American Space Strategy: Choose to Steer, Not Drift
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American Space Strategy: Choose to Steer, Not Drift

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Space activities today play critical roles in United States national security, economic growth, and scientific achievements.  The Global Positioning System is an integral part of several critical infrastructures and enables functions ranging from survey and construction, to farming, finance, and air traffic management – not to mention supporting U.S. military forces worldwide.  The International Space Station represents a unique, collaborative partnership between the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, and Russia.  At the same time, new threats to U.S. space activities have emerged, threats that are different from those of the Cold War.  In some cases, threats come from a known nation state while in others it is impossible to attribute responsibility.

In 2007, China tested a high altitude anti-satellite weapon against one of its old weather satellites, creating tens of thousands of pieces of orbital debris and increasing the risk of collision and damage to many satellites, and the International Space Station, operating in low Earth orbit.  Just recently, on January 22, a piece of debris from that test appears to have damaged a Russian scientific satellite.  In 2009, there was an accidental collision over the Arctic between a defunct Russian communications satellite and an active commercial communications satellite that added even more orbital debris to low Earth orbit.  North Korea has defied numerous UN Security Council sanctions in developing ballistic missile capabilities, which it portrays as peaceful space launches.  Similarly, the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued to jam commercial satellites that broadcast foreign news services into the country as a means of preventing these reports from reaching the Iranian people.

The global space community is a dynamic one with new capabilities and new entrants, particularly in Asia.  China has flown several astronauts, becoming only the third country with independent human access to space.  China is constructing a space laboratory and has demonstrated unmanned rendezvous and docking operations in preparation for a fully manned space station in 2020 – about the time the International Space Station may be ending its operations.  Japan has announced plans to sell radar satellites to Vietnam while South Korea is seeking to sell an optical imaging satellite to the United Arab Emirates.  Brazil and China are continuing many years of space cooperation in remote sensing while India and South Africa are close to concluding their own space cooperation agreement.  All of these countries recognize that space capabilities are important for both practical and symbolic reasons and that these capabilities are intrinsically “dual-use” in that civil, security, and commercial applications are based on similar technologies.

A Flaw in U.S. National Space Policy

The current U.S. space policy is outlined in the July 2010 U.S. National Space Policy that addresses the full range of U.S. interests in space. The policy continues many long-standing principles, such as the right of all nations to engage in the peaceful uses of outer space, recognition of the inherent right of self-defense, and that purposeful interference with space systems is an infringement of a nation’s rights.  The policy also states that the United States “recognizes the need for stability in the space environment” and that it will pursue “bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence building measures to encourage responsible actions in space.”

In testimony to Congress last December, to the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics in December of last year, I observed that the civil space exploration section of the 2010 National Space Policy did not match the coherence found on the national security and foreign policy side.  The NASA Administrator is directed to “set far-reaching exploration milestones.  By 2025, begin crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid.”  There seems to have been little interagency debate about these goals.  Rather, they seem to have been taken intact from an April 15, 2010 speech President Obama gave at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Subsequent analysis by NASA and the scientific community has unfortunately shown that there are few to no scientifically attractive, technically feasible asteroids that can be reached by humans on this schedule.

Comments
36
Space geek
September 18, 2013 at 12:05

Suffice to say that a war with China results in a war of attrition, a stalemate, where we both spend massive  amounts of blood and treasure to no end. I agree, the df21s can't take out all us carriers and, btw, us navy knows how far df21s go, so they won't put ships in threat ring. Thus, us aircraft really will be limited by distance….and SAMs, and iAds, it's a real mess….tit for tat, us are used to hours from wounded to triage to flights to Germany or states for care…personal recovery over vast distances and from ships to shore won't work like that….sailors would be killed b the thousands at a time…same for Chinese sailors and airmen….the whole scenario stinks….best to avoid at all costs.

