The Escalating Costs of Space Control
July 21st 2001
By Loring Wirbel
As elements of George Bush's revamped military plan were released
piecemeal over the course of the summer, the contradictions and
hypocrisies were as evident in the work of Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld's master plan as they were in the Cheney/Abraham energy policy.
The White House is trying to satisfy a Republican leadership that wants to own it all, while proving that it can move to a leaner, more agile defense establishment that fits within the boundaries of a post-tax-cut national budget. The inconsistencies are there for everyone to see, nowhere more evident than in space imperialism.
Even prior to the official May unveiling of an expanded Global Missile Defense program, the Bush administration was faced with an open-ended military space program with costs that could quickly expand beyond the $100 billion level. This is not only because U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to accelerate peripheral missile-defense programs like airborne laser and Navy boost-phase defense, as well as the ground-based kinetic-defense program. It is also because the true costs of maintaining the type of planetary space control promoted by U.S. Space Command, includes many of the underlying costs of National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, and multiple tactical intelligence programs.
Slowly, the realization is dawning on many within the defense establishment that the Space Command rhetoric, now adopted department-wide within DoD, cannot be supported in reality without massive increases in defense spending. With Rumsfeld's pet missile-defense programs operating at cross-purposes to his weapon-systems study projects, the schisms between space imperialists and budget-cutters could manifest themselves in very public ways by the end of 2001.
Rumsfeld has tried to paint himself as a budget-cutter, pledging to retire the B-1 bomber and eliminate redundant terrestrial weapons programs such as a field howitzer. But in reality, this spring's top-to-bottom defense review is expected to seek as much as $200 to $300 billion more in overall defense spending for the five-year period from 2002 to 2007, beyond the current anticipated defense spending total of $2 trillion. Not so coincidentally, the review is being completed just as President Bush made an expanded push for missile defense, announced May 1, which will broaden Clinton's NMD program into a multi-faceted monster for swallowing budget billions.
In some ways, the uncontrolled cost of space control is nothing new. No matter how much defense officials and certain members of Congress would like to deploy a tenuous missile-defense system of some kind, the reality of being overwhelmed with countermeasures has hit generation after generation of would-be Star Warriors. Reagan's dream of continental missile defense evolved into the bureaucratic Strategic Defense Initiative Office, which managed to spend $3 billion a year on nothing at all. George Bush Senior's GPALS (Global Protection Against Limited Strikes) tried to re-forge missile defense for the post-Cold War era, but ended up spending the same amount of money with similarly little to show for it.
On paper, Clinton's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization spent between $3 and $4 billion annually on a program focused primarily on testing re-entry phase tactical missiles such as ERIS and THAAD, which were intended to provide only a "thin" defense of tactical regions. Programs such as airborne laser and space-based laser still were in their infancy, placing them early on the pricing curve for overall BMD budgets.
But the price of empire-building in the Clinton administration was never as straightforward as advertised. The primary purpose of imaging and signals intelligence in the 1990s shifted from verification of arms-control treaties to "serving the warfighter." Consequently, new satellites and ground stations of the NRO and NSA, the costs of which are classified but run into several tens of billions of dollars, properly belong in the arsenal of space imperialism. Similarly, the programs of space warfare managed from Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, which are financed out of service-specific tactical intelligence operations such as TENCAP (Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities) and TIARA (Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities), should be considered part and parcel of the price of bossing the planet.
It is important to stress how normalized these operations have become. Schriever's Joint National Test Center conducted a series of classified missions called the "Talon" programs in the mid-1990s, in which intelligence from multiple NRO and NSA sources was "fused" into a coherent whole and provided in real-time delivery to battleship command posts, jet fighter cockpits, and even individual special operations soldiers. Once the Talon tests proved successful, the methodology became mundane, using worldwide defense multimedia networks such as Global Broadcast System and SIPRnet (Secret IP Router Network). Real-time space intelligence to the warfighter was provided to allied troops and pilots in Kosovo, for example. And as part of Plan Colombia, the U.S. has established Forward Operating Locations in Manta, Ecuador; Comalapa, El Salvador; Aruba; and Curacao; all of which will coordinate ground and space intelligence to serve counterinsurgency and anti-drug missions in Colombia.
