Friday, October 26, 2007
Electronic vulnerability during the next war
A MAGINOT LINE IN THE SKY BEAT OUR SATELLITES, BEAT AMERICA October 26, 2007 -- AFTER the carnage of the First World War, France responded to the horrors of trench warfare by building the ultimate trenches - the infamous Maginot Line, a system of almost 5,000 individual fortifications arrayed along hundreds of miles of front to a depth of 20 miles. Only the Great Wall of China was longer - and the Maginot Line was vastly more complex. A marvel of military engineering, the problem was that it required an enemy who played by French rules. What happened? Paris poured so much money and effort into its network of fortresses that the generals couldn't believe it wouldn't work - the Germans would simply have to behave as required. The Germans didn't. France fell. Now the United States sits in imagined security behind its own array of crucial strategic assets - our network of satellites. Beat our satellites, beat us. The Chinese know it. The Russians know it. And religious fanatics are bound to figure it out. The Chinese are developing the capability to attack our satellite network; the Russians already have it - and terrorists would love to get it. Over the years, a number of analysts, such as Lt.-Col. John A. Gentry (ret.) and Prof. William A. Wulf, have tried to raise the alarm about aspects of our "high-tech" Maginot Line - but the warnings never really stuck. The ultimate vulnerability would come from a globe-spanning war with a power like China. Beijing has no intention of speeding out of its harbors to provide pop-up targets for the U.S. Navy. The Chinese are developing asymmetrical means to fight us on the broadest possible front - not least, striking our homeland in innovative ways. Beijing has already tested an anti-satellite weapon, and it's honing its cyber-attack skills to interfere with satellite transmissions and data processing. What happens if we lose key links in our satellite system? We lose our strategic early-warning capability. We lose our ability to track enemy movements. We lose our ability to communicate, from the dirty-boots level to the National Command Authority. The Global Positioning System goes away. Most of our hyperexpensive weapons systems can't hit their targets - we lose the precision-guided bombs and cruise missiles without which the Air Force and Navy can no longer fight. And that's just the military side of things. Try daily life without satellite communications. The Pentagon's aware of this threat - but, like the interwar French military establishment, refuses to treat it with adequate seriousness: We've spent so much money on weapons and support systems that rely on satellites that we "just say no" when it comes to contemplating a war in which the crucial link in our arsenal goes away. And satellites are the crucial link. Digitized information is to sophisticated 21st-century militaries what petroleum was to the armies of the last century. Turn off the tap, and the war machine grinds to a halt. Despite some classified programs underway, we're basically counting on our enemies to play nice and leave our satellites unmolested. Well, good luck. Nor do those $100,000-a-page ads that defense contractors run in the print media (ultimately billed to you, the taxpayer) ever explain that the "Network-centric Warfare" they tout fades to black if the satellites go down. And they're going to go down - unless we get serious, fast. There are three basic ways to attack our satellite network: physical destruction or impairment of the satellites themselves, jamming the communications links and cyber attacks on the support and user networks (the latter would range from simply taking down sites to entering them and corrupting data - perhaps to the point of retargeting our weapons). The Chinese and the Russians are working on all three approaches - counting on the synergies achieved to devastate our warfighting capabilities. What are we doing about it? Buying more systems that rely on satellites to function. We're so determined to lock this threat in the closet that we haven't even worked out the legal ramifications of an attack, physical or cyber, on our satellite networks. It might seem obvious to you and me that if a foreign power shot down or crippled one of our satellites, it would be an act of war. But plenty of lawyers today would argue that space isn't U.S. territory and that such an attack falls into a gray area. Nonsense. The obvious legal precedent is the venerable rule that an attack on a U.S.-flagged ship on the high seas constitutes an act of war. But the primary purpose of lawyers today - including some in uniform - seems to be to argue the enemy's case. What do we need to do? Three things: * The president and Congress must publish a far-more-explicit "Satellite Security Doctrine" that makes it clear that a surprise attack on the U.S. defense satellite network will be treated not only as an act of war but also as a war crime - and that our response will be swift, asymmetrical and disproportionate. * We need to concentrate far more defense dollars on protecting our satellites, rather than on fighter aircraft with no one to fight or the Rube Goldberg missile-defense system that we're determined to foist on the Poles and Czechs (and which relies on satellite communications). * We need to declare a moratorium on the purchase of new military systems that depend on satellite links - until we can guarantee that those links will be preserved in wartime. This issue is second in importance only to the nuclear threat at the height of the Cold War. Just as the French built their entire national defense around a single system, we're constructing the most complex and expensive military in history in a manner that relies on one vulnerable asset - the satellite. If you were America's enemy, would you charge out to take on our tanks, warships and aircraft? Or would you rather paralyze them all?