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Hunter: U.S. Needs BMD To Protect Military, Financial Space Assets

By | February 5, 2007

      The United States must assemble a system to obliterate any enemy missiles launched toward U.S. space assets, not only military satellites carrying critical communications, intelligence and data, but also U.S. commercial satellites vital to continued functioning of the American economy, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, said.

      Hunter, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), was joined in speaking to reporters by Rep. Terry Everett of Alabama, ranking Republican of the strategic forces subcommittee.

      Everett said if an enemy destroyed satellites used by major credit card companies, and satellites used by the Federal Reserve, that could stop commercial transactions and bring the largest economy on the planet to its knees.

      For example, Everett said, banks, credit card companies, retailers and others use satellites to obtain the precise time so as to time-stamp the millions of transactions they process in the economy each day. Eliminating satellites could “shut it down,” he said. “All of that would stop immediately.”

      However, some sources have said that sensitive systems are equipped with multiple layers of backups, so that taking out a few satellites wouldn’t cause a crisis. For example, Army Brig. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), said China can’t blind U.S. military forces communications or the U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system by shooting down American satellites. (Please see story in this issue.)

      Separately, a U.S. senator weighed in on the issue.

      The United States should initiate a space-based test bed defense for its space assets, a defensive system against enemy missiles that would include both kinetic and directed-energy components, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), said.

      Because China shot down one of its own satellites, the United States now is on notice that its vital space assets, including military satellites, are at risk, Kyl said before the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

      “The Missile Defense Agency needs to begin building a space-based test bed which would include both kinetic and directed-energy components,” Kyl said.

      “The best way to protect our satellites … is to ensure that the [enemy] missiles never leave the atmosphere,” he said.

      The United States, including the Bush administration, has been too muted in its response to the emergent Chinese threat, and members of Congress as well have been too focused on Iraq to examine the danger posed by China, according to Kyl, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee terrorism, technology and homeland security subcommittee. He chaired the subcommittee until Democrats won control of Congress last year.

      U.S. leaders and negotiators are “too diplomatic” toward China, and “unwilling to speak truth to these issues,” he said. This can create a dangerous misimpression in Beijing that the United States is unprepared to respond to China if it takes wrongful actions.

      Such a misimpression could heighten chances of conflict, he said.

      Kyl attributed the muted U.S. response to the new threat to the fact that the United States has a complex relationship with China, a huge nation that manufactures many of the goods that Americans consume. “We want to engage China,” he said, noting the United States has an immense trade relationship with China, and also wants to work with China to counter threats arising from nuclear weapons and missile technology developments in North Korea and Iran.

      Letter To Bush

      Hunter and Everett spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill after China Jan. 11 shot down one of its own satellites in orbit about 500 miles above the Earth, demonstrating the capability to demolish U.S. and allied military and civilian satellites in space. China also last year “painted” a U.S. satellite with a ground-based laser. Lasers can be used to disable satellites.

      Hunter and Everett signed a letter to President Bush saying that the United States must be able to defend its space assets from an enemy attack.

      “The dependency of American warfighting capability, and the economy, on space assets compels our nation to take the necessary steps to ensure our forces cannot be targeted through an adversarial space strike,” the letter asserted.

      “Space capabilities are integral to the daily execution of virtually every military campaign, operation, and exercise involving U.S. forces today,” the letter stated. “Therefore, a review of Department of Defense programs intended to preserve American space assets is warranted.”

      Some military analysts have said the United States should have ballistic missile defense systems (BMD) to defeat any enemy missiles before they can hit U.S. or allied space assets.

      “New programs which provide protection, redundancy, and reconstitution of space assets should be essential,” the letter continued. “It is important that substantial efforts are made now to avoid technological surprise.”

      A basic given in military strategy, Hunter said, is to “protect your eyes,” to guard against and to annihilate anything that threatens the intelligence, communications and other key systems.

      He said the Pentagon must ensure it meets two goals here: first, to defend assets in space, and secondly to guard against dangerous transfers of sensitive technology to other nations that might wind up in enemy hands.

      He said the United States needs to build a protective system to guard space assets with “a fairly substantial margin for safety.”

      China not only has a newly-revealed ability to take down U.S. space assets, it also has the capability to attack U.S. Navy ships, Hunter said.

      With some 750 to 1,000 radar-guided missiles, if American forces attempted to intervene against a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, China “would be able to hold off the U.S. fleet long before it gets to the straits between the mainland and Taiwan,” Hunter said.

      While the Navy is planning to build stealthy DDG 1000 destroyers that could evade those radars, and is building smaller Littoral Combat Ships that have low signatures on radar, current ships in inventory ranging from Arleigh Burke Class DDG 51 destroyers up to Nimitz Class aircraft carriers can be seen on enemy radars.

      China also is building a capability to wage electronic warfare against U.S. computer systems, Hunter said.

      On a related topic, Everett questioned rising costs of the Airborne Laser, a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system mounted in a Boeing 747; the Space Based Infrared system providing enhanced worldwide missile detection and tracking capabilities, battlefield data, and technical intelligence; and the Transformational Satellite Communications asset, or T-SAT. He said costs have risen from “low-ball bids” on ABL, SBIRS and TSAT. He said he is not saying that budget cuts for those programs necessarily would be in store, however.

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