In short, the boastful language of Space Command's Almanac 2000 and Long-Range Plan can be backed up in practice by re-assigning intelligence and communication networks, once tasked to the Cold War, to everyday tactical battle-management duties. In 1995, then-NRO Director Jeffrey Harris boasted in a public speech to the National Space Symposium that "we' re moving terabyte-miles of data per second through intelligence networks in order to provide real-time intelligence to the warfighter." But the costs of such an effort are phenomenal.
NRO was the first to taste the sting of cost overruns. After receiving virtual carte-blanche approval for new imaging and listening satellites during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, NRO got a classified reprimand from Congress in 1993 for contracting a program, Wide Area Surveillance System, which Congress explicitly barred from funding. The agency took public heat in 1994 for not monitoring the expanded costs of its new headquarters in Chantilly, Va. Then, in late 1995, the agency admitted to not being able to account for more than $1 billion of an annual budget estimated at more than $5 billion. As a result, NRO Director Jeffrey Harris and Deputy Director Jimmie Hall were fired in early 1996.
Keith Hall came to the agency from a Congressional staff position in 1996, with a pledge to make the NRO accountable to the maximum extent possible for a very secret agency. As a result, he was foiled again and again in gaining the systems he wanted. To be sure, a new $25 billion imaging satellite program called 8X Future Imagery Architecture was approved, and the initial contracts let to Boeing and subcontractors in 2000 were partially responsible for alleviating the economic downturn in Orange County, Calif. in 2001. Hall also was able to complete a highly classified signals intelligence satellite program called Integrated Overhead SIGINT Architecture (IOSA), featuring satellites with unfurlable antennas larger than football fields, and vastly expanded satellite ground stations at Menwith Hill, UK; Bad Aibling, Germany; Pine Gap, Australia; and Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.
But Hall could not gain support for a newer IOSA-2, which would have moved the agency to larger constellations of smaller, low-earth-orbit satellites for fast-response electronic listening. And NRO was blocked by Congress from funding a multi-function space-based radar called Discoverer-2. Some of the NRO's problems were based less on Congressional budget hawks than on the lobbying of aerospace giants like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, who did not want funding priorities for space intelligence changed. But the end result was frustration, and Hall ended up resigning his post in April 2001.
Congress created a friendly commission to study the problems in NRO, and the organization released a report in November 2000 on the future of space intelligence. The commission accepted as a given that the U.S. should have sole rights to monitor earth from space on a round-the-clock basis, and the cover of its document used a quote on the fear of a new "Pearl Harbor," an image which would be exploited to greater benefit in the Rumsfeld Commission's January 2001 report on space.
The commission concluded that the agency may not have to cope with a global adversary like the Soviet Union, but that NRO was being overwhelmed with new demands from tactical commands in the services. What the commission did not say was that this was a direct result of the migration from arms-treaty verification to direct battlefield management, which took place with full bipartisan support during the 1990s. Rather than ask whether such missions were legitimate, the commission suggested that new, higher-level authority be granted to prioritizing NRO missions at the White House level.
The commission had an interesting response to the concern that NRO was losing its edge in long-term space development. The agency's very existence had been classified from 1960 until 1992, when then-director Martin Faga gave the first official disclosure of its mission to manage development and operation of spy satellites. Since then, several within the intelligence community have grumbled privately that an open spy-satellite agency, particularly one which has been placed under scrutiny by Congress for over-spending, just can't keep pace with private industry. The NRO Commission suggested that a new highly-classified agency-within-the-agency, called the Office of Space Reconnaissance, be created inside NRO. This office would be able to bypass budget restrictions in order to work on long-range research.
At the recent Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, NRO's director of advanced systems and technology, Carol Staubach, sounded the alarm that the agency couldn't keep pace with technology integration any more, with budgets under such tight scrutiny. She said that a special Space Technology Alliance formed by several space-related government agencies had released a study on advanced technologies in late 2000, with findings Staubach called "appalling." Long-term R&D in space intelligence had been replaced by a sole focus on short-term fixes, she said.
"What we're not doing is retaining long-term investments to maintain an edge in space," Staubach said. "I really think there's a crisis brewing."
