Report Says Many Space Weapons Systems Would Carry Huge Cost
But Some Systems Might Be Cost-Effective For Limited Missions
Placing weapons in space or installing systems in orbit to defend space assets such as satellites from attack could be inordinately expensive, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).
Price tags for various types of systems could range from the tens of billions of dollars to hundreds of billions, according to CSBA figures based on its own calculations and estimates of other experts, in the report by Steven M. Kosiak, vice president – budget studies with CSBA, a defense-oriented Washington think tank.
Many castigate any move to place weapons in space, wishing it to remain a peaceful realm with a right of free passage for all, and Kosiak states that it appears no nation has yet placed weapons in orbit. At the same time, he notes that some observers say it is only a matter of time before weapons of war arrive at the final frontier.
He examines four categories of possible weaponization of space:
- Systems to defend the United States and its interests against ballistic missile strikes.
- Space-based weapon systems that could, while in orbit, attack ground-based targets, both those actually on the surface of the planet and enemy airborne threats.
- Systems to destroy or disable enemy satellites, effectively meaning a U.S. satellite that would assail enemy spacecraft in orbit.
- A system to defend U.S. satellites against enemy anti-satellite weapons.
Whichever of these possibilities one examines, costs won’t be cheap, though some seem more affordable than others, according to the CSBA report.
For example, a space-based laser weapon for attacking ground-based enemy targets might carry a price tag on the order of $128 billion to $196 billion. A space-based laser ballistic missile defense system would carry a similar price tag.
And a space-based ballistic kinetic-energy missile defense interceptor system to attack and kill enemy missiles might go for $29 billion to $290 billion (strides in miniaturization technology would move the cost to the low end of that range).
Since China proved this year that it possesses the capability to demolish satellites in orbit with a ground-based interceptor missile, or to disable them with a ground-based laser, then perhaps U.S. policymakers might be interested in developing a space-based system to defeat enemy anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.
Citing estimates by others, the CSBA report sees a space-based laser constellation of 24 U.S. battle stations in orbit costing perhaps $92 billion to acquire and operate over the lifetime of the system.
Other proposed space-based military systems also would carry cosmic cost figures, compared to costs of continuing current ground-based or air-based programs, leading Kosiak to write the following conclusions about the fiscal feasibility of militarizing space:
- “A constellation of space-based weapons designed to defend the United States against an attack with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) would be extremely costly to acquire and support. Moreover, at least based on the technology likely to be available over the next twenty years, such a system would probably not prove to be a cost effective investment, especially when measured against the cost to a potential adversary of defeating such a system.
- “While space-based weapons intended to strike terrestrial based targets could, in some cases, cost substantially less to acquire and support than space-based ballistic missile defense systems, such weapons would likely prove more costly — and, in some instances, far more costly — than comparably effective terrestrial-based alternatives.
- “While space-based anti-satellite weapons would also generally be less costly to acquire and support than space-based ballistic missile defense systems, there does not appear to be a compelling need, on either cost or effectiveness grounds, to acquire a dedicated space-based ASAT capability — in part, because the U.S. military already possesses or is acquiring a range of terrestrial-based weapons with significant inherent ASAT capabilities.
- “Space-based defensive (‘bodyguard’) satellites would, to a great extent, be indistinguishable from space-based ASAT weapons. Thus, such systems would likely have similar costs. In addition, their deployment would presumably have similar implications for sparking or accelerating an arms race in space. These weapons would also be incapable of protecting against some of the ASAT threats most likely to emerge in coming years. A more effective and cost-effective approach might be to rely on a range of passive countermeasures. Strengthening U.S. space surveillance and tracking capabilities could also offer an important means of improving the security of U.S. satellites.
- “Although space-based weapons designed to strike terrestrial based targets, conduct ASAT attacks, or intercept enemy ASAT weapons appear to be neither necessary, nor, generally, as cost effective as terrestrial-based alternatives, in a few instances — unlike space-based ballistic missile defense systems — they appear to be relatively affordable and may even represent [a] cost-effective option.”
To read the full 106-page report entitled “Arming the Heavens: A Preliminary Assessment of the Potential Cost and Cost-Effectiveness of Space-Based Weapons” in its entirety, please go to http://www.csbaonline.org on the Web.