Jeffrey LewisKyl On Classified Space Spending

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) engaged in a long discussion over the classified budget on programs to defend satellites that made some of his colleagues, including Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) very uncomfortable as Senator Kyl pointed out what wasn’t in the budget and gave some hypothetical examples.

I’ve highlighted some suggestive passages from Congressional Record.

Mr. KYL. Madam President, I wish to respond to four quick points made in reference to my amendment, which is amendment No. 3144. First, the chairman of the committee, the Senator from Hawaii, said we have funded many space programs, and he mentioned the Space Tracking and Surveillance System and Space Situational Awareness Programs. That is true, except that they cut $55 million out of the STSS Program. The key point is that those are situational awareness and tracking programs, not defensive programs. There is zero in here for the defense space test research program. That is what I am talking about—not situational awareness and tracking but an actual Defense research program.

Secondly, the Senator from North Dakota first responded to my argument and the fact that I had quoted General Obering’s support by saying he is not surprised that the Kyl amendment is supported by a general, that they usually are because their careers depend upon programs. Frankly, I am astounded by this ad hominem attack. Let’s attack the substance of the program, not the general who supports it. We cannot trust our generals? Is that what is being said? We ask them to devise ways of protecting us from attack, and that is the thanks they get.

Let’s turn to the substance of the argument. Two primary points were made by the Senator from North Dakota. First of all, because the space-based test bed program could evolve into a space-based missile defense, regardless of its other benefits for satellite protection, we should not fund the program. Well, my first reaction is, God forbid that we would develop a program to defend us from intercontinental ballistic missiles. We would not want to do that. Of course, the point is there are years of decisionmaking between the time that a space-based test bed program evolves into concepts and potential programs and the research evolves into specific proposals and the time that the Senate would ever vote on them.

Does the Senator have such a lack of confidence in his ability to stop such a horrible thing—space-based defenses—that he is not even willing to allow a program to be funded to develop conceptual programs to defend our satellites in space, which presumably we all favor?

Finally, the last argument was, well, the nations of the world would be better to get together and have an agreement not to develop weapons in space. There are two answers to that. First of all, what is a Chinese missile flying through space to hit a satellite called? That is what they did. As the Senator from Florida and I discussed the other day, that they left a lot of space debris is a problem in the wake of that attack. What is a missile flying through space to hit another country’s satellite called? Is that a weapon in space? Are we so afraid of defending our satellite assets that we don’t want to defend against a satellite killer missile from a country coming up from the ground into space that hits our satellite? Would we not want to defend it from space?

That is a ludicrous argument. I don’t believe we are going to get the countries of the world together to join in a treaty to have them forget programs that they have already been developing—the Chinese in this particular case—because they want to have an asymmetric way of destroying our satellites.

The bottom line is this: The United States better get serious about defending our eyes and ears in space and now the satellites that direct so much of our military activity. Other countries have the ability to turn off the light. They know where the switch is. In times of war, we cannot be blind and deaf and be denied our space assets.

And yet virtually by turning off the switch, other countries have that capability. Isn’t it about time we begin the first steps of developing a capability against that?

I note, by the way, that the $10 million program out of a budget for missile defense of over $8 billion is hardly enough to color general Obering’s claims that this would be a good program for us to begin research on.

I hope my colleagues, when this amendment is voted on, will think about the future, will think about the fact that they have plenty of opportunities to stop a program should it ever evolve into a space-based missile defense program. If they want to stop that, stop that, but don’t use that as an argument to stop research on a satellite protection program.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Florida.

Mr. NELSON of Florida. Madam President, I wish to respond to the Senator from Arizona. Yes, the Chinese ASAT test is a threat and is particularly a threat because it could knock out our satellites, and it has left a lot of debris up there that can destroy everybody’s satellites if there is a collision.

If I could get the attention of the Senator from Arizona, I say to him if what he wants to do is to protect our space assets, there are other parts of the defense budget to which it should be addressed instead of the national missile defense part of the budget. There is a part that is handled under the strategic command called space situational awareness that would be more appropriate to address the issue of protecting our space assets. Most of that is highly classified and cannot be discussed here.

By the Senator from Arizona wanting to put this amendment into the part about national missile defense, it takes us back to the old idea of star wars and the starting of weaponization of space.

I suggest to the Senator that we can work this out, but it is not going to be able to be done right here in a few minutes on the floor, given the classified nature of a number of these programs.

I urge the Senator, if his intention truly is the protection of space assets, for us to consider those other programs that are now in development and not to take his amendment to a vote, which this Senator would then have to oppose.

I yield to the Senator for his response and any questions without yielding the floor.

Mr. KYL. Madam President, I was going to suggest that, and I appreciate the Senator’s comments. I am aware of the situational awareness programs. The point I was trying to make earlier in response to the distinguished chairman of the committee is this is not a situational awareness program. This is a program that could actually result in the development of defenses for our satellites, a lot of different potential concepts.

