It's not as if things aren't bad enough right here on planet earth.
What with multiple wars and occupations, an accelerating economic
meltdown, corporate malfeasance and environmental catastrophes such as the
petroleum-fueled apocalypse in the Gulf of Mexico, I'd say we have a full
Now the Defense Department wants to up the stakes with new, destabilizing
weapons systems that will transform low- and high-earth orbit into another
"battlespace," pouring billions into programs to achieve what Air Force
Space Command (AFSPC)
has long dreamed of: "space dominance."
Indeed, Pentagon space warriors fully intend to field a robust
anti-satellite (ASAT) capability that can disable, damage or destroy the
satellites of other nations, all for "defensive" purposes, mind you.
Back in 2005,
The New York Times reported that General Lance W. Lord, then
commander of AFSPC, told an Air Force conference that "space superiority
is not our birthright, but it is our destiny. ... Space superiority is our
day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future."
Five years on, that "mission" is still a top priority for the Obama
administration. While some might call it "net-centric warfare" on
steroids, I'd choose another word: madness.
Air Force X-37B
On April 22, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) successfully launched its robot
space shuttle, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), from Cape Canaveral
Air Force Station in Florida.
Sitting atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket, the unmanned, reusable
space plane roared into orbit after more than ten years of development by
Boeing Corporation's "Phantom Works" black projects shop.
The successful orbital insertion of the X-37B was the culmination of a
decades' long dream by the Department of Defense: to field a reusable
spacecraft that combines an airplane's agility with the means to travel at
5 miles per second in orbit.
From the Pentagon's point of view, a craft such as the X-37B may be the
harbinger of things to come: a johnny-on-the-spot weapons platform to take
out the satellite assets of an enemy de jour, or as a launch vehicle that
can deliver bombs, missiles or kinetic weapons anywhere on earth in less
than two hours; what Air Force wags refer to as "operationally responsive
Prior to launch, Air Force Deputy Undersecretary of Space Programs, Gary
Payton, ridiculed speculation that the X-37B is the prototype for a new
space-based weapons system. Payton told reporters, "I don't know how this
could be called a weaponization of space. Fundamentally, it's just an
updated version of the space shuttle kinds of activities in space."
Needless to say, such denials should be taken with the proverbial grain of
The highly-classified program has a checkered history. According to
GlobalSecurity.org, the project is envisaged as a "reusable space
architecture" that would provide "aircraft-like operability, flexibility,
and responsiveness, supporting AF Space Command mission areas."
While early examples such as the Dyna-Soar/X-20 program of the 1950s-1960s
never panned out due to technological constraints, the Air Force never
stopped trying. Programs such as the X-40 Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) and
the X-41 Common Air Vehicle (CAV), a hypersonic craft intended to serve as
a key component in developing the off-again, on-again "Prompt Global
Strike" project, demonstrate continuing Air Force interest in "high
frontier" weapons programs.
The X-40 project eventually merged with the Air Force's X-37B program and
the X-41 CAV program has been absorbed by the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency's (DARPA)
Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV-2).
Last month, the first test of the Falcon (apparently) ended in failure
when DARPA researchers claimed they had lost contact with the craft
moments after take-off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Falcon was
supposed to demonstrate the feasibility of launching a vehicle to the edge
of space and then have it come "screaming back into the atmosphere,
maneuvering at twenty times the speed of sound before landing north of the
Kwajalein Atoll, 30 minutes later and 4100 nautical miles away," according
Did the HTV-2 mission fail? Since misdirection and disinformation have
long been staples of Pentagon black world projects, most likely we'll
never know one way or the other.
Inevitably, even if these projects amount to no more than monumental
failures, their intended target audience, China, Russia or any other
nation viewed as a "rogue state" by the imperialist hyperpower, in all
likelihood would be drawn in to an expensive, and deadly, contest to
In this light,
Space.com reporter Jeremy Hsu wrote May 5, that ambiguities in
devising militarized space technology "can make it tricky for nations to
gauge the purpose or intentions behind new prototypes." And such
uncertainties are precisely the fodder that fuel an arms race.
