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Air Force: US Must Take `Higher Ground’ in Space

By Rich Heidorn Jr.

The electromagnetic spectrum could be the next field for war, and China is already planning for it, an Air Force strategist told NERC’s Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Task Force.

Air Force Col. Douglas “Cinco” DeMaio said the U.S. must place weapons in orbit between the earth and the moon to protect against adversaries such as China, which landed a space probe on the far side of the moon in January.

Air Force
Airborne lasers can temporarily or permanently damage space-based systems. | National Air and Space Intelligence Center

“This is not about growing potatoes. This is a land grab on the far side of the moon from which to build a space station to launch out to further places in the solar system,” said DeMaio, vice commander of the Air Force’s LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education in Montgomery, Ala. Defending the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) means competition in space, he said. “No longer is it just the sea and the air and the land [and] low-earth orbit. It is the space between us and the moon.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency reported in February that China and Russia reorganized their militaries in 2015 to emphasize their “counterspace” programs, which include anti-satellite missiles, jamming of signals to or from satellites and ground-based directed energy weapons (lasers, high-power microwaves and other radiofrequency devices).

“The military is just starting to wake up to the fact this is a place to compete,” DeMaio said during the July 24 workshop. “We grabbed onto cyber very quickly. We didn’t appreciate EMS.” (See related story, EMP Task Force Looks at Black Start, Nukes.)

China Threat

DeMaio cited China as the U.S.’s biggest threat.

“China has competed very well against us, negating our defenses, our forward bases, our static bases that are very vulnerable to attack in the EMS. … It has really taken away our ability to execute our strategy, which is forward deployment. We do not have the range, the speed and the firepower right now that we need to reach from long range. So, what I propose is that we need to get up higher. We need weapons that go up into orbit — cislunar — between here and the moon. … And that’s exactly what the Chinese are doing. That is their strategy. If we do not match that, they will gain the high ground.”

DeMaio said space could be used to site directed energy weapons that could trigger EMPs. “If we’re talking about an electromagnetic attack … I think we have to think a little bit more about not just the shotgun of a nuclear weapon, but a sniper rifle from orbit that can target some very specific places in our infrastructure,” he said.

Air Force
The U.S. military must place weapons in orbit between the Earth and the moon to defend against China and other adversaries, an Air Force strategist told the NERC EMP Task Force. | U.S. Air Force

Lessons from World War I and II

DeMaio said the U.S. should learn from the 1940’s Battle of France, when that nation’s “static defenses” were overrun in six weeks by nimble, mobile German forces using the new weapons of tanks and aircraft.

“The French built static defenses based on their lessons from WWI against a direct assault: artillery, manpower,” he said. “The Germans learned something different. They learned to integrate aircraft [and] surface weapons together, connecting them with a radio. And they built that upon their history of maneuver warfare. And instead of going direct where the French wanted them to go, they went around, they went under, they went over.

“So, I have to ask, is our nation akin to the French side or the German side? Are we leading the new methodology for maneuver in this coming battle?”

The U.S. now faces continuous competition, DeMaio said. “We’re playing Go, not chess,” he said, referring to the ancient Chinese board game. “We have to shift to that mindset. … It’s not just this [one] catastrophic event.”

“The United States is really good when you get an in-your-face threat: Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, even the attacks of 9/11. We find the threat and we go after it,” he added. “This is very hard to attribute in EMS.”

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