General John "Jay" Raymond, chief of our new Space Force, observed that Russia's April 15, 2020 anti-satellite (ASAT) test showed "the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing."
Associated Press accounts suggest this test demonstrated something new, but ASAT capabilities can be achieved with numerous available long-range ballistic missiles. For example, our Navy's Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system demonstrated in 2008 that its first-generation Standard Missile-3 interceptor could shoot down satellites. Today's more advanced Aegis BMD system can do even better.
General Raymond also correctly stated Russia's real reason for its test: Its "hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs."
Indeed, such was long practiced by the Soviets, and now by Russia's current leaders. Unfortunately, many in the arms control community are willing to go along with this charade.
Consider that any nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) can be used to shoot down threatening satellites — but employing a nuclear weapon this way crosses an escalation threshold that discounts such use. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union and the United States both demonstrated this inherent capability in the early 1960s. And non-nuclear ASAT capabilities have long been sought — and achieved — by both.
The Soviets also had an operational co-orbital ASAT by the early 1980s — it could "snuggle" up to a satellite and damage it by a one of several means. China and probably other nations have that capability today.
And both nations have long sought non-nuclear "hit-to-kill" ASAT capabilities to destroy satellites by hitting them — presumably what was demonstrated by the Russians on April 15th — short of actually completing the intercept. Note: China demonstrated an ASAT capability in 2007, creating thousands of debris fragments — many of which are still in orbit.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I oversaw development of a "miniature homing vehicle (MHV)" to be carried by an ASAT interceptor launched from a F-15 fighter aircraft. That evolving technology helped justify President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) launched in March 1983 — though its ASAT capability was not demonstrated until two years later.
Before then, the Army's four "Homing Overlay Experiment (HOE)" demonstrations in 1983 and 1984 forecast our ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California — which have inherent ASAT capability.
This horse is "clearly out of the barn!" Now, consider a few related arms control pseudo "miniseries."
The Nixon administration initiated the first closely related formal U.S. negotiations with the Soviet Union — the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). These negotiations yielded the 1972 SALT I Agreement and the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, but nothing specifically on designated ASAT systems. (And the Soviets violated every arms control agreement they signed, by the way.)
Then, by late in President Gerald Ford's administration, Soviet space-based sensors were beginning to threaten our naval operations, and his near-final, if not his final, presidential directive was to develop a dedicated capability to counter that growing threat, leading to the above-mentioned F-15 ASAT development program.
Note, that initiative was not intended as a "bargaining chip" to achieve arms control limits — such limits made no sense given the inherent ASAT capability of numerous other systems, as noted above. We needed a mobile ASAT to counter the growing threat from Soviet space-based systems.
Nevertheless, the Carter administration sought to negotiate with the Soviets a formal ban of ASAT systems. It was soundly rejected by the Soviets, for the above reasons — and the Reagan administration had no interest in an ASAT ban and strongly supported the F-15 ASAT effort.
Enter the Congress, however. Sen. Paul Tsongas, D-Mass., offered an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, which passed and blocked funding to test the F-15 ASAT, unless the Reagan administration agreed to negotiate a comprehensive ASAT ban.
By then, as Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, I co-chaired, with Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Richard Pearl, the interagency group developing our space arms control policy and our response to the Tsongas amendment.
We persuaded the congressional "powers that be" that such a comprehensive ban was unverifiable — and they dropped their limit on testing the F-15 ASAT. Then I went to the Geneva Defense and Space Talks, responsible for defending President Reagan's SDI and its focus on space-based defenses against Soviet (and other) attempts to block it.
The Soviets were most concerned about SDI space components and sought to block them by all means throughout the international community with outspoken demands to "Prevent an arms race in space." In my notetaking in Geneva, I shorthanded this repeated demand as "PARIS."
The Soviet negotiators conditioned agreement to reduce offensive nuclear systems on our willingness to agree to a ban of "space-strike-arms," defined to be systems to attack space-based systems or weapons in space that from space can attack other systems wherever based.
To make a long story short, we refused and, with help from our friends in Congress and among our allies, refuted Soviet propaganda attempting to limit SDI, mostly by noting the above history.
To help demonstrate their absurd claims, I sometimes referenced Soviet plenary statements that had opposed the Carter administration's proposed comprehensive ASAT ban — showing they well understood that such a ban made no sense. As General Raymond said, "hypocritical" claims.
Then, the Sept. 17, 1985 successful F-15 ASAT test helped prove that SDI was about real technology that the Soviets could not match. No doubt, that fact helped President Reagan in his successful Reykjavik Summit a year later. I like many others believe his refusal to end SDI efforts on space-based defenses brought an early end to the Cold War.
These lessons again should be remembered when considering the siren call of arms control advocates in their persistent search for arms control agreements for arms control sake. Avoid the ruse!
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.
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