as for collaboration on space far goals….I'm for it! There isn't technology to steal! If tech is co-developed, then I can't be stolen. I also think us should collaborate with china on ha/dr, counter piracy, counter VEOs and counter illicit activities…no need for china and us to be adversarial…cooperate and graduate. Just saying….China isn't the bogy man and US isn't the imperial empire …

Space geek
September 18, 2013 at 11:52

Which highlights my complaint with the article….space delivery systems for small sats and technology advances within space c2 and commercially available, plug n play buses and sensors makes satelites affordable to emerging countries….this is where us space policy should pay attention for the mid term!  Us should partner with powerhouse countries like brazil, chile, Colombia, s. Korea and emerging countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia to assist them in developing on-orbit, small sat capabilities! A bit of cooperation in this area could pay dividends in other areas of cooperation …. Illicit trafficking, counter piracy, counter terrorism, etc, as well as promulgate safe space practices and adherence to international space norms…. Oh, and it may counter act some of chinas influence in the area…

Jody
April 15, 2013 at 00:29

My initial response to this post failed to show up, so I will attempt to briefly summarize it:

As of now, the Chinese economy is dependent on the U.S. economy. The countries and regions that you mentioned lack the capital that the U.S. has, and likewise could never fill the gap that would be created if China detached itself from U.S. consumerism and investment.

China has made some very shrewd investments over the past decade, especially with regards to mineral and resource reserves in Africa. But as of now, without the U.S., China would not have a substantial enough buying block to fill the void. Likewise, China needs U.S. buying power and investment capital.

China's economic reach is expanding rapidly, but if it wishes to maintain a healthy economy it will need to continue to take steps to break away from its near-complete dependence on the U.S. For the foreseeable future, the Chinese and American economies will continue to be entangled and interdependent.

And as I stated earlier, economic trends are always changing. Projections are uncertain and based on past growth. For all we know China will experience a major economic downturn in the coming 10 years. Perhaps unlikely, but certainly possible. While China's growth has been impressive, economic development and sustainability are never certain.

Jody
April 14, 2013 at 23:40

After acknowledging American militarty supremacy over China, why would a war between the two be "salutary" for China? An Air-Sea engagement against China would be costly for the United States, but due to China's lack of a blue-water navy, its lack of combat experience and its untested and technologically deficient air force vis-a-vis the United States, China would be harmed substantially more than the U.S.

This conflict would be fought along the shores of China and the surrounding area, far from the U.S. mainland. I doubt the Chinese would wish to engage in a nuclear exchange, and likewise the theater would remain the Western Pacific. As such, China would accrue significant damage and set-backs to its civilian and military infrastructure. So long as the United States fought to win, China's navy and air force would most likely lose its cohesion as an effective fighting force.

Regarding fighting the U.S. to a stalemate in the South China Sea … perhaps. Much depends on American political will.

But what are Chinese capabilities with regards to amphibious assaults? It is one thing to fight on the mainland, and quite another to throw forces onto an island to establish a beachhead. In the latter scenario, China would have a hard time maintaining its supply lines so long as the U.S. has assets in the region to disrupt it. And the U.S. has many assets.

Also, it would be difficult for China, logistically, to field a sizeable force to invade the island. Its main advantage – mass manpower – would be blunted in such a scenario. Will it land 500,000 troops on a tiny island? In such an engagement, the man-to-man ratio would equal out considerably when fighting against a U.S. expeditionary force.

As for Syria, China is in no way capable of projecting power that far from its borders. It simply can't happen as of now. China couldn't land an army in Australia, so why would it be able to send an army group into Syria?

Logistical issues, technological deficiencies, and its lack of combat experience and a blue-water navy would preclude its ability to project power abroad. Not to mention that it would be going against the firmly established global military infrastructure that the United States already has in place, especially with regards to the Western and Southwestern Pacific.

Jody
April 14, 2013 at 23:08

This scenario is just as ridiculous as the one you outlined regarding China. It cannot be taken seriously.

