Satellite shootdowns not a threat to DOD space assets, analyst says

The Navy’s use of an anti-ballistic missile to shoot down a falling U.S. satellite Feb. 20 did not inaugurate a new era of vulnerability for high-bandwidth military communications, said David Mosher, a Rand Corp. senior policy analyst specializing in issues related to the militarization of space and ballistic missile defense.

Any concern “about a space Pearl Harbor is way overstated,” Mosher told Defense Systems in an interview Feb. 21.

As the military edges closer to achieving its network-centric vision of warfare, it is becoming more dependent on high-bandwidth communications routed through satellites. That makes satellites an increasingly attractive target despite a near-universal condemnation of the militarization of space.

Defense Department officials said this week’s satellite operation was not a show of force or a response to China’s destruction of one of its own weather satellites in January 2007.

However, even if the United States should find itself fighting an enemy with the will and capacity to destroy U.S. satellites, high-bandwidth communications would continue to operate, Mosher said.

“The key here is not to protect satellites. The key is to protect the function,” he added. That could be accomplished many ways, including ensuring that satellite systems are robust enough to survive the loss of some of their units.

A prime example is the Global Positioning System, which consists of at least 24 satellites in medium Earth orbit. “It would take a whole lot to significantly degrade GPS,” Mosher said. “You’d have to shoot a lot of satellites.”

Increased use of transoceanic fiber-optic cables could also make the military less dependent on satellites. Such cabling has already proven to be reliable and has done a great deal to reduce satellite use in the private sector, Mosher said.

In any event, if a satellite-shooting war occurs, air vehicles with sensors and routers located lower in the atmosphere than satellites would already be active. “That just makes sense in regional warfare anyway,” he said.

A shot-down satellite would be a loss because alternatives would not perfectly compensate for the missing capacity, “but it’s not the end of the world,” Mosher said.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


  • Contracting
    8 prototypes of the border walls as tweeted by CBP San Diego

    DHS contractors face protests – on the streets

    Tech companies are facing protests internally from workers and externally from activists about doing for government amid controversial policies like "zero tolerance" for illegal immigration.

  • Workforce
    By Mark Van Scyoc Royalty-free stock photo ID: 285175268

    At OPM, Weichert pushes direct hire, pay agent changes

    Margaret Weichert, now acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, is clearing agencies to make direct hires in IT, cyber and other tech fields and is changing pay for specialized occupations.

  • Cloud
    Shutterstock ID ID: 222190471 By wk1003mike

    IBM protests JEDI cloud deal

    As the deadline to submit bids on the Pentagon's $10 billion, 10-year warfighter cloud deal draws near, IBM announced a legal protest.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.