Pentagon Has Far-Reaching Defense Spacecraft in Works
Bush Administration Looking to Space to Fight Threats
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2005; Page A03
(must register to view original article)
The Pentagon is working to develop a suborbital space capsule within the
next five years that would be launched from the United States and could
deliver conventional weapons anywhere in the world within two hours, defense
This year, the Falcon program will test a launcher for its Common Aero
Vehicle (CAV), an unmanned maneuverable spacecraft that would travel at five
times the speed of sound and could carry 1,000 pounds of munitions,
intelligence sensors or other payloads. Among the system's strengths is that
commanders could order a CAV -- an unpowered glide vehicle -- not to release
its payload if they decided not to follow through with an attack.
The first-generation CAV, expected to be ready by 2010, will have "an
incredible capability to provide the warfighter with a global reach
capability against high payoff targets," Gen. Lance W. Lord, commander of
Air Force Space Command, told the House Armed Services Committee last
Within the next three years, the Falcon program hopes to enter a second
stage of the effort: flight-testing two versions of a reusable hypersonic
cruise vehicle, sometimes referred to as a space plane, that could travel a
suborbital path, about 100,000 feet high, carrying a CAV anywhere in the
world. Unlike a missile, the vehicle could return to its base after
releasing the CAV to deliver bombs or intelligence sensors.
The Falcon program vehicles "will improve the military's ability to quickly
position intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads, while
reducing its reliance on forward and foreign basing," Anthony J. "Tony"
Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),
told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee last week.
While most public attention today focuses on meeting threats abroad with
traditional land, sea and air forces, the Falcon program reflects how the
Bush administration is increasingly looking to space to meet dangers it
The use of space "enables us to project power anywhere in the world from
secure bases of operation," says the Pentagon's national defense strategy,
which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed on March 1. Among the key
goals in the strategy paper are "to ensure our access to and use of space
and to deny hostile exploitation of space to adversaries." The strategy
paper, done every four years, provides the policy basis on which the armed
services plan their research, development and acquisitions of weapons
systems. This year's strategy, Rumsfeld wrote, "emphasizes the importance of
influencing events before challenges become more dangerous and less
In congressional appearances over two weeks, Lord, Tether and other senior
Pentagon officials have described a variety of new space initiatives for
meeting challenges such as updating intelligence and communications
satellite programs and even fielding systems that would allow the United
States to temporarily silence enemy satellites if the need arose.
Space communications have already become important to U.S. warfighting. As
Lord put it, "Our most recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq prove our
nation relies on capabilities coming from and through space more than ever
before." For example, more than 60 percent of all communications at the
height of Operation Iraqi Freedom came through satellites, which also guided
munitions to targets and today transmit intelligence from the United States
directly to troops fighting in the field.
Looking to the future, the defense strategy calls for the use of space
vehicles that provide capabilities beyond the current intercontinental
missiles to thwart any future adversaries that move to prevent U.S. use of
land or sea bases.
Such abilities, Lord told the House members, are dubbed "prompt global
strike" and represent "a top priority for our space and missile forces."
Because CAVs, unlike missiles, can be recalled, they could be launched
toward a potential target even before a final decision was made to attack.
The system could, Lord said, "deliver a conventional payload precisely on
target within minutes of a valid command and control release order."
The capability offered by CAV would also reduce the need for overseas bases
and enable the United States "to react promptly and decisively to
destabilizing or threatening actions by hostile countries and terrorist
organizations," according to DARPA's early solicitation for bids put out in
John E. Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nongovernmental defense
think tank, said yesterday that the Falcon and CAV programs will allow the
United States "to crush someone anywhere in world on 30 minutes' notice with
no need for a nearby air base."
In addition to creating attack weapons, the Pentagon is working on new
defense systems to protect the ever-more-important satellites the United
States has in space.
"I think everybody that I know in the United States military and the
Department of Defense understands the important role that our space assets
play in our national security," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee last Thursday.
Last October, the Pentagon announced deployment of its first mobile
ground-based system that could temporarily disrupt satellite-based
communications from an enemy satellite. The counter-communications system
uses powerful electromagnetic radio frequency energy to silence
transmissions from a satellite in a way that is reversible if the need
passes. Two more units are due later this year.