China will ship it's ASBMs (which, mind you, are untested with regards to combat) to Iran and sink all U.S. naval assets in the region? I cannot take this seriously.

Liang1a
April 8, 2013 at 20:26

Jody wrote:

April 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Liang,

I am surprised to see that you admit that the United States is more powerful than China, although I doubt your assertions of the rapidly developing technological prowess of China's modernization efforts as relative to America's firmly rooted technological advantages.

———————

I'm always objective.  It is obvious that the US is still more militarily powerful than China today and will probably continue to be for the next 10 years.  But things are changing.  And every year the gap narrows.  And even if China is overall weaker now it does not mean that it can fight the US to a draw in some particular places such as the Diaoyu Island and S. China Sea or Syria.

Don't be too certain of America's technological superiority.  Nobody has the God-given right to be dominant always.  Everything is logical.  If you don't do the right things then you will fall back.  China has learned that painful lesson after thousands of years of supremacy.

As to China's inability to develop a powerful navy, don't make the mistake of underestimating the Chinese.  If they can produce most of the world's consumer goods in just a decade, then you can safely bet that they can develop a very competent navy in a few years.  Furthermore, the simpler the weapon the more skill is required and the more time to learn the skill.  On the other hand, the more sophisticated the weapon the less skill is required and the less time to learn the skill.  This is why it takes a lifetime to learn to use the sword but only a few days to learn to shoot a machinegun.

I always debate with objectivity and logic.

 

Liang1a
April 8, 2013 at 19:58

Jody wrote:

April 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

One more thing: If America's economy collapses, what do you think will happen to China's economy?

————————-

The importance of America's trade and FDI with China is overrated.  As I kept pointing out, China cannot rely on foreign trade if it wants to get beyond the middle income trap.  Ultimately, China must rely on its own service industry to provide 75% or more of its economy while foreign trade cannot total more than 5% of its GDP.  Therefore, the loss of American trade and FDI will not collapse Chinese economy but will accelerate its shift to domestic service development through the indigenous advancement of technologies, the urbanization of its rural residents and the self-sufficiency of energy.

This is why for China war with the US will ultimately be salutary while it will be catastrophic for America.  Currently, America is the parasite sucking China's economic blood.  When the Chinese leaders finally realize this truth then things will start to happen as China change its economic policy.  Like a patient who finally get rid of its stomach worms, China will grow stronger while America as the stomach worm will starve.  China will ultimately achieve a $100 trillion economy.  Therefore, China cannot do more than $5 trillion of foreign trade or 5% of its total GDP.  This is because the rest of the world cannot afford more than $5 trillion to buy Chinese products.

Jody
April 8, 2013 at 14:42

One more thing: If America's economy collapses, what do you think will happen to China's economy?

Jody
April 8, 2013 at 14:42

Liang,

I am surprised to see that you admit that the United States is more powerful than China, although I doubt your assertions of the rapidly developing technological prowess of China's modernization efforts as relative to America's firmly rooted technological advantages.

I take issue with your understanding of the Korean War and how it began. I've seen your previous posts, and likewise know there isn't any way to convince you of history in this matter, so I would rather steer clear of this debate. I'm bringing it up simply to say that I don't believe America's intention was to invade China during the Korean War.

I found this to be a profoundly presumptuous statement on your behalf:

"Chinese 2nd aritillery fire missiles at American bases in Okinawa, S. Korea, Japan and Guam and all American carriers and naval ships within 2,500 km and sink them all.  Chinese anti-submarine forces then wipe out American and Japnese submarines still lurking around Chinese coast."

This is absurd, you have to admit. A 100% counter-strike success rate?

You are right, the U.S. was very wary of China during the Vietnam War, which contributed greatly to its strategic, not tactical, defeat.

Can you cite your reference to the American decline in aircraft carriers to 6 in the coming years?

