January 9, 2019

Chinese Moon Landing Warrants Action

It was a remarkable technological achievement — and a big-time warning for America.

Just after the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, China’s successful landing of the Chang'e 4 probe on the far side of the moon made headlines, and deservedly so. This was an event to be noted. It was a remarkable technological achievement — and a big-time warning that America’s strategic advantages in space are not as big as they used to be.

Does American superiority in space matter? Think of it this way: The capabilities that enable us to put a Joint Direct Attack Munition within 30 feet of some ISIS thugs, know the positions of friendly troops, or keep an eye on the activities of Russia near the border with Ukraine come from satellites in orbit. In essence, America has dominated the “high ground” of space for close to 60 years.

Or, to put it bluntly, before there was ever a hint of a Space Force, we had already militarized space. There may be many who will claim we shouldn’t militarize space, but when space is where communications, reconnaissance, and navigation systems are, then it’s already become a military theater. That’s the reality of the situation. And as was the case with air power, eventually space assets will start shooting at each other.

After Operation Desert Storm, America’s dominance in space was noted by Russia and China. They began working to catch up. They got a lot of help in that regard thanks to the penny-wise and pound-foolish “peace dividend” that came after the fall of the Soviet Union. America, to a large extent, rested on the laurels of winning the Cold War.

More importantly, China is developing hypersonic weapons and is also trying to make a play for space. In 2007, China destroyed a failed weather satellite — a sign that they had the capability to contest American access to space. How did the Chinese catch up? Well, it turns out that America was busy dealing with radical Islamic terrorism and has been since 2001. It still is today, as indicated by the recent airstrike that took out one of the jihadis behind the 2000 attack on USS Cole (another was killed in a 2002 drone strike, and a third was captured and interrogated).

When 9/11 happened, there was the need to prepare for the military campaign, not just against al-Qaida and its affiliates, but also the state sponsors of terrorism like the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. This drew a lot of attention for the next decade, and as such, other priorities slipped — and that was with George W. Bush in office. The military — and America’s edge in space — took more hits from his successor.

Even before Osama bin Laden was terminated, Barack Obama was already starting to hit the defense budget with a number of cuts, including what turned out to be a premature halt of F-22 production, and the early retirement of USS Enterprise (CVN 65). He also chopped the planned space shuttle replacement.

President Donald Trump, though, has begun to take space seriously. He not only has been pushing for the creation of a Space Force, he is also taking other steps to restore American primacy in space. A primacy that could very well make the difference between winning and losing a war.

Among the plans are the assembly of a permanent presence around the moon, as a way station for journeys to Mars. A return of manned missions to the moon, and journeys elsewhere in the solar system are also on the agenda. These not only will give us a chance to learn more about the other planets, but the technological improvements will have benefits that take surprising turns. Such technological leaps can also have military applications, adding to America’s qualitative edge over China.

It is obvious we will need it, because China has taken advantage of the end of the Cold War to make its own qualitative improvements. Twenty years ago, the bulk of the People’s Liberation Army Navy was in a large number of Luda-class destroyers, Jianghu-class frigates, and Romeo-class diesel-electric submarines, vessels that were relatively low-technology, albeit numerous. Today, though, that navy has the Type 55 and Type 52 destroyers and the Jiangkai-class frigates. As for submarines, the bulk of China’s force are modern Kilo-class submarines — backed by a small force of advanced nuclear attack submarines.

With China’s rise, and the return of an aggressive Russia, America may wind up feeling thankful for the Trump administration’s push to make America’s advantage in space large again. It won’t just benefit our military, but it could also make life on earth much easier.

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