The Militarization and Weaponization of Space

The Militarization and Weaponization of Space

Brent D. Ziarnick

The Militarization and Weaponization of Space by Matthew Mowthorpe. Lexington Books (http://, 4501 Forbes Bouleyard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706, 2003, 262 pages, $70.00 (hardcover).

Matthew Mowthorpe’s The Militarization and Weaponization of Space, based on his PhD dissertation at the University of Hull’s Center for Security Studies, examines the policies of the United States, Russia, and China towards the military use of space from the Cold War to the present. Covering areas such as the three nations’ space law, policy, and doctrine, along with technical data on weapons systems actually fielded or tested, the book offers a well-researched and expansive look at the history of space militarization and weaponization.

Chapters 1 and 2 examine US military-space policy during the Cold War, covering the rather familiar territory of the sanctuary, survivability, control, and high-ground space doctrines. Mowthorpe describes the evolution of US space thought, beginning with President Eisenhower’s insistence on maintaining space as a weapons-free commons and continuing with early weaponization attempts via nuclear antisatellite (ASAT) and antiballistic missile (ABM) programs, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and former president George H. W. Bush’s Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) missile shield. The author then turns to attempts by the United States and Soviet Union to build a viable ballistic missile defense (BMD) during the Cold War, explaining how this effort became the first serious attempt to weaponize space and defining this process as “either weapons based in space or weapons based on the ground with their intended target being located in space” (p. 3).

Chapter 3 assesses the Soviet approach to military space during the Cold War, describing military systems such as the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) for nuclear delivery as well as political dealings with the United States and the future of the Russian space industry after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Chapter 4 addresses the People’s Republic of China and its quest to build space capabilities, including the drive to develop a robust military-satellite capability, and that country’s ownership of the newest manned space program. Analyzing the US and Soviet ASAT programs in depth, chapter 5 considers the policies regarding such weaponry in both countries and outlines the programmatic and operational history of both nations’ efforts in this area. Chapter 6 considers space-based weapons, focusing primarily on the technical aspects, history, and intent of the US space-based laser program. Chapter 7, arguably this book’s best, deals with the views of the United States, Russia, and China regarding the revolution in military affairs (RMA) and military space. Mowthorpe discusses the three countries’ attempts, both technological and doctrinal, to transform terrestrial military operations via space capabilities. He offers interesting insights into each nation’s perspective on military space, together with commentary on the doctrinal mind-set of their terrestrial forces and their views on the future of warfare. Trends in US space thought after the Cold War–including the 2001 report of the Space Commission, Pres. George W. Bush’s national missile-defense program, and withdrawal from the ABM Treaty–are examined in chapter 8.

The order in which the chapters appear seems confusing and disjointed. Instead of systematically looking at the United States, Russia, and China, and then addressing specific issues such as BMD, Mowthorpe jumps around, seemingly at random. This scheme seriously impedes the flow of the book, forcing the reader to approach it as a series of essays rather than as a single work. Furthermore, the book’s matter-of-fact, somewhat dry approach to its subject is less than inspiring.

Nevertheless, Mowthorpe’s attempt at recounting the history of space militarization and weaponization by examining the actions and policies of the United States, Russia, and China does succeed on a number of levels. His scholarship and sheer volume of research are expansive and relevant, especially the parts dealing with US efforts in BMD and the discussion of the RMA. An appendix on potential defenses against ASAT weapons, which includes a description of the effects of nuclear weapons in space, presents many ideas not normally found in military-space literature. Moreover, an extensive bibliography lists a surprising number of journal and magazine articles published in the mid-1980s (a vast but often overlooked source of scholarship on military space).

Although armchair military-space enthusiasts may find The Militarization and Weaponization of Space unpalatable for bedtime reading, anyone with a serious interest in or a desire to understand the history and issues of military space will find it most helpful.

2d Lt Brent D. Ziarnick, USAF

Schriever AFB, Colorado

COPYRIGHT 2005 U.S. Air Force

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group