Although the National Security Agency managed to keep a lower profile in the 1990s than the NRO, its director, AF Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, recognized the value in raising a sense of alarm. Over the course of 2000, the agency opened its doors to author James Bamford and the camera crews of History Channel, ABC, and CBS. In addition, after the NRO admitted it had a serious Y2K-related malfunction of ground-station processing equipment at Fort Belvior, Va., Hayden admitted to ABC late in January 2000, that NSA processing computers at Fort Meade, Md., had been down for several days due to a Y2K glitch.
In early 2001, the agency turned up the heat, telling CBS's "60 Minutes II" that Osama bin Laden could outpace the NSA by relying on a $3 trillion commercial communications infrastructure that could beat out the agency in its capabilities to encode and hide communications (NSA wanted to single out CBS because the "60 Minutes" program had carried a feature on the Echelon SIGINT network in February 2000). Hayden spoke at length to Bamford for the author's follow-on book to The Puzzle Palace, pointing out that the turn to optical fiber for long-haul communications had hindered the agency, and saying that Congress was paying greater scrutiny to NSA precisely at a time when more agencies wanted its intelligence product faster.
NSA has come to rely on the NRO, and on space in general, to a larger extent than at any time since its founding in 1952. Many high-frequency direction-finder ground stations which NSA deployed worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s, have been replaced by satellites in space. Sometimes, the ground stations are removed as a response to political instability, but often, NSA has been able to shut ground stations by relying on satellite ground stations jointly managed with the NRO.
During the 1990s, the NSA helped NRO create joint "Regional SIGINT Operation Centers," or RSOCs, at Medina Annex, Texas; Fort Gordon, Ga.; and Kunia, Hawaii. It also added staff to the Big Four IOSA ground stations at Menwith Hill, Pine Gap, Bad Aibling, and Buckley. NSA tried to prove it was willing to participate in budget cutting when it announced the closure of Bad Aibling in May, though the German SIGINT base's functions will be taken over by Menwith Hill and a new U.S. base in Hungary. Yet it is no surprise that NRO and NSA would both raise alarms about their need to snare more funding.
What was left unsaid once again in the horror stories being fed to Congress, was an explicit recognition that the NSA was being overtasked because of the new expectations that it provide immediate intelligence to warfighters for the purposes of planetary dominance. Defense analyst Michael Klare calls this new bipartisan defense policy of the U.S. "Permanent Preeminence," and says it deliberately remains unspoken because no one in the legislative or executive branches wants to sound like an imperialist - even though the policy most resembles the waning days of the British Empire one century ago.
On the eve of Bush's inauguration, space policy got its most explicit delineation with the release of the report of the Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization, the famous report warning of a "Space Pearl Harbor." This report called for changing the overall management of space defense prior to an increase in funding - retaining Air Force control for the time being, but moving in the mid-term to a Space Corps, and in the long term to a true Department of Space.
The new Rumsfeld Commission (not to be confused with the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission on missile defense) called for transforming the military capabilities of the U.S. to deter attack and defend the national capabilities for surveillance and communications. It called for strengthening space intelligence across the board. It did not call for renunciation of the Outer Space Treaty or Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but called for "shaping the international legal and regulatory environment" for the U.S.'s own ends.
Nowhere in the report does the commission bring up the language of the Space Command, in that agency's Vision for 2020 or Long-Range Plan, in which Space Command says that control of space must be retained to maintain a U.S. advantage internationally, and to reinforce the current resource balance between haves and have-nots.
This is precisely what makes the image of a Space Pearl Harbor so ludicrous. The U.S. was well aware in 1941 that Japan's Navy had global power projection and imperial intent, and was also aware that the embargo against Japan would likely spur an attack. The only missing element was the time and place.
In 2001, the U.S. is the only nation that has global power projection, and has reserved for itself the right to deny space to other nations. Indeed, the real danger of a Space Pearl Harbor comes from the U.S. seeking to impose its rules on neophyte nations just entering space. It is all too common for an aggressor nation to paint itself as the potential victim, in order to cover for further expansion of its military capabilities.