For all the rhetoric going on in the United States regarding its downturned economy, its military remains a very real and potent force. It is capable of overwhelming any military in the world (on American terms; ie. Using its strengths and not engaging where it is weak), generally speaking. Sustainability is another matter and up for debate. Circumstances would of course need to be taken into account: No ground war against China; no ground war against Russia; etc. War aims, overall strategy, competent leadership and political will would determine the war's outcome. And of course, the “general's best friend," chance.

I doubt that China will be able to develop a navy on par with that of the United States in 10 years. It takes a great amount of time, not to mention resources, to build/buy and train personnel to a competent level. War ships are very sophisticated weapons systems; China cannot expand from having a mostly coastal navy (lacking the capacity for sustained, en masse blue-water power projection) to being a global juggernaut within 10 years. The development of state-of-the-art weapons systems and, just as importantly, developing the crews to man them, takes many years and much trial-and-error. Lacking any blue-water combat experience also puts China far behind the United States with regards to naval force projection.

I would like to see your sources for the "rumors" of China developing weapon systems as advanced as those already employed by the United States, not to mention those currently under development.

Invading China would be the most foolish military endeavor that the United States could undertake. To compare this to its invasion and conquest of Afghanistan and Iraq is absurd. The latter two countries were third-world entities with hardly the means to fight border contingencies. China's manpower alone would be too overwhelming, generally speaking, for an invading force.

But establishing naval and air supremacy over China is another story entirely. I believe America could accomplish this, as of now, if it put its mind to it. It would take heavy losses, no doubt, but China simply doesn't have the technology, experience and general wherewithal to withstand the full brunt of America's military power as it pertains to air and sea dominance.

But, as you pointed out, this will certainly change in the decades to come. China will achieve some sort of parity with the United States at some point in the near future; probably in 10-20 years. And by parity, I don’t necessarily mean equal military footing in the traditional sense. China will continue to develop asymmetrical means to derail the military advantages held by the United States. The latter will continue to develop counters to Chinese anti-access strategies, etc.

But a time will come, so long as things continue to progress for China as they have been (which is by no means certain), when China will be able to project substantial force abroad if it so chooses. I doubt this will occur any sooner than 20-30 years.

(For those readers critical of my time-tables, please take into account exactly what is being said with regards to the capabilities that I’m outlining, and all the implications that these entail)

China’s military will become stronger by the year, but who's to say that the same won't be true of the United States? Its budget cuts are certainly not going to help its military infrastructure, but those cuts are being implemented in such a way so as to spare the high-technology programs and weapon systems that have kept it in superpower status for so many decades.

The economic side of things is dicey. The fluctuations of a free-market system are to be expected, but the level of debt accrued by the United States is unprecedented. What will become of this issue? One cannot objectively conclude due to a lack of precedent.

Projections can be made, but they are just that … projections based on current economic trends, trends that, as evidenced by the global economic downturn a few years ago, are unpredictable. China has a lot of problems itself with regards to a growing middle-class and the increasingly wide income gap between the rich and the poor. There was talk a while back that China is also dealing with a rather sizeable real estate bubble.

One also must keep in mind domestic policy within China so as to prevent another Tiananmen-esque episode from occurring.

And we must remember, it's not all about the United States with regards to China. Japan, South Korea and Australia, not to mention myriad other nation-states in southeastern Asia, are all wary of China's rise. Japan is systematically moving away from its doctrine of pacifism, and together with South Korea and Australia, is making solid moves toward expanding and solidifying military ties and cooperation with the United States. Bonds are also being formed with other nation-states in southeastern Asia. And one must not forget India, or Russia for that matter; either side's participation could tip the balance in any future confrontation.

In conclusion, this first scenario that you laid out projecting a 100% successful kill rate on behalf of China against the United States is ridiculous. The other scenarios that you outlined I will deal with shortly.

