U.S. must "be aware of the potential risks" of attack on satellites
and other systems, experts say, and take appropriate steps.
WASHINGTON -- Space-based systems are key to America's way of
fighting and an increasingly vital part of the U.S. economy but are
potentially vulnerable to attack, a House panel was told Wednesday.
"Space assets really allowed the American way of war," which
involves pervasive and timely intelligence and weather information,
global communications, accurate ground, air and ocean navigation,
and precision attack, said Air Force Lt. Gen. C. Robert Kehler.
But "space is not a sanctuary for the United States -- we see a
key imperative to protecting space assets," Kehler, deputy commander
of the U.S. Strategic Command, told the House Armed Services
subcommittee on strategic forces.
Michael O'Hanlon, a national security expert at the Brookings
Institution, praised the vast increase in satellite-aided military
capabilities since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but warned that those
capabilities could be vulnerable to a wide array of hostile actions.
"I'm not suggesting a 'space Pearl Harbor'," O'Hanlon said,
recalling a term used by Donald Rumsfeld as chairman of a
presidential space commission before becoming defense secretary.
"But we have to be aware of the potential risks."
O'Hanlon said any nation that has a ballistic missile capability
potentially could damage U.S. satellites by exploding a nuclear
weapon in space and "micro-satellites, which are becoming more
common, are a latent anti-satellite weapon."
Kehler noted that communications and global positioning
satellites also are vulnerable to jamming from Earth-based systems,
something that already has happened a number of times.
And he conceded that a serious loss of space assets "would cause
the military to step back in time and fight largely as we did in
Vietnam," resulting in slower operations and increased casualties.
In addition to its military value, "space has also become
increasingly vital to our nation's economic interests, presenting
lucrative business opportunities and enabling the development of
major infrastructures with practical uses here on Earth," said
Edward Morris, director of space commercialization in the Commerce
Businesses and individuals benefit from such space-based
capabilities as satellite-guided navigation systems, high-speed and
long-range communications, business data transmission, accurate
weather forecasting and detailed mapping and imagery, Morris and
David Cavossa, executive director of the Satellite Industry
Association, told the panel.
Cavossa said the sale and operations of communications and
imaging satellites contribute $90 billion to the global economy and
facilitate enormous additional economic activity.
The economic effects of the loss of low Earth-orbiting
satellites, which usually have the imaging systems, could be
"significant," but damage to the higher-altitude geo-synchronous
orbiting satellites, which include most of the communications
systems, could be "catastrophic," Cavossa said.
O'Hanlon suggested a number of steps the government should take
to reduce the danger of losing space assets, including developing
duplicate systems, the ability to replace satellites quickly,
"taking a technical step back" by using more aircraft-based systems,
and providing future satellites with sensors to detect threats.
Kehler was reluctant to discuss current efforts to protect
military satellites but said "we are looking at what can be done to