But at the 2001 Space Symposium conference, panelists analyzing the Rumsfeld Commission report expressed concern that the U.S. could be wandering into an era of uncontrolled budget expansion, unless the nation could define its missions and establish budget priorities in a more straightforward fashion.
Whit Peters, the former Secretary of the Air Force, said that real policy is expressed through which programs are funded, and said "we need to look at what is not budgeted as much as what is budgeted." Peters said that the Space Command's new missions in computer defense and computer attack were examples of how missions were being created without full consideration of how they would be funded. And he said that the Rumsfeld Commission had not made the case that terrestrial missions for battlefield control needed constant missions in space.
"There is not a consensus that the current plans for ground-based operations and for cyberwar require the type of constant space-based operations called for in the commission report," Peters said.
This view, however, assumes that the U.S. will not explicitly adopt its de facto "permanent preeminence" role as the sole remaining superpower, seeking unilateral global control. In the aftermath of Bush's statements on China and Taiwan, on Kyoto and the U.S.'s environmental responsibility, and on the U.S.'s intelligence rights, this is not a safe assumption. If permanent preeminence has been implicitly accepted in the United States on a bipartisan basis for the last decade, there is no reason that the Bush administration will seek to sugar-coat its language any longer. Unfortunately, it's uncertain that a majority of Americans would object to defiantly declaring that we are the bosses of the planet, and that other nations had better get used to it.
The context in which Rumsfeld has placed the permanent preeminence
doctrine is one in which the Defense Department has pledged to back away
from the "two-war" demands other administrations had set for
U.S. forces in the post-Cold-War years. But there is less here
than meets the eye. The
Even by mid-spring, Rumsfeld looked like more of a paper tiger than he appeared in January. Because the former Ford administration official insisted on compartmentalization and secrecy in preparing his review of U.S. military missions, he was alienating even the conservative wing of the Republican Party that constituted his main base of support.
Since Bush had appointed national-security leaders from a
Nixon-Ford-Reagan "old school" that wished to exploit
superpower unilateralism, it was evident that a new defense policy
Rumsfeld promised in January that overall reviews of military
strategy, and of weapons and doctrine, would be part of several secret
reviews that would be finished in late summer. While defense
contractors had been licking their chops at potential military-spending
The cracks in the triumphalist armor began to appear in early June. In response to universal denunciation over secrecy, Rumsfeld allowed former Air Force Gen. James McCarthy, as well as other anonymous "defense officials", to talk to the press about the strategy and doctrine reviews. McCarthy said he was emphasizing better inter-service coordination (well, duh, something every military leader had talked about since the post-WWII segmentation of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines). He talked of the possible redundancy of the Navy's DD-21 destroyer, without specifically saying it should be canceled. And he insisted that Trident nuclear submarines should be outfitted with cruise missiles, and the B-2 stealth bomber with precision-guided munitions, all in the name of "target flexibility."
Unnamed officials also disclosed that the strategy review would stress four goals for revamped U.S. forces: assure friends and allies, dissuade future adversaries, deter threats and counter coercion, and defeat adversaries if deterrence fails. While the goals are generic enough to allow virtually any interpretation, the roles of peacekeeping and humanitarian missions are noticeably absent. The New York Times predicted that the only contradiction between the strategic review and the McCarthy review would be that McCarthy's analysts suggested that the new vulnerability of U.S. Pacific Rim bases caused by a resurgent China was a good argument for shrinking the bases and promoting more "power at a distance," while the strategic review is believed to suggest expanding Pacific Rim bases to deliberately challenge China.
The hard line against China, unfortunately, fits well with what Joseph Gerson of American Friends Service Committee predicts will be a bipartisan push for Theater Missile Defense in Asia-Pacific. Even if Democrats agree to delay National Missile Defense, Gerson said, virtually the entire Washington establishment wants to encircle China with TMD weapons to show the emerging nation the military limits which the U.S. wishes to impose on the Chinese government.
Of course, criticism from the Democrats largely centers on whether THAAD missiles and X-band radars at the heart of NMD have been adequately tested. European governments are beginning to recognize that the mere notion of NMD represents an offensive first-strike policy in the hands of a unilateral superpower like the United States, but most Democrats will not question the fundamentals of the program. Don't ask Bush about fundamentals. During his June European trip, he said that deployment of NMD would mean the end of a Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, nuclear policy. The very next day, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that MAD would remain the basis of U.S. nuclear policy, with or without missile defense.
