DOD holds line on hardened satellites

The Pentagon has included $50 million in its 2002 budget request to keep open the production line of radiation-proof satellite parts, in part to protect them from a potential nuclear explosion in space.

Pete Aldridge, the new undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, discussed the funding during a July 12 joint hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's Military Procurement and Military Research and Development subcommittees.

Satellites used for commanding and controlling military forces are subjected to relatively large amounts of naturally occurring radiation. But military officials fear the possibility that a future enemy could launch a nuclear warhead into space, knocking out satellites and blanketing the country with electromagnetic pulse (EMP) energy.

Such an attack would theoretically knock out electronics of all kinds, including military weapon systems, television and radio, air traffic control, banking and finance systems, and automobile engines.

However, only two companies—Honeywell Inc. and BAE Systems—continue to make satellite parts that have been protected or "hardened" against EMP. Pentagon officials worry that without much market for the parts, the production lines will dry up.

"Our concern is that the two production lines—one or both of them — will go down if there is not a market for this kind of thing, so we're having to pay to keep the market there," Aldridge said.

But Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) pressed Aldridge on why weapon systems on the ground are not hardened against EMP, saying, "I don't understand what good a hardened command and control is when you've got nothing left to command and control."

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