Imagine new defense technologies that would allow the Pentagon to decrease drastically its nuclear arsenal, slash the size of the U.S. armed forces and reduce the number of military bases abroad. The new technologies would enhance me safety of U.S. servicemen and women, kill fewer of the enemy and result in less collateral damage that harms and kills innocent civilians abroad. All the while, they practically ensure quick military victories and protect Americans from harm at home.
These technologies are real. Some, as shown recently in Afghanistan, are operational. More are on the way. Surprisingly, they are running into opposition not only among the "Axis of Evil" and potential future adversaries, but by U.S. allies and even activists and politicians in this country.
Imagine if a terrorist such as Osama bin Laden had no time to hide while the U.S. massed land, naval and air forces against him. Instead, within 30 minutes of an order from the president, the terrorist chief and his lieutenants would be eliminated by a sudden bolt from the sky. That technology doesn't exist. But it could in the not-too-distant future, thanks to the proved successes of space-based systems now crucial to the U.S. military. Space technology helped make possible the awesome precision attacks against terrorists in Afghanistan as they fled in their Toyota pickup trucks, hid in mud huts and caves and used Red Cross buildings as weapons depots. These attacks were, of course, supported by the networking of U.S. Special Operations Forces on the ground with their commanders far afield, bomber pilots in the sky and even robotic drones armed with Hellfire missiles.
The new space technologies have revolutionized the way the United States, the world's lone superpower, wages war. But the more dependent the United States becomes on space, the more vulnerable it becomes to other forms of attack. It's no longer sufficient to dominate the sea and sky, according to senior Pentagon officials. The United States will maintain its ability to fight swift, decisive victories with few casualties only as long as it has unchallenged control of space beyond the atmosphere.
Terrorists got away in Afghanistan partly because of the time it took for U.S. and British forces to bomb them once they were sighted. Jet aircraft and cruise missiles flying from Pakistan, the Arabian Sea or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean took two to eight hours to reach their marks and drop ordnance on individual terrorists sighted at certain targets. The United States had to bomb at night when the terrorists were sleeping. To shorten response time between sighting and striking, U.S. forces ultimately flew flights to loiter in the skies above Afghanistan in search of what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld calls targets of "opportunity."
Space-based weapons, advocates say, would have done the job more quickly. Though still in the developmental stage, such orbiting weapons could deliver ordnance to their targets anywhere on Earth in less than 30 minutes, proponents say. With spaceborne lasers and other directed-energy weapons still at least two decades away from deployment, the Pentagon is considering more near-term solutions.
One project under development is a constellation of orbiting satellites armed with neither lasers nor explosives but simple tungsten rods. These rods, fired like arrows from space, enter the atmosphere like meteorites and survive re-entry, precision-striking targets on Earth at a hypervelocity of 6 kilometers (3.72 miles) per second. "The seismic shock of the tungsten rod would collapse the entire building," says a U.S. military source familiar with the project.
Though more controversial among U.S. critics than nuclear weapons, such satellite-based arms -- which the U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) calls "space-based Earth-strike weapons" -- theoretically could allow the United States to destroy any enemy at …