The makers and operators of America’s spy satellites have lofted at least 13 assets on their way to orbit with the early morning launch today of NROL-39, atop the always impressive Atlas V rocket. The main payload may be a highly advanced space radar, according to several educated guesses (which is about the best… Keep reading →
The latest victim of the federal government shutdown is a crucial player in the space and intelligence world, the Aerospace Corporation, which has had to cut back the work of 60 percent of its 3,500 employees. “The Aerospace Corporation started implementing a partial work shutdown on Oct. 3, after the Air Force’s Space and Missile… Keep reading →
As sequestration forces the Pentagon to consider truly transformative cuts to the U.S. military, the knives are coming out even more readily than usual in a town known for fierce infighting. Today’s budget environment has created an open season on traditional concepts of roles and missions. Service leaders have become far more vocal in warning… Keep reading →
Dear Reader, with Congress close to irrelevant (and out of town anyway), the Defense Department bracing for the coming end of the world (slight exaggeration) and so many of DC’s denizens out of town and recharging for the September onslaught, this August probably will be particularly quiet. So we are experimenting with that terribly au… Keep reading →
Tomorrow is the forty-fourth anniversary of the day a human first walked on another celestial body, our Moon. So it’s only fitting and proper that we do this — offer our readers a spectacular shot of a heavy rocket, the Atlas V, carrying an enormous military communications satellite into orbit. The Navy satellite built by Lockheed… Keep reading →
As the Department of Defense continues to wrestle with the high costs and often slow pace of military technology and acquisition programs, it would do well to take a closer look at that other bastion of high-tech government programs: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA’s low-cost missions from yesteryear just might hold the secret… Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Even the grim, dark and powerful Soviet Union came to share fairly detailed information about the size and potency of its military to ensure nobody made a wrong step by over- or underestimating its military prowess. The current rising power, China, so far, has largely refused to share much information about either how its forces are organized or what weapons it fields.
So when official Chinese media were joined by Western media in reporting that the Peoples Liberation Army had issued a White Paper, “Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces,” offering greater transparency, I checked with a range of experts on the PLA to see if that was, in fact, the case.“There is really nothing that stands out as a remarkably new emphasis or form of ‘transparency.’ The identification of all PLA Army units as mobile forces with their military region affiliation is a better explanation of order of battle,” said Larry Wortzel, one of Washington’s most respected China military analysts and also a member of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, in an email.
For contrast, here’s what the Peoples Liberation Daily says about the White Paper:
“…China’s military is transforming from ‘responding to questions’ to ‘explaining proactively’, which shows the country is more transparent and willing to take on responsibilities. The national defense white paper shows Chinese army’s transparency and openness. Along with the accelerating pace of going out, Chinese army has taken the initiative to show its image to the world. It is obvious to see the country’s sincerity and hard working in military transparent.”
OK. And Dean Cheng, China analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation (where Wortzel used to work), offered the Chinese a tiny nod.
“To give the Chinese credit, I don’t think we’ve ever had a nice, neat summary by them of which units (or at least their designations) are in the Nanjing or Lanzhou Military Region. It’s a (baby) step towards transparency. It’s also at an extremely meta-level: armies, fleets,” Cheng says in his email.
But the real problem both the Chinese and Western countries face is that, as the Chinese paper said: “Western countries have suspected Chinese army for a long time, guessing whether Chinese army is defensive or offensive.”
The Chinese says simply that this latest paper, “has answered the suspicion directly. ‘China will never seek hegemony or behave in a hegemonic manner, nor will it engage in military expansion,’ the white paper says.”
As is clear from Wortzel and Cheng’s observations, that may not entirely be the case.
Cheng also detailed how this paper differs from earlier Chinese offerings:
- “Space and cyber are only mentioned twice (as far as I can tell), both in passing. However, some mention of informationization (which is broader than cyber). Information dominance (specifically mentioned) would include counter-space and cyber activities.
- “Military support to national development is now listed AFTER protecting territorial sovereignty. This is a shift from the previous order when discussing ‘new historic missions” of the PLA.
- “Heavy emphasis (or at least prominent reference) to maritime security, including securing SLOCs (Sea Lines of Communication), defense of territorial waters, etc.”
“‘Some countries are strengthening their Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanding military presence in the region, and frequently making the situation there tenser,’ the 40-page report on the ‘Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’ said, without naming any particular state,” the People’s Liberation Daily says. Keep reading →
The public experienced a moment of angst in 1997 when it looked like Asteroid XF11 might threaten the Earth in 2028. It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean the threat doesn’t exist or that we should do nothing about it.
Asteroids and comets that come close to Earth are collectively known as Near Earth Objects (NEOs). In 1998, Hollywood released two movies dealing with NEOs, Deep Impact and Armageddon. The first movie, Deep Impact, focused on the human emotions related to impending doom, while Armageddon was an action-hero film. In it, Bruce Willis and his rag-tag band of oil drillers save humanity from an approaching killer asteroid, taking off in the Shuttle and within just 18 days of the asteroid being sited, deflect it away from Earth. Keep reading →
COLORADO SPRINGS, NATIONAL SPACE SYMPOSIUM: Spend $5 million to help track possible threats like North Korean missile launches by leaving an Alaskan radar site on at full power. Turn off East Coast radar receivers that provide data about satellites and space debris.
Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command, has cut Space Fence radar coverage by one-third, making what he called a prudent risk decision to use a radar at Eglin Air Force Base “that can operate in Space Fence mode” to plug any holes that might develop. That means he’s shut down two of six radar receivers. That’s how tough the balancing act is getting for Shelton as he fights his way through to saving $508 million from his command’s budget. (Perhaps Congress wants to consider how prudent this risk is as it decides what to do about sequestration.)
Shelton said he decided against shutting down the Alaskan radar receiver because of the highly uncertain North Korean situation but now he’s got to find that $5 million from somewhere else in his budget. In addition, he’s cut his civilian contractor workforce by 50 percent.
And he sounded as if the decision has been made to cut spending for the upgrade of the Space Fence, the radar and data system that monitors Earth’s orbit for satellites and the debris that has accumulated there over the years.
Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are competing for this and Shelton said a contract award could be made in the next month. But he also made very clear that they might drop the program. “Is this a priority investment for the future?” he asked. “Some serious decisions need to be made whether it is a capability we need to invest in for the future.” He said he’s “all for it but” he made it pretty clear that others in the Air Force may not agree with his position.
At the same time as cost is making it hard to justify new systems if they are expensive or don’t provide immediately needed capabilities, Shelton said there had recently been a near miss between a “spacecraft that was not maneuverable and objects that got to within 23 meters. That’s close. That’s close.” He also made clear the US cannot accurately monitor many of the smaller pieces of debris, which he estimated at nearly half-a-million. We can monitor a small sliver of that debris, roughly 22,000 pieces.
Finally, the general spoke about Boeing and Ball Aerospace’s Space-Based Surveillance System, which has been very expensive. A study is underway to decide what to do after SBSS, Shelton said. “There are lessons learned from SBSS. We, unfortunately, let requirements creep get the best of us. It’s far more expensive than it needed to be,” he told reporters here. That has been the case for so many space systems over the last 15 years and it is not, Shelton made clear, a pattern that bears repeating.Keep reading →