and other space technology during the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the intelligence agency that is responsible for US spy satellites, is to develop a strategy that ensures America’s allies, as well as its enemies, never gain access to the same space resources without Washington’s permission. Recent proposals that have been circulated at Space Command and NRO briefings suggest that access to “near-earth space” may be refused to other nations.
All GPS satellites are located within near-earth space, which covers the orbital distance from earth to the moon. A fleet of spacecraft will be developed, designed to attack and destroy future satellites of enemies and rivals. The rapid-launch “military space plane,” the potential cost of which has not been disclosed, would also be used as a mobile “bodyguard” for US space installations. It would be the first “space plane” in history with a directly military function.
A prototype is expected by 2005 although military deployment is not expected before 2014. “It will hopefully be a new kind of vehicle, equipped for the challenges of the future,” said a Pentagon official.
After the recent military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, US air force command claimed that American forces on the ground had a decisive advantage in gathering intelligence and targeting enemy troop positions.
As a result, the Pentagon believes that the struggle to control space will form the next stage of a global arms race.
Its plans confirm that America expects space to be “weaponised” in the medium-term future, and is determined to take an unassailable technological lead.
Two years ago, a report commissioned by Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, warned of the danger of a “Space Pearl Harbour” if America did not take action to protect itself.
At America’s National Space Symposium, held in April in Colorado Springs, Gen Lance Lord, the commander of US Air Force Space Command, explained the logic of the new strategy to a largely military audience.
“The pursuit of asymmetric advantage is not new,” he said. “In the 20th century, air power emerged as just such an advantage. Today, at the outset of the 21st century, we are realising the sam e sort of advantage through space power.”
It was at the same forum that Roche warned America’s allies not to expect any veto over its plans.
Until now, international treaties have forbidden the deployment of weapons in outer space, although a loophole exists which allows the US to use its satellites for military intelligence.
The 1967 Space Treaty — the first international legislation on space exploitation — also stated that outer space should be free for exploration and use by all states, and would not be subject to national appropriation by occupation or any other means.
Last month, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Ivanov, repeated Moscow’s demands for the complete demilitarisation of space.
In March last year, however, Peter Teets, the under-secretary of the air force and director of the NRO, said: “I believe that weapons will go into space. It’s a question of time. And we need to be at the forefront of that.”
A department of defence review in 2001 also stated that “a key objective (for the US) is not only to ensure US ability to exploit space for military purposes but also as required to deny an adversary’s ability to do so”. Canadian government officials have already complained that senior American officials have begun to exclude them from sensitive areas of joint aerospace defence operations.
The implications of an American military monopoly in space are bound to concern European allies, who have recently agreed to launch their own $3.2billion satellite navigation system — Galileo — which is to be used only for civilian purposes.
Europe has long resisted the prospect of a military use of space technology.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s strategic defence initiative — the so-called “Star Wars” plan — to use space technology to repel Soviet missiles, ending the era of nuclear deterrence, drew fierce resistance from allies.
President George W Bush’s plans for a satellite-guided missile defence system have now largely been accepted.