**I should mention, Liang, that I am not here to argue. I will not respond to aggressive maneuvering within the framework of this platform for discussion and debate. I will correct erroneous history when I see it, and will challenge things that I am unsure of or skeptical of. I approach these matters with respect for those with whom I speak. As such, if our engagements here become unfriendly, I will cease from posting responses to your comments**

Jody

 

Liang1a
April 8, 2013 at 09:48

Jody wrote:

April 2, 2013 at 11:01 am

Hi everyone.

Tell me how the Chinese would beat the United States in a war. Or, if you're really feeling energetic, outline a plausible contingency.

But PLEASE be realistic and don't rant, because everyone knows that China (for now) has absolutely no substantive means of projecting military power abroad.

This will be funny.

—————-

American navy can control the oceans and blockade Chinese and Iranian trade.  China turns its exports from Japan and the US to Iran and other countries in the Mid-East and Africa through the land route through Pakistan to Iran to Iraq to Saudi Arabia and into Egpyt and Africa.  China gets its energy and raw materials and shifts its export economy to domestic economy.  As a result China's economy quickly recovers and grow rapidly and sustainably.  In the meanwhile, deprived of its cheap imports and shut out of Asia, Mid-East and Africa, Ameica becomes destitute.  It goes into long term economic slide.  Its political situation becomes chaotic with Sabah Palin and Tea Party getting into positions of power and mislead America ever deeper into decline.

Liang1a
April 8, 2013 at 09:36

Jody wrote:

April 2, 2013 at 11:01 am

Hi everyone.

Tell me how the Chinese would beat the United States in a war. Or, if you're really feeling energetic, outline a plausible contingency.

But PLEASE be realistic and don't rant, because everyone knows that China (for now) has absolutely no substantive means of projecting military power abroad.

This will be funny.

————————–

Scenario for Iranian War:

American fighter/bombers bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iran declare war on the US and ask for Chinese help.

China ships its DF-21D to Iran.

Chinese DF-21D sinks all American naval surface ships in the Persian Gulf and within 2,500 km of Iranian coast.

The US-Iranian War is over with resounding victory for the Iranians.

Iran quickly liberates Iraq.

Iran quickly invade Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and other Gulf states and control all Mid-East to the Red Sea and Suez Canal and form an alliance with Syria.

America loses its influence in the Mid-East.

All the Muslim states in North Africa from Egypt to Morocco shut down their Ameican embassies and terminate their relationship with the US.

American stock markets collapse.  And American economy collapses.

Liang1a
April 8, 2013 at 09:21

Jody wrote:

April 2, 2013 at 11:01 am

Hi everyone.

I am curious, from those of you who are certain of China's pre-eminence in all things, and who champion the notion that China's prowess would win the day in any arena (economic, political, MILITARY) … Tell me how the Chinese would beat the United States in a war. Or, if you're really feeling energetic, outline a plausible contingency.

But PLEASE be realistic and don't rant, because everyone knows that China (for now) has absolutely no substantive means of projecting military power abroad.

This will be funny.

——————————

First, Jody, America is not in any position to fight any wars other than maybe in invading some small countries near its own borders like Grenada or Panama.  But the US already cannot fight a war against China without huge losses.  In fact, the US can no longer invade China like it did Afghanistan or Iraq.  In the end, China can always use its nuclear weapons.  Even though it has been reported by CIA that China has only a few hundreds of warheads, it could in fact have thousands and the means to deliver them.

The US failed to invade China in 1949 Korean War.  The US was terrified of China in the Vietnam War and declared from the beginning that it will not invade N. Vietnam.  America has become more bold in the last 10 years due to the foolishness of Hu and Wen in seeking peace at any price.  But that is already changing as the new Chinese leadership in beginning to put its new policies into effect.  The Chinese people are demanding a more vigorous defense of the Chinese sovereignty and the Chinese government is responding.  And with many new weapons coming on-stream, China's military power is increasing rapidly.

