Hawaiian Star Wars
John Lasker / Mar 7, 2007
In January, a Chinese missile snarled and flashed its fangs 500-miles above the earth’s surface. China, in a show of its space war-fighting capabilities, had obliterated one its own weather satellites with a ground-based missile interceptor. Later that month, while still in the fall-out of China’s provocative action, the United State’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) shot down a dummy ballistic missile as it skirted the edge of space, 70-miles above the Pacific and not far from Kaua’i.
The dummy missile had been launched from a mobile platform floating off the coast of Kaua’i. Traveling at more than 10,000 feet per second as it closed in on the dummy, the interceptor missile had been fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) at Barking Sands on Kaua’i’s western shore.
For the MDA and many of its private contractors from the aerospace industry, it was reason to stand up and cheer. This was the first time the Pacific Range had showcased the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system since Missile Defense had moved it from a New Mexico desert in October. THAAD is, in military parlance, a mobile ballistic missile interceptor.
But while the invading MDA unit and their peers at PMRF celebrated, it was more bleak news for island peace activists and those worried about the militarization of Hawai’i.
There is no doubt that missile defense tests or ‘Star Wars’ tests are on the upswing in the Pacific and Hawai’i. Some peace activists and arms control experts believe this is a sign that beginnings of a new arms race, a chess match of space-combat prowess between China and the United States, is brewing in the Pacific.
This potential arms race has far greater implications than which nation can build the more powerful laser or the first to launch a ‘killer satellite’ constellation. It is a race that signals to the international community that a future war between China and the U.S. may be inevitable. A war between an emerging superpower and the current champion that could be sparked by the skyrocketing demand for energy resources. A war fought on traditional battlescapes such as land, water and air, and not-so-traditional-cyberspace and outer space. It is a conflict where the frontlines could easily engulf the Islands.
‘If you think about it,’ says a Naval officer from the Islands who spoke on the condition of anonymity, ‘the threats we’re facing are going to be coming from space.’
In the mean time, some are speculating on what China was trying to accomplish by turning a satellite no bigger than a refrigerator into a 1,000 little floating pieces.
‘The [anti-satellite] test could have been a strategic move by the Chinese to bully the United States into actually discussing (a space weapons) treaty,’ states space-weapons expert Theresa Hitchens. The current White House is telling the world there’s no need for a treaty, says Hitchens, who directs the left-leaning Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank.
‘There certainly are many in U.S. policy and military circles who believe that China is the new threat, and that the United States must ready itself for an eventual military conflict in the Pacific,’ she says.
Son of Star Wars
Maine resident Bruce Gagnon is the coordinator for Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. He has traveled the world warning peace activists and university crowds about the MDA, which he calls the ‘son of Star Wars.’
Since President Ronald Reagan called for a space shield in the early 1980s, the Pentagon and its space hawks have spent more than $100 billion on research. More than 20 years later, former-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to revive missile defense. And though he’s gone, he and others managed to double funding for missile defense and make it the premier research quest of the Pentagon.
All U.S. missile defensive capabilities, however, have an offensive application as well, says Gagnon. That is why he calls Star Wars a ruse, a Trojan horse.
‘It has always been my contention that the Missile Defense Agency is in fact creating an offensive program that includes anti-satellite weapons and other first-strike space weapons programs,’ he says.
Gagnon, a veteran of the Air Force, has kept a close eye on the Pacific. He has traveled to Japan to rally peace activists there as that nation spends more and more on U.S. missile defense. Citing Pentagon documents and major newspaper reports, the Global Network coordinator says the Pentagon is slowly doubling its military presence in the Asian-Pacific region. Pentagon officials say over 50 percent of their ‘forward looking’ war games took place in Asia during the last decade.
Like other observers, Gagnon agrees a Sino-American war could erupt over the global competition for oil. But he also believes this: The U.S. may try to manage China’s development before it even comes to this. ‘China, if left alone, will become a major economic competitor with the U.S.,’ he says. ‘The U.S. wants to control the keys to China’s development.’
To do so, the U.S. will arm the Pacific with a high-tech arsenal, such as space weapons, which can, among other things, knock out satellites and thus blind a modern war force. ‘China imports much of its oil through the Taiwan Strait and thus if the U.S. can militarily dominate that region, then the Pentagon would have the ability to choke off China’s ability to import oil,’ he says. ‘The U.S. could then theoretically hold them hostage to various political demands.’
Some of Gagnon’s peers in the arms-control field have labeled him a chicken little and his theories too far out there. But after what the national office of the ACLU uncovered, he’s being criticized less and less these days. Two years ago, the ACLU discovered that ‘agents’ from NASA and the Air Force were secretly monitoring him and his family.
