The Age of Space Warfare Has Arrived

China’s recent test of an anti-satellite weapon has been all over the news (and, as we’ll note later in our Commentary Week in Review, all over the opinion pages) this week.

We ran two good articles relating to the subject of China and space weapons this week.

Contributor Richard Weitz of the Hudson Institute weighed in with “Has China Launched an Arms Race in Space?

“China’s decision to conduct its first test of an anti-satellite weaponrepresents a sharp escalation in the hitherto low-key dispute betweenChina, Russia, and the United States over the use of outer space formilitary purposes,” Weitz wrote.

And a news piece by Carmen Gentileexamined the ongoing debate about the “weaponization of space,” and howthe U.S. is pursuing its own defensive and offensive capabilities inspace.

For the low-down on U.S. activity in the area of space weapons, there’s really no better resource than the so-called budget “justification” documents the Defense Department puts out each year with its budget request to Congress.

Most of the money for space capabilities is in the Air Force budget, and space weapons funding now resides almost entirely in the “research, development, test and evaluation” portion of that budget. For those who want to follow along at home, the space weapons material is found in “Air Force RDT&E Volume II,” pages 567-577 and 879-896.

Those two sets of pages contain the budget numbers, descriptions and even schedules for the Air Force’s “Space Control Technology” and “Counterspace Systems” programs, respectively.

The Air Force requested $27 million for “Space Control Technology” R&D in fiscal year 2007, and $47 million for developing and acquiring the first “Counterspace Systems” that will deployed, such as the “Counter Satellite Communications System” and the “Rapid Identificaiton Detection and Reporting System,” or RAIDRS.

The Air Force documents define “Space Control Technology” as systems aimed at “Space Situational Awareness (SSA), Defensive Counterspace (DCS), and Offensive Counterspace (OCS).”

SSA includes “monitoring, detecting, identifying, tracking, assessing, verifying, categorizing, and characterizing, objects and events in space,” the documents state. “DCS includes defensive activities to protect U.S. and friendly space-systems assets, resources, and operations from enemy attempts to negate or interfere . . . [or] use U.S. space systems and services for purposes hostile to U.S. national security interests. OCS activities disrupt, deny, degrade or destroy space systems, or the information they provide, which may be used for purposes hostile to U.S. national security interests. Consistent with DOD policy, the negation efforts of this program currently focus on negation technologies which have temporary, localized, and reversible effects.”

While the Space Control Technology program funds early-stage research and technology development, the Counterspace Systems program “supports the conduct of critical planning, technology insertion, and system acquisition in support of Air Force space control systems and associated command and control development to meet current and future military space control needs.”

In other words, technologies that are nearing the point of deployment as weapon systems are funded in the Counterspace Systems program. That’s the section of the budget where you’ll find the Air Force’s plans for the three space weapons that are closest to becoming reality. Here’s what the Air Force says about the purposes of these specific systems, and when they’ll be operational:

Counter Satellite Communications System: “. . . mobile/transportable counter satellite communications capabilities and associated command and control. . . . Includes architecture engineering, system hardware design and development, software design and integration, testing and procurement of capabilities to provide disruption of satellite communications signals in response to USSTRATCOM requirements.”

The budget documents indicate “first-generation” counter satellite communications capabilities are already in place, while the “second-generation” capability will be built by 2011.

Rapid Identification Detection and Reporting System (RAIDRS): ” . . . provide[s] attack warning, threat identification and characterization, and rapid mission impact assessments of U.S. space systems. This effort will investigate and implement the technical architecture, operational concept, support concept, training, verification (test), and deployment of a Rapid Attack Identification Detection and Reporting System (RAIDRS). Incremental capability deliveries are planned.”

“Spiral 1” of RAIDRS will reach “initial operational capability” toward the end of this year, while “full operational capability” will occur at the beginning of 2010, according to the budget documents. Air Force contractors are scheduled to begin building “Spiral 2” in 2011.

Offensive Counterspace Command and Control (OCS C2): “This effort supports the development of command and control and mission planning capabilities in support of the fielding and employment of Offensive Counterspace (OCS) Systems. It provides for the integration and development of collaborative tools to link deployable OCS systems with Joint Warfighting C2 systems and to enable integrated planning and execution of the OCS mission. Developed capabilities will be integrated into the Space C2 Weapon System / Combatant Commanders’ Integrated Command and Control System (CCIC2S).”

Delivery of the first OCS C2 capability will occur in 2008, according to the Air Force budget documents.