The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Orbital Dominance: Old Theories and Future Applications

Review of: Salkeld, Robert. Forward by General B.A. Scriever, US Air Force (Ret.). War and Space. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, Inc.: 1970.

In this old book can be found some concepts directly related to one of four New Frontiers of Warfare: “Orbital Dominance.” It is hard to believe that this book written by Robert Salkeld near 40 years ago passed obscurely since its time. Much like Arthur C. Clarke’s rather believable fiction of humanity’s future on earth and in space, Salkeld’s writing set forth the problems involved in the nuclear arms race and the space race in the late 1960. And now, without too much publicity, a space race and an effort to achieve global supremacy via the military advantages of space for military uses has silently resumed among several nations and regional entities: The US and Russia as always, but now the European Union, China, India, Iran and Japan among the new contenders.
Far from merely the prestige of Sputnik-junk in orbit, putting one or two persons on the moon, or a scientific experiment to see how mushrooms grow in zero gravity, space in the 21st Century will provide a maximum “Smart Base” platform in which to dominate the earth below it. So with Xenophon and the Ten Thousand seizing the high ground in their Retreat 2400 years ago, the ultimate high ground for orbital communications and intelligence-surveillance assets, and even real weapons like deep penetration uranium rods, which glide along gravity’s velocity to multiply force with mass, might provide a nation’s margin of victory in future wars if they can get up “there first with the most.”
In the late 19th Century, the writings of naval historian and theorist Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan (USN) placed in the minds of politicians, voters, interest groups, ship-building industries, arms manufacturers and naval officers a first to build “sea power” aiming for maritime supremacy on the earth’s oceans. Since Mahan, and by a remarkable achievement of international diplomacy and law following the Washington Naval Conference in 1921-22, it can be argued that the United States’s “won” the Cold War and ruled the post-Cold War world as a “Supra-power” in large part due to the unparalleled global projection and striking power of the US Navy. With such a dominant, supreme navy, and the political leverage stemming from it, he who controls the oceans and airspace above it–over 70% of the earth’s surface– indeed has become the policeman of global politics. Maritime strategies, by theory, lead to the commercial advantage that forms a fuller value of “maritime supremacy” to sustain the expense of Supra-power. “Sea power” in base terms and brute force serves one component of maritime grand political strategy.
Salkeld in 1970 wrote during the point at which the US strategic advantage over the Soviet Union turned into rough parity between them. In his work, he establishes the rationale and some resolution for the problems in the pursuit of “Space Power.” Perhaps just a first step in a theory leading up to a more complete whole, Salkeld sees his thesis of strategic nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) based in space as maintaining the rough parity between the superpowers. With multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) on single missiles, advanced technology to acquire and shoot down nuclear missiles or bombers or to locate and sink missile armed submarines, technology had made the hostage-murder-suicide pact between the US and the Soviet Union prone to possible surprise and crippling sneak attacks against the other side.
The tacit agreement rested on a theory called “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD). Because of their power, unlimited in theory and engineering, once used there might be no way of stopping the escalation of nuclear combat. The terminal end was human extinction or close to it. Hence the only way nuclear weapons would work was to never have to use them: Both sides would be destroyed. But the possibility of the new, more flexible, more numerous and more diverse weapon sub-systems opened advantages that lessened the deterrent against their use. Ultimately, it was philosophical debate with amoral hazard: “If we could destroy them first, even on a 50/50 chance, would we dare to do it?” In short, someone might be crazy enough to start a nuclear war.
The crux of deterrence and MAD depended on the hostage-murder-suicide complex. To prevent the other side from using the weapons, presumably a Pearl Harbor-like sneak attack against a nation’s strategic nuclear forces, the nation receiving the first-strike (the first-strike known in the parlance as a “Counter-force attack”) had to ensure that it retained enough functional weapons not to attack empty missile and bomber bases, but to obliterate the attacker’s cities and industrial capacities–resulting in political, economic, societal and cultural extermination of its civilization.
In the foreword to the book War and Space, retired General of the Air Force Bernard A. Schriever (Ret.), the father of the American inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), states that in the light of the Soviet strategic and naval buildup in the late 1960s, of course arms control agreements and the eventual reduction of nuclear armaments to a mutual balance of terror would be the best option. However, just in case negotiation failed to preserve the MAD and was replaced by policies that made nuclear combat possible, “it is essential that we vigorously search for other strategic capabilities to provide additional options” (v). In the politics of war and peace, the side with the most flexible choice between more and better options usually has the advantage. In history, arms limitations negotiations, and treaties and understandings not to use or base nuclear weapons in space eliminated the need to develop and deploy space-based weapons.
