by William B. Scott
Space Wars by Willliam
Scott, Michael Coumatos, and William Birnes (2007)
describes how the first hours of World War III might
play out in the year 2010.
While fiction, it's
based on real-world military scenarios and technologies,
dramatically highlighting the West's vulnerability to
destruction of its space-based commercial and military
In 2010, advanced space weapons fall
into the hands of radical Islamic terrorists, who launch them
against the West's reconnaissance, weather, and communications
Meanwhile, inside U.S. Strategic
Command, top military commanders, space-company executives, and
U.S. intelligence experts are conducting a "DEADSATS II"
war-game, exploring how the loss of critical satellites could
lead to nuclear war. The players don't know that the war they
are gaming has already begun in space and that the Pentagon is
about to find out that data from the GPS satellite system is no
longer reliable, making accurate military operations impossible
What makes Space Wars especially credible - and a fascinating and
informative read - is the outstanding technical and military
expertise of two of the authors. Michael Coumatos is a
former U.S. Navy test pilot, ship's captain and commodore, US
Space Command director of war gaming, and government
William Scott recently retired as Rocky Mountain bureau
chief for Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, a
Flight Test Engineer graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot
School, and an electronics engineering officer at the National
We asked him for a reality check.
- Amara D. Angelica
How close are the scenarios and
war-gaming descriptions in Space Wars to the real world?
In my opinion, the
Space Wars scenarios are very realistic, based on
my years of reporting on military space issues. The vulnerability of
U.S. satellites - commercial, civil and military - has concerned milspace professionals and leaders for many years.
As one Cincspace told me almost 10 years
"I have nightmares about getting
that call from the president, saying: 'What's killing our
satellites, who or what's responsible and what are you doing
about it?' I sure don't want my answer to be: 'I don't know, I
don't know and I don't know.'"
In other words, that four-star Cincspace
(we no longer have a "Commander-in-chief of space," so that term's
out of date) and his U.S. "space warriors" are in dire need of
national policies, doctrines, realistic strategies and tactics, and
more tools to deal with myriad threats to our space infrastructure.
Still, progress IS being made.
Sensors that will help engineers and
space operators quickly determine whether an anomaly is caused by
cosmic rays or somebody lasing or jamming a satellite ARE being
built into new national security spacecraft. However, those sensors
are still not being installed routinely on commercial
satellites - even though the Defense Dept. relies heavily on
commercial comsats and imaging sats.
The war-gaming scenarios - as well as some of the "real-world"
scenarios - in Space Wars are amalgamations of outcomes and insights
gained from actual war-games, such as those listed on pg. 7 of the
Finally, weapons and systems depicted in SW are real or based on
real-world technologies, although some remain classified. For
instance, as an AvWeek reporter, I confirmed years ago that
classified tests done at China Lake NAS, Calif., proved that a maser
could be accurately controlled and targeted by first firing a laser,
then firing the maser a split second later.
The latter's microwave beam would follow
the laser-formed "waveguide" through the air, enabling the beam to
be aimed accurately and controlled.
Has such a weapon been developed and deployed? I don't know.
it also work in space, or would the maser beam start wandering like
wet spaghetti, once it left the atmosphere? I don't know that,
Some scientists believe the beam would
remain coherent and stable in space, but I was never able to confirm
that tests had demonstrated that ability. Inside the atmosphere,
though, actual testing DID confirm that the laser-maser combination
enabled accurately targeting objects with high-energy microwave
Blackstar system: I now have several photos of the XOV
space-plane sitting on a Lockheed Martin flight-line ramp, so the
vehicle definitely exists. Based on 15+ years of sighting reports,
inside sources, etc., I determined that Blackstar's SR-3 carrier
aircraft and several versions of the XOV were built and flown.
AvWeek cover story describing the
system ran in the March 6, 2006, issue.
Despite considerable feedback that
spanned the spectrum from attaboy support to flaming criticism, the
stories DID prompt airtight confirmation to come back to me from
Bottom line: some may dispute it, but
the Blackstar system exists and has flown. Whether it can achieve
orbit and was/is used exactly as we've depicted via "Speed's"
flights in Space Wars is strictly an educated guess, based on my AvWeek reporting.
What are your thoughts on the
recent Chinese destruction of their satellite, and the
possibility that it was an ASAT test?
It was definitely considered to be an
ASAT test, according to
several general officers who spoke at last week's Space
Symposium here in Colo. Springs.
I think such an ASAT threat has
existed for some time, and our milspace professionals knew it
was just a matter of time until some entity demonstrated it. The
Russians already HAD demo'd the capability decades ago, and
Pearson really DID shoot down a satellite in 1985, firing a
missile from his F-15.
As the USAF commander of Space
Command said last week, the Chinese ASAT test was a major wakeup
call for all spacefaring nations, proving once and for all that
"space is no longer a sanctuary."
How does Russia's planned Glonass system relate to the
European nav sat system described in the book?
Both are considered alternatives to the U.S. GPS network.
Ultimately, Russia, Europe and the
U.S. envision some commercial receivers will be able to use any
of these signals for precise navigation and timing.
Galileo are being developed to (ostensibly) ensure
satellite-based nav and timing will always be available, because
the U.S. system could be turned off at will. The U.S. military
controls GPS, and the Pentagon could disable certain or all GPS
signals during a national emergency - writ "war."
Yet, GPS signals are becoming virtual global utilities, depended
upon by millions of users. The Euros, Russians, Japan and others
see billions of dollars to be made by selling receivers and
GPS-embedded products, as well, and want to get in on that
Bottom line, though, is this:
they're alternatives to GPS, sold to financiers as "guaranteed
service" options, should the U.S. turn off GPS.
Are there any other recent technical, military, political,
and other developments that tie in with the book or that were
predicted in the book?
The Iranian political situation today is playing out largely as
Technologies for "operationally
responsive space" - small-sats and quick-response launchers
are evolving quickly. Autonomous on-orbit servicing of
satellites is being demonstrated now by the Orbital Express
spacecraft, a feature that plays more dramatically in our
sequel, Space Wars II (now being written by the same coauthors).
The Chinese ASAT test has awakened
Congress and American citizens to the potential threats facing
our space infrastructure, but I don't think our political
leaders fully appreciate what impacts those threats could have
on the U.S. national security posture and citizens' activities.
What kind of comments are you getting from savvy early
readers so far?
Initial feedback we're getting is that Space Wars' message is
"bang-on," prophetic, scary and very timely.
Many readers either had no idea the
U.S. - and modern civilization, in general - was so dependent on
"space," or that losing satellites might have such dramatic
impacts in the geopolitical realm, as well on people's daily
Perhaps the most succinct feedback
I've heard was:
"This is a very possible, very
scary future. I hope it doesn't come true."
Although many of our readers, who
have a military background, are aware of the threats we depict,
they hadn't put the IMPACTS of attacks on satellites and the ISS
into context the way Space Wars does - or so they're telling us.
Last Thursday, during the annual Space
Symposium (attended by approx. 7,000 space professionals from across
the globe), many senior military, commercial and civil leaders
bought copies of Space Wars and had Mike and me sign their books.
Interestingly, the first two copies were
purchased by a two-star USAF general, who is the chancellor of the
National Security Space Institute, and her aide.
She also wants to talk to us about some
"hot-button" issues we should consider for our second Space Wars