Full Spectrum Dominance
Just hours after China blew up its own weather satellite, calls were made on Capital Hill to ramp up the U.S. space warfighting arsenal.
Peace activists and arms-control experts could only shake their heads.
They know the Pentagon has quietly been making the case for ‘full-spectrum dominance’ for the last 10 years. Besides rising missile defense budgets, numerous defense papers have called for the U.S. to militarize the ultimate high ground, even the moon.
Why the Pentagon desires to weaponize space while also shifting much of their global warfighting focus and missile-defense research from Europe to Asia-Pacific is the subject of a contentious debate. China does have a small cache of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S. The world’s fastest growing economy has also made overtures to regain its lost province-Taiwan.
But China isn’t the only Asian nation keeping the Pentagon on edge. North Korea has threatened to strike Hawai’i with ballistic missiles and in the late 1990s fired a ballistic missile over Japan. Last year the regime detonated a nuclear weapon underneath a mountain and test-fired several ballistic missiles-on July 4 no less.
‘Our stance is the increasing missile defense tests are a destabilizing factor. The tests are provoking an arms race in the region between nuclear powers’
local peace activist,
Kyle Kajihiro is one of Hawai’i’s most notable peace activists. He directs the Honolulu-based DMZ Hawai’i and believes there may be a simpler reason as to why missile defense research is on the rise around the Islands.
As if mirroring the resurgence of Star Wars, the increasing militarization of Hawai’i has coincided with two significant events, the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 and the election of President Bush in 2001. What’s too easy, Kajihiro adds, is targeting the current wave of Republican leadership in Washington for allowing defense funding to pour into the islands. You also have to blame the gatekeeper who has the keys to the federal safe that houses the Pentagon’s money, the peace activist says.
‘Sen. Daniel Inouye wants the money to pour in. They (Inouye and allies) want defense contractors to set up shop here,’ Kajihiro says. ‘The Congressional earmarks are not necessary. That’s my gut feeling. The North Korean threat has been completely exaggerated.’
There’s no debate that Sen. Inouye is a war hero and his contribution during World War II a story of legendary proportions. Sixty years later, however, Inouye’s influence and power as one of Washington’s veteran senators has allowed Hawai’i to become a ‘destabilizing’ factor in the Pacific, Kajihiro says.
Fifteen years ago the Navy’s Pacific Missile facility at Barking Sands was on the Pentagon’s list for downsizing and possible closure. In 1999, Kajihiro claims that Inouye sought to rejuvenate the facility by co-sponsoring the National Missile Defense Act.
The Clinton administration, which significantly cut missile defense funding during the 1990s, criticized the bill. But it passed anyway and Inouye secured nearly $50 million to upgrade the missile range. ‘It was the beginning of the flood gates opening for a lot of these missile defense projects around Hawai’i,’ says Kajihiro.
Sen. Inouye is the third most senior senator. He also chairs the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee and has declared many times his position has helped Hawai’i economically. Indeed, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan think tank, 60 to 65 percent of all military-related earmarks during the last several years went to the states of senators who sit on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
As Christmas neared in 2001, a time Congress worked furiously in the wake of 9/11 to beef up 2002’s defense budget, Sen. Inouye’s committee quietly doubled Hawai’i’s defense budget for that year. The Islands would receive a total of $850 million, which doesn’t include payroll or day-to-day expenses.
Of the $400-million plus in new 2002 appropriations, $75 million was allocated for cleaning up unexploded ordinance at Kaho’olawe. But $150 million went to missile defense research. Other funds were added to ambiguous projects that peace activists claim could someday contribute to space weapons.
For instance, $6 million was given to the Silicon Thick Film Mirror Coating program, an ongoing research project on Kaua’i. Peace activists say the coating will someday be applied to space-based mirrors that will relay ground-based or space-based lasers around the globe.
Twenty million also went to the Air Force’s Maui Space Surveillance System, located on the summit of Haleakala Mountain. There, the U.S. military operates its largest telescope-the Advanced Electro-Optical System. One of its responsibilities is to monitor asteroids that may strike earth.
‘I’m not buying any of it,’ says Kajihiro, who believes he telescope will be used for missile defense and space combat. The military says the telescope can also track satellites; it also admits that laser-beam research continues at the site.
During this decade, Hawai’i has annually ranked in the top five for states receiving defense funding. According to Kajihiro, the militarization of Hawai’i ‘is really driven by the appropriations.’ He adds, ‘Sen. Inouye says it’s about defending Hawai’i. Our stance is the increasing missile defense tests are a destabilizing factor. The tests are provoking an arms race in the region between nuclear powers.’
