This is a slide from an August 2005 presentation by Colonel Rick Patenaude, chief of the deterrence and strike division within Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), entitled, Prompt Global Strike Update.
I’ve posted the slide, becuase Patenaude reveals something very profound and dangerous about China’s recent anti-satellite test.
A few weeks ago, when asked about China’s antisatellite test, General Cartwright made clear that the United States did not need to respond “in space” by developing its own ASATS. When asked what capability he would like, Cartwright responded with one phrase “global strike.”
Colonel Patenaude’s slide and General Cartwright response suggest that the United States is unlikely, in response to the spread of ASAT technologies, to invest in either defensive measures or our own antisatellite systems. Instead, U.S. military planners will place ever more emphasis on preemption—acting before the Chinese or someone else starts zapping and plunking the satellites upon which we’ve become extremely dependent.
The point of posting Col. Patenaude’s slide is to show that Pentagon interest in pre-emption isn’t some convenient bureaucratic defense of the Conventional Trident Modification. Rather, I would argue, the emphasis on pre-emption reflects a fundamental reality about about the balance between offense and defense in orbit.
I tried to make this point to my colleagues in China during the PIIC meeting last September in Xiamen—that the development of anti-satellite weapons (and a few other things) will decrease China’s security, in part by operationally entangling China’s strategic forces with those of the US—The Guns of August scenario at the center of modern conception of crisis instability.
I’ve been worried about this scenario since press reports leaked about the Global 2000 wargame sponsored by the Naval War College in August 2000.* During that game, a large Asian nation with over a billion people (Red) was conducting large-scale military exercises that Blue (the United States) believed were a prelude to an attack on Red’s tiny island neighbor (three guesses).
Anyway, during these exercises, the commander of Blue Forces became concerned that Red might use ground-based lasers against U.S. satellites. Fearing the loss of his space assets, he ordered a “limited” preemptive strike against suspected ground-based laser sites inside Red. At the same time, he refrained from striking other targets “rationalizing that the preemptive strike was only protecting high-value space assets, not initiating hostilities.”
The Blue commander was a little shocked to learn that Red viewed the strike on targets deep inside its territory as an act of war and retaliated – causing a general war. One participant apparently told Aviation Week, “We thought these preemptive strikes might very well have stopped the crisis situation. But there were some who had a different point of view – that the strikes may have been provocative.”
What we do about this, of course, is somewhat tricky. I remain a big fan of reaching an agreement—or at least coming to an understanding—that would restrict the testing and deployment of ASATs, precisely because I’d rather not be forced into an early choice between striking targets throughout China or letting the PLA waste our satellites during a crisis over Taiwan.
* Accounts of the wargame are available from Kenneth Watman, “Global 2000,” Naval War College Review 54:2, Spring 2001, pp.75-88 and William B. Scott, “Wargames Zero In on Knotty Milspace Issues,” Aviation Week & Space Technology 154:5, Jan. 29, 2001, p.52