Salkeld in his book theorized that in the near reaches of our solar system space, the ability to hide a relatively small and undetectable orbital platform with nuclear weapons and delivery systems, a counter-force sneak attack would be in practice impossible, considering the existing and potential technologies available for MAD deterrence from space. Missile silos and bomber bases in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, etc. might be knocked out. On the other hand, the un-findable, hidden weapons in space, or on the moon, would remain to destroy Soviet society and inflict the 100 million deaths considered a sufficient deterrent threat. In this context, Salkeld develops a thought-out process for utilizing space-based deterrents as a practical reinforcement to MAD, from research and design, through deployment and standard operating procedures.
In the 21st Century, where are we left with Salkeld’s Candide-like belief that a strengthened balance of terror leads to peace and comfort on earth? Three stages of strategic (intercontinental) nuclear arms reduction have occurred since 1991, the final year of Soviet rule over Greater Russia. MIRVs got negotiated out of existence, but perhaps only temporarily. Conventional weapons have used the exponential growth of applied knowledge (circuitry, computers, alloys, and designs) for a mathematical increase in the accuracy, power, projection and efficiency of non-nuclear weapons. At present, the United States deploys the early installments of a functional ballistic missile defense (BMD), adding an opportunity to launch a counter-force sneak attack against Russian nuclear forces and destroying in-flight the “assured insurance” weapons of a Russian (or other nation) second-strike against US cities. Deterrence in nuclear weapons breaks down even further with nuclear proliferation spreading to other, smaller, poorer and more unstable nations (Pakistan, People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, etc.). The “loose nukes” long feared, those disappearing from national armories and bases, or mercenary scientists who can build them, and falling into the control of international syndicates, terrorists nets, and drug cartels is a threat that grows every day.
What looms for the rising powers such as China or India, or re-emerging powers like Germany within the EU, Russia or Japan, if they want to challenge the United States declining supremacy in the world politics of war and peace? They might see the US as immune to conventional or nuclear challenge on the seas, air and land of the earth. It would be best, from their perspective, to jump a generation over the tradition of sea power and aim for space power as discussed here for a more efficient “Smart Base” to challenge the US.
Selkald’s thesis is to use space to dominate the earth, countering the power of a navy or an air force with the “highest ground” around. In the news, one can find old, rising, and reemerging powers sending a subtle message to other governments that they see space and the theory of Orbital Dominance a key aspect of their national security strategy. But security strategy is not the ultimate form of power–hard and soft or indirect and benevolent power–without integration into a broader grand political strategy that encompasses not only the logistics of military policy (the “Smart Base:” STRATEGY IS NOTHING BUT AN EXERCISE IN LOGISTICS), but also incorporates the political system for an increase of individual liberty on the next frontier of settlement, the free-market economic advantages, the societal implications for using space in common by humanity as a whole and for the benefit of all, and finally the cultural need for peace between humans instead of genocide. These elements, by tacit understanding or international law, brings the utilization of space to the ultimate advantage of humanity. Militarization for narrow national interest benefits no one but the leadership class and the wealthy.
In the vision of a true national grand “Space Strategy,” with clearly defined political objectives, the mere militarization of space ultimately can mean the end of the natural laws of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The New War Frontier of Orbital Dominance, resembling the brute sea power of ships and weapons but with sophisticated space power of “space ships” and weapons, predicts an ability to impoverish, observe, threaten or destroy from above humanity and the natural laws that regulate the relationship between governed and government. Everything involved in the militarization of space, the high-investment in capital output to put weapons and systems in orbit, space debris from battle-damage (which harms low-orbit travel itself), and the unique ability to use the C4ISR combination as an All-Seeing Eye atop the Pratzen Heights in the timeless struggle for liberty opposed to dictatorships, should give cause, concern and pause to allowing governments to exploit space EXCEPT in the direct benefit of average people not in the leadership class.
Space around our planet, and the resources on other planets, planetoids, and objects offer too much over the next 120 years to enhance, improve, or advance the material and spiritual condition of all humanity to be used just by one country or alliance to dominate others. These huge opportunities for humanity include orbiting solar energy collectors, raw materials (even ones which can be mined to produce oxygen, nitrogen), living space, and whatever is up there to discover. Yet, inevitably, as in the current wars, rebellions and conflicts involving the United States, EU/NATO, Russia, India, Japan, China, and Iran will be fought and perhaps decisively resolved by whoever
Selkald is not as popular nor hardly as influential in the 40 years since publication of Space and War as Mahan has been for 120 years. But if anything, Selkald, if he is rediscovered, could be the Mahan-like theorist in Orbital Dominance logistics. The author did, after all, have the backing in a way of General Schriever, one of the greatest military administrative engineers of all time. So, forgotten and anonymous (even on a google search), Selkald should be re-read but not as an open and uncritical endorsement of weapons in space. There may be justification today for Space Power. There very well may have been one in 1970, but the reader should look further. What the author does do is to open the mind to both the dangers, opportunities, catastrophes and rewards that come with stewardship of the worlds around Earth. One can hope humanity uses it better than this planet, and for peace not war, solely for human liberty on the new frontier, just like pioneers did on the old ones.