Guest article by John Nestler (website: Space Marauder)
“The United States is not developing space weapons and could not afford to do so even if it wanted to,” said an official with the Pentagon last Thursday. Space weapons have always been a bit of a hush-hush topic, and it looks like the trend hasn’t been broken with this recent announcement. The real issue surrounding this announcement is what the Pentagon’s ideas of “space weapons” are…
The announcement came from an official with the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office on Thursday, at a time when President Obama has expressed interest in a space weapons ban. It is a bit hard to believe that the Pentagon isn’t looking into space weapons, the final frontier where weapons aren’t prevalent. Just last spring Wired reported on the Pentagon’s estimated budget for space weapons which totaled into a whopping $520 million. Granted this money is spread out over a number of different projects, not all specifically related to space weaponry, yet there was definitely some interest in the area less than a year ago.
Pete Hays, a senior policy analyst with the Pentagon and the associate director of the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies points to funding issues that would prevent the Pentagon from pursuing further development of space weapons. According to him, the government’s commitments to the military program makes funding for space weapons development improbable. Here’s his say on space weapons development at the Pentagon:
“There are no space weaponization programs. It’s an issue that academics like to flog now and then, but in terms of funded programs, there aren’t any. I can tell you that categorically.”
The definition of space weapons still remains a bit shady, as just a few weeks ago the Pentagon admitted to using two covert spy satellites to inspect a failed geostationary satellite. The event caused more than a few people to be worried about transparency within the Pentagon, and the possibility that the Pentagon could use these covert satellites to sabotage other enemy satellites in the future. The U.S. also flexed a bit of muscle when a rocket was launched to intercept and destroy a satellite that was deemed harmful as it was carrying full tank of a toxic propellant. The use of the rocket in this situation was clearly non-hostile to other satellites and was launched to destroy a credible threat. The problem is in the future where this same situation occurs, except the rocket accidentally intercepts and destroys a different satellite. One use is for the protection of the citizens on Earth, while another use is military related. This type of argument can be put forth for other similar developments in space technology which is what makes the area such a touchy subject.
Other countries are rightfully worried about the future of weapons in space, and have taken steps to create a treaty regarding the issue. China and Russia have been asking for a treaty like this at the United Nations Disarmament Conference for a while now. The U.S. has maintained it’s refusal on treaties banning space weapons since the 1970’s. Times are changing though and hopefully we will see some progress made in this area in the coming years.
Taking the news from the Pentagon face value is fine, but there is still a reasonable amount of doubt regarding their space weapon development plans. A little transparency into their plans could calm the nerves of countries that aren’t as established in space yet. On a final note, Pete Hays specifically mentioned that there were not any funded programs dealing with space weapon development. This still leaves open the option that the Pentagon may have secret off the books programs going on, which seems probable. As it stands currently there is no way to know what the future of weapons in space will be despite what countries claim, only time will tell.