Block the Pending Arms Control Folly

On Sept. 13, the week began with an important Fox News article heralding the good news that Lt. General Bradley Saltzman, the nominee to lead the U.S. Space Force, correctly observed in his Senate Armed Services Committee Confirmation Hearing that space is "a warfighting domain."

He responded to questions that China, the threat of greatest concern, was aggressively pursuing capabilities to "disrupt, degrade and ultimately even destroy our satellite capabilities and disrupt our ground infrastructure."

And he stated that "one of his highest priorities is to make sure we’re on track to build and field effective capabilities" and then train the Space Force to "counter this activity by our strategic competitors."

In answer to a direct question from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., he confirmed that the timeless principles of War that have stood the test of time from Alexander to Washington to Napoleon to Grant would apply in space just like they apply here on earth.

Hear! Hear!

The above is sound strategic and tactical thinking!

But then on Friday (Sept. 16), the Air and Space Forces Magazine reported that Vice President Kamala Harris had earlier confirmed at a meeting of the National Space Council at Johnson Space Center in Houston that the United States would not conduct direct ascent Antisatellite (ASAT) missile tests as she had earlier claimed in April.

Furthermore, she observed that the Department of Defense and Department of Commerce had signed a Memorandum of Agreement to transfer tracking responsibilities from the Defense to the Commerce Department.

This policy and diffusion of responsibilities is clearly contrary to our national interest.

And announced plans to involve the United Nations in negotiations on these matters is a recipe for delay while the threats from space to our national interests grow. An earlier UN report gives the members of this multilateral body that can and no doubt will assure such bureaucratic stagnation.

Meanwhile, articles this week also reported on the growing threat from space to the United States and our allies.

For example, Bill Gertz reported in his Sept. 15 Washington Times Inside the Ring article that the Defense Policy Board had reviewed how China and Russia are leading the development of space-based Hypersonic systems that can threaten from space our strategic capabilities, as David Ignatius reported last February in The Washington Post, including earlier October 2021 comments by USAF General John Hyten, then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — and previously Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM).

As Ignatius reports, we are playing catchup on developing such systems that were actually pioneered three decades ago (by President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), but abandoned in 1993) — and only recently (during the Trump administration) begun being considered again.

These recent arms control initiatives will not help — indeed they will assure delay, as was demonstrated clearly in the 1983 evaluation of the Tsongas Amendment (By Sen. Paul Tsongas, D-Mass.) that blocked the Air Force from testing an ASAT missile, launched from an USAF F-15.

This writer oversaw that development as a Deputy Assistant Air Force Secretary for Strategic and Space Systems, and then as Assistant Director for Strategic Programs of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), and led the interagency effort that successfully demonstrated to Congress that a comprehensive ban was unverifiable and not in our national interests — and the successful testing went ahead.

But then congress blocked any further development of such "hit to kill" ASATs, however based, and so we fell behind and now find ourselves behind while our adversaries are developing these capabilities.

Most importantly, those 1983 lessons should again block wistful proposals to ban ASAT testing. We effectively countered those foolish arguments pressed by the United Nations during our Geneva Defense and Space negotiations in the Reagan and Bush-41 administrations that led to historic arms control treaties to reduce offensive nuclear arms.

We should go back to the future and block the pending arms control folly.