In fact, the programs for conventional and nuclear forces seem to be aimed at mutually-exclusive goals: Position U.S. forces to be able to control the planet for the benefit of our nation and only our nation, but do so in a way that allows domination on the cheap. By the end of June, the White House policy wonks were falling all over themselves, trying to explain how this would be possible.
In the first place, even if some weapon systems were delayed, there would still be no peace dividend on the horizon. The fiscal 2002 budget request was a whopping $329 billion, and the strategy review is slated to budget for further increases through 2005. The only good line item in the new budget is the suggested elimination of all Peacekeeper (MX) missiles, leaving the Minuteman III as the only intercontinental ballistic missile left in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
By placing the B-2 bomber on a higher profile (and putting B-2 pilots on PR missions for the plane, as evidenced in the June 26 New York Times), Bush and Rumsfeld were setting the stage for phasing out the aging B-1 bomber. But when the White House floated these suggestions in late June, members of Congress went on a tirade to keep B-1 bases open.
The power of pork barrel politics for specific Congressional districts, which now adds tens of billions of dollars to defense budgets beyond what the Pentagon asks for, is evident in every venue. When Bush responded to mass public protests in Puerto Rico by announcing the 2003 closure of the Vieques bombing range, Navy officials immediately denounced the president and Rumsfeld, then turned around and pushed for new bombing range sites in Texas, along the Gulf Coast. The lesson for activists is that even when the Defense Department can be coerced into abandoning a weapon system or a base, powerful members of Congress (including many Democrats) may keep those weapon systems alive for years, even decades, afterward.
And while all eyes were on missile defense, few noticed that DoD had added $700 million in line items in 2002 for expanded space surveillance, space control, and information warfare, all under the control of Space Command. To make up for the canceled National Reconnaissance Office radar satellite called Discoverer-2, $50 million will be provided to the Air Force to continue space-radar studies. There will be $53 million added for new space-control measures, many run out of Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, center of experiments for using space-based surveillance to control ground-based U.S. forces. And $13 million added in new test facilities will help expand space-control centers like Schriever's Joint National Test Facility. It is ironic to note that the June 23 Rocky Mountain News had a large feature on how central Schriever would be if missile-defense were approved, while minimizing the fact that Schriever already is the de facto global headquarters for space control.
When Rumsfeld formally presented his budget to Congress June 28, there were plenty of similar line items to chew over in all categories, but little in the way of coherent changes in strategy or direction. We are promised the "two-and-a-half-war" strategy is dead, but no cuts in weapons systems are made in response to this change. We are told that Bush wants to de-nuclearize strategic policy, but nothing in U.S. military strategy indicates this. Thankfully, the shift to Democratic control for several key committees means that some programs will face closer scrutiny - though others might be expanded to even larger sizes than the Pentagon desires.
When the limits to empire became clear in the waning years of the Reagan era, and the Soviet Union and its clients collapsed in the early years of Bush Senior, triumphalists could crow that the U.S. had spent the Soviet Union into oblivion, and had thereby "won" the Cold War. In the intervening decade, the U.S. could use the START agreements as a means of stepping back from explicit planetary dominance.
But the military space services, as represented by the unified and service-specific Space Commands, have always made their positions clear during the Clinton administration. Civilian managers in those agencies have pointed out that the costs of total control could spiral upward into the hundreds of billions of dollars. It is becoming clear that the White House is ready to explicitly support permanent preeminence and total space dominance, and to spend whatever it takes to achieve it.
The bottom line for peace activists? We must insist that there
is no way to implement world domination on the cheap, and that
unilateral control of resources is morally wrong to begin with. We
must unmask NMD as a first-strike policy, as well as a continuation of a
new arms race into
Bush and Rumsfeld do not have their acts together in recasting military strategy for the 21st century. But the Democrats have done precious little to respond to this confusing vacuum. It's up to the peace community to put its demands front and center while Washington is engulfed in chaos.