According to GlobalSecurity.org's John Pike, the U.S. military "could even
be using the cloak of mystery to deliberately bamboozle and confuse rival
militaries." Pike told Space.com that "the X-37B and HTV-2 projects could
represent the tip of a space weapons program hidden within the Pentagon's
secret 'black budget,' or they might be nothing more than smoke and
Pike said that current work "leaves plenty of room for misinterpretation
or even outright deception, which could be a ploy to distract other
nations with military space projects."
"'One of them could be a deception program and the other could be the
spitting image of the real thing,' Pike noted. He said that such
misdirection could force other nations' militaries to waste money chasing
down dead ends."
While Pike's assertions sound
plausible, given the Pentagon's track record and an annual $50 billion
black budget directed towards research on new weapons and surveillance
systems, the X-37B, the Falcon HTV-2 or other systems on the drawing board
would certainly be useful assets if the military chose to deploy them as
A Space Bomber?
Less ambitious perhaps, but potentially
more destabilizing than unproven hypersonic technology, the X-37B
was originally designed by Boeing for NASA in 1999 as an emergency escape
vehicle for the International Space Station.
The civilian agency once viewed the craft as a potential lifeboat that
could rescue stranded astronauts from the ISS. However, with Russia's
Soyuz space capsule doing yeoman's work for just such a contingency, NASA
no longer saw the need for an expensive winged re-entry vehicle and
dropped the program.
But, as with all things having to do with the Military-Industrial
Complex's insatiable appetite for new weapons, DARPA, the Pentagon's "blue
sky" geek shop, picked up the slack in 2004 when NASA headed towards the
After further testing and design enhancements by DARPA, the project was
handed off to the Air Force in 2006. The program is now run by the USAF's
secretive Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO)
and spokespeople there have been tight lipped, refusing to say how much
the vehicle costs; a sure sign that funds for the robot shuttle come from
the black side of the budget where new weapons systems spawn and
A tip-off to the covert nature--and militaristic intentions--of the
program, comes from the office running the show. According to an Air Force
Fact Sheet, the RCO "responds to Combat Air Force and combatant
command requirements" and "expedites development and fielding of select
Department of Defense combat support and weapon systems by leveraging
defense-wide technology development efforts and existing operational
According to investigative journalist Sharon Weinberger, the author of
Imaginary Weapons and
A Nuclear Family Vacation, her
recent piece in
Popular Mechanics, revealed that prior to the Pentagon assuming
ownership of the X-37 project, "the spacecraft was regarded as just
another experimental prototype." Today however, Weinberger wrote, "Air
Force officials are skittish to mention even the smallest details."
When Air Force chief scientist Werner J.A. Dahm was asked by Weinberger
"what he could say about the X-37B," he replied, "'Nothing very useful,'
before quickly changing the subject."
In a 2006 piece in Air Force Print News
however, we were informed that the X-37B will "will serve as a test
platform for satellites and other space technologies. The vehicle allows
satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology to be
transported into the environment where they will be used--space."
With information scarce on what the OTV's current mission is, the Air
Force has said that after the first few flights (a second test in slated
for 2011), "you get into the realm of using it as a reusable space test
platform--putting space components into its experimental bay and taking
them to space for testing," RCO's X-37B program manager Lt. Col. Kevin
Walker told AFPN.
While the Air Force has denied that the X-37B is the vanguard for a
space-based system to be deployed for spying or as an orbital weapons'
delivery platform, and while this may be
technically accurate in so far as the mini-shuttle is a prototype,
the vagaries of the project raise intriguing questions.