The concepts that would protect the satellites from space, of course, are different potentially from the concepts that would protect them from the ground.

I am happy to have a different line in the budget, if that is going to solve the problem. But what I don’t want to do is to have the money allocated simply for tracking or surveillance or situational awareness as opposed to researching development of potential defenses.

I wonder if my colleague will respond.

Mr. NELSON of Florida. Madam President, by the Senator from Arizona wanting to put this as a part of a proposed space test bed, that is clearly understood, and that is why all four of the Armed Services and Appropriations Committee bills eliminated this $10 million for the proposed space test bed because that is the initial step toward deploying space-based interceptors for missile defense. So everybody understands what that means, the space test bed is intended to deploy weapons in space. If that is not the Senator’s intention, then we ought to look to this space situational awareness which is the question of us protecting assets in space.

Mr. KYL. Madam President, if I may respond to the Senator, part of defending a satellite against an attack is being aware the attack is pending, is about to happen, or is happening. But if all you know is that I am being attacked and you are not capable of defending yourself, the knowledge you are being attacked is of little use. So this is not a matter of surveillance or situational awareness; it is a matter of developing defenses.

I guess I would put this question to my colleague: As an abstract principle, would my colleague favor or oppose the concept of a space-based defense of satellites of the United States that have military uses, in other words, a defense that would be perhaps based on the satellite itself to jam signals as some weapon homes in or that would create some kind of effective shield of electromagnetic pulse or other kind of electronic defense or even a kinetic kind of defense for the satellite if it is under attack, perhaps some kind of shielding against a laser attack? In other words, all different kinds of attacks that might come.

As a hypothetical matter, would my colleague not agree that it would be very useful and appropriate, even if those defensive capabilities are located in space, for us to be able to protect our satellites in that way or would my colleague consider those to be space-based weapons that are impermissible?

Mr. NELSON of Florida. Madam President, I want to be careful in what I say because under some highly classified programs, this Senator simply cannot discuss these matters. If the Senator wants to press his amendment to a vote, this Senator suggests he is not going to have the votes, and if what he is saying is he wants to protect space assets, there are programs that are being developed in this country to do exactly that. And that is all this Senator can say.

Mr. KYL. Madam President, let me say, first, I am aware of what is being done to protect our assets, and we don’t, as has been said before on the floor of this Chamber, have defenses for our satellites in space today by an attack by another country. We have to work in this area. The space-based test bed is one of the places in which we could develop proof of concept that could be effective both for our satellites and, yes, also for an attack by a hostile missile because that is where this program started, it is in the missile defense budget. But that doesn’t mean if I drop this amendment, for example, as the Senator is suggesting I do, that, therefore, we can forget about the need to protect our satellites because everything is taken care of. We have a need to develop concepts which include the ability to test, first, terrestrially and then in space, proof of concept that would provide for defenses, that would both protect satellites and protect against a hostile missile attack.

For the life of me, I don’t see why my colleague can so confidently predict that my amendment will not have the votes to be adopted simply because on down the road many years from now it is theoretically possible that a concept would be developed to protect against a hostile missile attack with some kind of a space-based program.

Mr. NELSON of Florida. Madam President, I wish to say—and all I am allowed to say—and let me tell the Senator I don’t think he has read into all of the programs—if he would so like to be, then he ought to pursue this discussion not in this open forum.

I will further say the proposed space test bed in a missile defense program is a missile defense program, not a space asset protection program that the Senator from Arizona is saying it is. Therein lies the difference.

If he is going to insist on pressing his question—somewhere out here we have to have some mutual trust and understanding. I cannot satisfy the Senator by virtue of me being limited in what I can tell him in this open session. So I will leave it up to the Senator as to whether he wants to press his amendment.


  1. Mark Gubrud

    Decoding this exchange:

    When Kyl says “defenses to protect our satellites” he means offenses to attack others’ satellites.

    He is openly if not explicitly acknowledging the fact that KE “missile defense” interceptors are KE antisatellite weapons. When he refers to the difference between “the concepts that would protect the satellites from space” and “the concepts that would protect them from the ground” he is acknowledging that the existing GMD is a KE ASAT.

    What Nelson refers to as classified programs in “space situational awareness that would be more appropriate to address the issue of protecting our space assets” probably includes passive awareness measures to warn or sound an alarm in case of a foreign attack or interference, plus strictly defensive countermeasures against ASAT attack being added to American satellites.

    Nelson is probably also referring to maneuvering micro/nanosatellite programs which are playing and will play multiple roles of inspection, monitoring, interference and negation. This latter form of “situational awareness” is really a warfighting/weapons program with passive, defensive and offensive aspects, which might be separable in principle but which are not separated in the actual American space weapons program.

  2. User_Hostile (History)

    I’m afraid the readings were a little too subtle for me. Was the senator from AZ pushing the limits in terms of devulging classified information? The senator from FL wasn’t helping things by responding out loud.
    As an aside, does AZ benefit in terms of “pork” if the admendment passes? Just wondering…