The millions of dollars that are being spent on missile defense research around Hawai’i do not entirely go to military personnel. Take for example the THAAD system, which was moved from New Mexico to Kaua’i. THAAD is managed by the MDA, but its primary contractor and researcher is aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
Between the years 2001 and 2006, five of Inouye’s 20 top campaign finance contributors were defense contractors, says Kajihiro, citing information received from [Opensecrets.org]. Inouye’s biggest contributor from defense contractors was Lockheed Martin.
‘Sen. Inouye has said he’s anti-war, but at the same time he’s pro-military build-up, pro-military pork. It’s kind of weird. It’s hypocritical,’ says Kajihiro.
Sen. Inouye’s office failed to return phone calls for this story.
When asked about the Joint Space Control Operations-Negation program and their field tests during classified ‘Terminal Fury’ exercises, Major David Griesmer, a public information officer for U.S. Pacific Command, said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’
Griesmer’s statement is revealing when trying to gauge the entire picture of missile defense research ongoing around the Islands. Millions of unclassified military funding is being pumped into the Islands to test missile defense. But what about classified or secret missile defense research?
Terminal Fury is a ‘command post exercise,’ says Griesmer, ‘involving multiple bases, a naval component, air component and army component.’
‘Some involved don’t even come to Hawai’i,’ he adds.
Yet for the last three Terminal Fury’s, reports the civilian-owned CS4ISR Journal, the Joint Space Control Operations-Negation (JSCON) conducted field tests. The tests would be the first known anti-satellite tests conducted by the U.S. military since 1985 when a F-15 destroyed a satellite with a missile. ‘[The JSCON] program will help the Pentagon figure out which satellite-killers to buy,’ states the C4ISR Journal.
The journal would not say what satellite killer technology was used, but suggested it was probably the Counter Communications System or CounterCom. The $75 million ground-based device is classified, but it was declared operational by the Pentagon several years back. While not an actual killer, the device allegedly can make a satellite go dead.
Here’s a partial list of missile defense and space weapons research ongoing around the Islands and in the Pacific.
Sea-based X-Band Radar
At the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua’i, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is testing THAAD, a ground-based missile-to-space interceptor system. But at sea and at Pearl Harbor, the MDA is testing the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. Named after the shield of Zeus, the Aegis technology fires an interceptor missile that simply slams into a ballistic missile and destroys it. The technology has been applied to only a handful of ships, including Pearl Harbor’s USS Lake Erie, but many other ships from the Pacific fleet are slated to acquire it. Since the late 1990s, the Erie has shot down nearly a dozen dummy missiles, some of which were 200 miles above the earth’s surface.
The floating Sea-based X-Band Radar platform is perhaps the strangest looking craft to have ever sailed the Pacific. Built on a modified oil-drilling platform, the X-Band’s gigantic white dome could easily be mistaken for some alien craft. The distance from the water to the top of the radar dome is roughly 250 feet. The MDA has said the radar has enough detection and target resolution power that it can distinguish a warhead from a decoy or a piece of space debris. The X-band arrived in Pearl Harbor early in 2006, took part in several ballistic missile tests and then headed to its current home in Alaska. The X-band cost between $900 million and $1 billion to build.
Maui Space Surveillance System
Since calling for Star Wars, the U.S. military envisioned high-powered lasers or directed-energy weapons shooting down ballistic missiles in the earth’s atmosphere or in space. But since then, the Pentagon is leaning more toward a missile-to-missile strategy not only because the technology is more feasible but because it is also cheaper. Nevertheless, the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars on combat energy beam weapons. Again, just days after the Chinese satellite incident, the U.S. Air Force launched its ‘ABL’ or Air Borne Laser aircraft from Vanderberg Air Force Base north of Los Angeles. For the first time the aircraft test fired in flight. The aircraft is a Boeing 747-sized airplane that has been gutted and turned into a flying laser canon. On the Islands, the Air Force is researching space-related lasers at Maui Space Surveillance System (MSSS) on Haleakala mountain. Two laser beam director/trackers are in use at MSSS but experts say they are not powerful enough to be deemed weapons. These same experts say nearly all astronomical sites across the U.S. don’t project lasers into space.
While they have no connection to Hawai’i as of yet, the most controversial missile defense tests on the horizon are the Space-based test bed maneuvers, activists claim. Space-based test beds are killer satellites that are loaded with missiles or high-powered lasers. When such a satellite constellation may launch is unknown; the U.S. military has targeted the middle of next decade. What is certain is the money the MDA wants for the space-based test bed: The agency as submitted to Congress a request or $675 million to develop this experimental constellation for the years 2008 through 2011, according to Space News.