This is borne out by an April 22
announcement by the 45th Space Wing Public Affairs office at Patrick
Air Force base. Deputy Undersecretary Payton said "if these technologies
on the vehicle prove to be as good as we estimate, it will make our access
to space more responsive, perhaps cheaper, and push us in the vector
toward being able to react to warfighter needs more quickly."
This was seconded by Col. André Lovett, 45th Space Wing vice commander:
"This launch helps ensure that our warfighters will be provided the
capabilities they need in the future."
Nothing ambiguous in these statements as to how the USAF views the future
role for the system, nor do they bear a relationship to Payton's earlier
claim to reporters that the X-37B is "just an updated version of the space
shuttle kinds of activities in space."
Weinberger notes that "the most daring job of a space plane, and the one
least discussed, is the role of a bomber." According to Weinberger, the
X-37B "could fly over targets within an hour of launch to release
cone-shaped re-entry vehicles that would both protect and guide weapons
through the atmosphere." Equally destabilizing, a craft such as the X-37B
"could carry 1000- or 2000-pound re-entry vehicles armed with precision
munitions like bunker-busting penetrators or small-diameter bombs, or
simply use the explosive impact of kinetic rods cratering at hypersonic
speeds to destroy targets."
Joan Johnson-Freese, a Professor of National Security Studies at the Naval
War College in Newport, Rhode Island, told
Space.com journalist Leonard David last month that "other countries"
will likely view the X-37B "as another capability intended to assure the
United States will be able to dominate access to and the use of space."
William Scott, coauthor of the militaristic novel
Counterspace: The Next Hours of World War
III, told David that a reusable space plane "could deliver small
satellites having specific, limited roles to bridge critical capabilities
The former bureau chief for Aviation Week
& Space Technology told David that amongst the most vital
characteristics for fielding a weapons' platform such as the X-37B is
surprise: "On the first orbit, a space plane could capture data, before
the 'target' knew it was coming." Since a space plane could be "launched
into any orbit, at any inclination, providing prompt 'eyes-on' of
virtually any area of the world," unlike a satellite with known,
predictable trajectories, it could also be used as a surveillance platform
or even as a means to surreptitiously "kidnap" or disable an adversary's
Seconding Weinberger's assessment, Scott told Space.com that "ultimately,
weapons could be delivered from a space plane in low Earth orbit." As
noted above, these could come in the form of "precision" munitions or
insane hypervelocity rod bundles, so called "Rods from God," tungsten
projectiles lobbed from space at 36,000 feet per second that can "hit a
cross-haired target on the ground."
"I did a story about the rods concept in 1994 or 1995, based on concepts
being discussed in the U.S. Air Force at the time," Scott said. "Fifteen
years later, maybe they're ready for testing."
This view is shared by Everett Dolman, a professor of Comparative Military
Studies at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at the
Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
"Regardless of its original intent, Dolman told Space.com, "the most
obvious and formidable is in service as a space fighter--a remotely
piloted craft capable of disabling multiple satellites in orbit on a
single mission and staying on orbit for months to engage newly orbited
platforms." A project such as the X-37B, more advanced systems still on
the drawing-board or in development in any number of Air Force black sites
such as Groom Lake (Area 51) "would be a tremendous tactical advantage,"
Even were the system not to be transformed into a space bomber, Dolman
theorized that the X-37B could be maneuvered close to an adversary's
satellite and capture details in the form of signals intelligence. "With
the anticipated increase in networked-microsatellites in the next few
years, such a platform might be the best--and only--means of collecting
technical intelligence in space."
While the system may evolve into a destabilizing new weapon, Dolman said
that "all of the information leaked about the X-37B suggests its primary
function will be as a test platform, but a test platform for what?"
Regardless of how the X-37B prototype pans out, we can be certain that as
the U.S. imperialist empire continues its long trek on the road towards
failed statehood, the Pentagon, always eager to expend the blood and
treasure of the American people on endless wars of conquest, will continue
to build new and ever-more destabilizing weapons.