Taking the High Ground - the U.S. Military Marches into Space

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Alan Dowd is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis. His last article for The World & I appeared in January 2002.

NEWS ITEM--Calling it "the military equivalent of a Pearl Harbor in space and the psychological equivalent of another September 11," the president confirmed that several U.S. satellites were attacked and destroyed last night without warning or provocation. Citing national security and operational secrecy, the president refused to share the exact number or type of satellites that have been hit. Nor would he offer any clues as to the country responsible for the attacks.

But he did provide some information about the attacks themselves. According to the president, "Four days ago, the U.S. Space Command in Colorado reported a series of unannounced launches by a hostile nation. Soon after these launches, U.S. satellites began to encounter serious problems relaying information to and from earth." Minutes after the first satellite was hit, Pentagon officials informed the president that a number of U.S. commercial and military satellites had indeed been attacked by a foreign government.

The U.S. satellites were most likely hit by antisatellite weapons, or ASATs. After rocketing into space, the ASATs, in effect, tore a hole in America's web of communications and reconnaissance satellites. The resulting communications blackouts have brought America's satellite- dependent economy to a virtual standstill over the last thirty hours. For some Americans, the blackouts have been little more than a nuisance, disrupting television feeds and rendering BlackBerry messaging and other paging systems worthless. But according to the president, the breakdowns have had a dramatic and potentially devastating impact. Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled yesterday after pilots and air-traffic controllers reported communications failures in midflight. The president has since grounded all commercial air traffic. Banks have been unable to keep track of money transfers, while hundreds of other businesses are unable to ship goods, which has triggered food, gas, and oil shortages in pockets of the country.

Equally troubling, the Pentagon has reportedly lost contact with ships at sea and troops in the field. Although they will not confirm or deny these reports, Pentagon officials do concede that they are unable to maintain twenty-four-hour satellite surveillance over large swaths of the earth's surface.

Dismissing suggestions that the attacks might have been accidental, the president vowed to retaliate. "I have ordered key units of the Air Force and Space Corps to strike targets both on earth and in space," he grimly announced. When, where, or against whom remains a closely guarded secret. Indeed, the president's refusal to name the guilty party has touched off a firestorm of guessing and second-guessing in Washington. However, defense analysts say that only a handful of countries, among them China and a few radical Islamic states, have both the means and the motive to launch such a daring attack.

The ASAT attacks and inevitable U.S. counterstrikes mark the first time in human history that space will be a theater of military operations, and the president took pains to underscore the gravity of the moment. "Make no mistake, this was an attack against the United States of America," he concluded. "The fact that it occurred beyond our gaze does not diminish what it is--a deliberate, premeditated act of war."


This scenario may seem far-fetched or even irrelevant as the U.S. military wages a war against terrorism that appears to have more in common with the nineteenth century than the twenty-first. We all remember the photographs of U.S. Special Forces galloping into Afghanistan's battlefields on horseback; however, those pictures tell only a fraction of the story. Revolutionary technologies, political changes at home, and emerging threats abroad are blurring the line between science fiction and science fact--and transforming the way America wages war. …