Jeffrey LewisKatz-Hyman on Outer Space Threats

Gullible isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind

Michael Katz-Hyman responds to an op-ed by Jim Oberg in USA Today. (I don’t see the letter on-line)

Oberg argues that most space weapons plans are unrealistic, but then blames newspapers and think tanks for “manipulating” gullible Russian and Chinese leaders like Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao (right).

Yeah, he actually said that.

Apparently, the Jimmer doesn’t believe foreigners can think from themselves—which is how the KGB likes it.

MZK-H let that vaguely racist assumption slide, but I won’t.

Here is MZK-H’s letter in full.

USA Today
June 20, 2005
Pg. 14

Outer-Space Threats

Is the sanctity of outer space threatened by newspapers? You’d be forgiven for thinking so, based on James Oberg’s commentary “Hyperventilating over ‘space weapons’ ‘’ (The Forum, Tuesday).

According to Oberg, it’s not Pentagon space weapon plans that are fueling countries to respond, but the newspapers and non-governmental organizations that are reporting on those plans. Oberg shouldn’t blame the messenger.

While “Rods from God” and “death stars” may exist only on paper, the Pentagon has developed simpler weapons to disable and destroy satellites. While some of these have obvious dual-use, such as inspecting or refueling other satellites, others such as the Army’s Kinetic Energy Anti-Satellite are quite clear in their mission to destroy satellites.

Backing up these weapons is new doctrine from the Air Force and the Pentagon outlining possible targets, including civilian weather satellites. What is missing from this doctrine, however, is any discussion of how the United States will operate if space becomes a shooting gallery.

In low Earth orbit, objects — whether a satellite or a paint fleck — travel 10 times faster than a rifle bullet. A marble will impact a satellite with the same energy as a one-ton safe dropped from a five-story building. The debris generated by these weapons can just as easily damage or kill a friendly satellite. This is not all that far-fetched. A piece of debris from a 1985 U.S. anti-satellite test actually came within a mile of the International Space Station, an extremely small distance in space.

Space warfare may be a long way off, but the steps the United States takes today will affect the decisions we make tomorrow. Let’s lead by example and draw the line on outer-space weapons.

Michael Katz-Hyman, Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington


  1. JimO (History)

    JimO notes:

    Well, it sure seems as if SOME foreign commentators are freaking out in unthinking confusion—see Kislyakov’s piece posted today (linked below).

    My original USA Today op-ed USA TODAY (June 14, 2005). The Forum can also be read at

    It may be informative to compare what I wrote to what Novosti “political commentator” Kisllyakov claims I wrote, or what he claims is false.

    Oberg’s law: the case for the space defense, June 22, 19:21 Moscow Times