As America is reducing the number of its carriers from 11 last year to just 10 this year and may be further reduced to just 6 within a few years, China's carriers will probably increase to 3 by 2015 and 6 or more by 2020.  There is a rumor that China's second carrier is already 80% completed which means it will probably be launched in 2013 or 2014 and much earlier than the commonly anticipated 2015.  China has also been rumored to be developing advanced submarines, destroyers, laser guns, etc. that are as advanced as anything America has.  China's Type 55 destroyer is functinally as powerful as America's Zumwalt class destroyers.  By 2023, China's navy will probably be as powerful as American navy with just as many carrier battle groups, fighters, anti-missile missiles, etc.  As I had explained in another post, China's purchasing power with 720 billion yuan is equal to $1 trillion yuan for America.  And with American military spending being cut, America is effectively purchasing only half of China's military.  Therefore, it is not a surprise if America's military will be no more than China by 2023.  And beyond 2023, China will simply surge ahead of America until it doubles America's military power by 2033 with twice the carrier groups, twice the 5th generation or even 6th generation fighters (space planes), etc.

For now America is the 800 lb gorilla and China is a 600 lb gorilla.  By 2023 they will both be 800 lb gorillas.  By 2033 China will be the 1 ton King Kong while America is just an 800 lb gorilla.  For now America cannot stop China in asserting its sovereignty in the S. China Sea.  Nor can America stop China from taking Diaoyu Island if it so chosses.  In a war over Diaoyu Island, the scenario can proceed as below:

Japnese fishing boat try to land a team of Japnese rightists on the Diaoyu Island.

Chinese Marine Surveillance ships try to chase it away.

Japnese CG fire on Chinese MS ships.

Chinese armed MS ships fire back and sink Japnese CG ship.

Japnese naval ships fire its anti-ship missiles and sink Chinese MS ships.

Chinese DF-21D are fired at Japnese naval ships and sink them all around Diaoyu Island.

American F-22 from Okinawa attack Chinese missile base.

Chinese 2nd aritillery fire missiles at American bases in Okinawa, S. Korea, Japan and Guam and all American carriers and naval ships within 2,500 km and sink them all.  Chinese anti-submarine forces then wipe out American and Japnese submarines still lurking around Chinese coast.

China ban all trade with Japan and the US.

Japnese and American stock markets drop 40% the next day and another 60% within a week, dropping a total of 3/4 of their value within 1 month.  American stores will run out of things to sell and inflation shot up 100% within a year.  Stagflation grips Japan and the US and crash their economies.

 

Jody
April 5, 2013 at 06:36

No takers? That's a shame.

Oro Invictus
April 3, 2013 at 08:28

In fairness to the US space efforts, despite declining budgets they have been improved efficiency and continue to outpace their competitors in terms of scientific advancement considerably. Even more impressive are private companies which, with the proper direction, could be a powerful engine of extrapolative advancement. Still, stronger ties with other nations’ space agencies is a must, if only to prevent childish episodes like the ASAT tests mentioned in the article and ensure catastrophies like possible Kessler syndrome scenarios never come to pass.

But....
April 3, 2013 at 04:21

As a fan of Star Trek I follow the news of the space agencies with anticipation. Most of the time I am disapointed as the writers have more space between their ears than the substansiveness of actual space exploration in their stories. Write something new, write something profound, however don't write re-hash of the re-hash. And as usual the Clown Princes of the Diplomat are colorfully dancing to the disco beat of the 70's. What ifs and what will be abound. In the future astronauts will demand Chinese restaurants on Mars. No MSG, please.

Jody
April 2, 2013 at 11:01

Hi everyone.

I am curious, from those of you who are certain of China's pre-eminence in all things, and who champion the notion that China's prowess would win the day in any arena (economic, political, MILITARY) … Tell me how the Chinese would beat the United States in a war. Or, if you're really feeling energetic, outline a plausible contingency.

But PLEASE be realistic and don't rant, because everyone knows that China (for now) has absolutely no substantive means of projecting military power abroad.

This will be funny.

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