Space - The Forgotten Frontier
Washington, April 9th, 2005 -- With all our attentions focused on the squabbles in the sandbox of the Middle East, chasing the mirage of Osama bin Laden, and debating how to finish the war with Iraq, we have missed the disturbing trends in our own heavens. Not "Little Green Men" from Mars, but little Gold and Silver satellites from Earth, and the rockets to put them up there.
Without these orbiting radio stations, modern warfare, navigation, commerce, and communications would cease. There are dark storm clouds on the horizon, and Space will soon become a battleground, of words, litigation, halted projects, and ultimately defeated armies on the battlefield. Simply there is an acute shortage of spectrum, orbital slots, and far too many players joining the Space Race. With the technology to put a satellite into an accurate orbit, and with the ability to produce a nuclear explosion, comes the key to the exclusive Nuclear Club.
But the problems, especially for the United States, are just as much in the civil arena, as they are in the military. The only hope for the congested civil aviation industry, is to go to a satellite based navigation system. The obvious, according to the US, is to use their GPS network, controlled by the Pentagon. Not so, say the Europeans. How can rely on a global navigation system that civilian access can be terminated at any time by a General in Washington. Just because America feels threatened, does not justify thousands of airliners being without navigation, and risking horrendous collisions.
The Europeans therefore have announced plans for a multi-billion global positioning and navigation system called Galileo. The US military is furious for they see it being used against US Forces on the field of battle. Paranoia, says the rest of the world, as the Russians already have an independent system, this is about US manufacturers losing their advantage with production, and technology subsidies from the military.If a country, or large corporation, wants a satellite to relay 60 channels of television to an entire continent, then it goes to the major manufacturers, such as Lockheed, or Hughes. If it wants a simple spy satellite, for a few hours, or days, it can build one itself.
Here is another problem. The number of spy satellites being built, and launched is growing exponentially. They can be low orbit, recovered capsules, similar to the old Corona series, or SIGINT/ELINT built into communications satellites. Even high resolution photographs can be bought, of any area in the world, without the permission of the United States. In the good old days of the Cold War, every satellite was either American, or Soviet. True other nations borrowed their launch vehicles, and put up their own, but even when Ariane came along, it was dominated by the Superpowers.
The agreement was that the US and the Soviet Union would leave each others space assets alone. Now with so many nations having developed launch vehicles, or purchased surplus Soviet ICBM rockets, who knows what is being put into space. It is theoretically possible that North Korea, or Iran could cripple the US Military, given enough time, and with satellites made by the local University. Japan, China, Russia, Israel, Iran, India, and several others can lob small satellites into orbit.
This brings up another confrontation. Countries around the globe want their slice of both the spectrum, and the slots around the Equator. The US occupies most of the slots in their hemisphere, and developing countries are starting to see problems with this "Wild West Space Grab". Some want them for themselves, others want the United States, and their rich commercial operators, to pay rent. On the committees that allocate spectrum, the US has only one vote. This angers Washington, who feel the entire world should march to the beat of their drum.
But Washington is no longer speaking with a unified voice, as the US military is at odds with US industry, and the US military have their own problems with deploying the latest command, control and communications equipment to potential battlefields around the world.The US military is very spectrum greedy, and has grabbed huge chunks for their bandwidth hungry command and control networks. That works well in the US, but in Asia, and Europe that same spectrum is used for other purposes.
The frightening scenario is that some systems, which work great in Area 51, Afghanistan, and Somalia, may be jammed and prove useless if deployed to populated areas of the world. And there is growing competition for every slice of the spectrum, some frequencies, considered essential by the military, are being sought for a whole new generation of communication, and computer devices. If the US military hangs on to a lot of it’s frequency blocks, then US manufacturers will have no domestic market for a whole range of new wireless "Killer Apps". The option is to restrict the military, balancing huge profits, against a possible military conflict. The concept of technology based warfare, special forces, and intelligent weapons has one "Achilles Heel", they all rely of space based technology, and assets.
True it is difficult to knock out a satellite, and the spares, to achieve total system failures, but the problem with satellites is that they are up there, and we are down here. Break that link, and your multi-billion Ass kicking military weapon, becomes a pleasing firework display in the night sky. But as long as you can keep the EP3’s and similar aircraft out of enemy hands, then you keep the vulnerabilities secret.
Has anyone monitored the Chinese Space program lately?