Tuesday, September 25, 2007

SECAF and the Psychedelic Yonder

"Isn't it odd that after a terrorist attack that relied on $2 box-cutters, we are redoubling our pursuit of fantastical weaponry?"

-- Robert Scheer

In January 2007, the Chinese shot down one of their own weather satellites in a test of their anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons system. Based on Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne's reaction to it, you wonder what sky he thinks his pilots fly in.

At a September 19, 2007 meeting of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank, Wynn called China's ASAT test an "egregious act." "We were not surprised, we were shocked," he said of the test. It's not entirely clear whom he was referring to as "we." Maybe he meant him and his best friend, because not too many people should have been shocked or surprised about the test.

You don't need a degree in rocket science to get the concept that anyone who can figure out how to put something in orbit can figure out how to shoot it down. Likewise, you don't need a master intelligence analyst to tell you that if a country has developed a major military capability, it will want to test it out sooner or later. The United States and the Soviet Union ran tests of their ASAT programs which both countries initiated in the 1950s. (In 1985, the U.S. tested an ASAT missile that was launched from a high altitude F-15 Eagle fighter.)

So it's difficult to tell why Wynne and his friend were surprised and shocked by the Chinese test, but it's difficult to tell a lot of things about Wynne, at least from the things he says. According to Christian Lowe of Military.com, Wynne concluded at the Strategic and Budgetary Assessments meeting that China has claimed space as a battlefield. That's an interesting statement, considering that Wynne's very own United States Air Force launched an initiative to weaponize space in the 1960s.

That was, of course, before his time, and we couldn't in all fairness expect him to know the history of the service he's the secretary of, could we? But you'd think that someone would have briefed him that in May 2005, only months before he took over as SECAF, the Air Force sought approval from Mr. Bush for a program that would field offensive and defensive weapons in space. And Wynn was on the job in August 2006 when Mr. Bush authorized the National Space Policy that tasked the secretary of defense to, among other things, "Maintain the capabilities to execute the space support, force enhancement, space control, and force application missions," a tasking statement that virtually sanctions everything from spying on Grandma in the bathtub to hurling Mighty Thor's hammer down from Asgard to smite the puny mortals below.

Wynne told the strategy and budget thinkers a few other goofy things. He "reasoned" (Lowe's wording) that future enemies "want to make sure that you will not want to get involved" in a conflict. By normal reasoning, if your "future enemy" doesn't want you to get involved in a conflict, he's not your enemy, present or future. Wynne also said that China's satellite test means "space is not a sanctuary anymore," even though, as we have already discussed, it ceased being a sanctuary from the moment the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957. My favorite Wynn quote from the strategy and budget meeting was, "It is very hard to defend a satellite you're actually trying to talk to." Again, this isn't advanced rocket science, but to defend a satellite you generally have to tell it to do something.

The tone of Wynne's remarks at the strategy and budget ho down makes you hope our Air Force secretary was just having a bad day; that maybe those think tank jokesters slipped something into his complementary beverage. But then you poke around a bit and discover other daffy moments he's had, like back in September 2006 when he asserted that non-lethal weapons should be tested on American citizens in crowd control situations before they're used on the battlefield.

“If we’re not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation,” he said. “(Because) if I hit somebody with a non-lethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press.” It's funny how he's worried about that, but doesn't seem to care what the media thinks when he blows thousands of people to smithereens with laser-guided bombs.

No, something's not right with that Wynne character. You'd have good reason to suspect that his best friend isn't a real person; but he's not entirely out in the left blue yonder either. He has two credentials that eminently qualify him to be the secretary of a U.S. armed service: a) he's a former senior vice president of a major defense contractor (General Dynamics) and b) he has served as under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Put another way, he's a proven expert in the care and feeding of America's military industrial complex. In that light, some of his other comments at the strategy and budget shindig start to make sense.

He cited the Chinese ASAT test as a reason to stick with the plan to spend $299 billion on 2,400 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. "How big do you think China is?" he said. "Twenty-one B-2s. Think about that," he added, inferring that 21 stealth bombers aren't enough to bomb China back to the Xia Dynasty in case we decide to preemptively whack them for not having shot down our satellites yet. A couple thousand Joint Strike Fighters would help us bridge the gap. Except, of course, that the JSF doesn't have the range to strike all the good China targets from wherever we could base it out of. However! If we bought enough new air refueling aircraft, say three or four of them per strike fighter, then we'd have something, wouldn't we?

Of the Chinese ASAT test, Wynne asked the strategists and budgeters, "Was it part of a plan; was it not part of a plan?"

It was part of a plan, all right; part of China's plan to sucker us into spending ourselves insolvent by pursuing an arms race with imagined opponents, and thanks to the likes of Wynn, we're playing into that plan rather nicely.


Related article by Jeff Huber: In an Arms Race with Ourselves


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Military.com. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.


  1. I love reading your posts :)

  2. William Bollinger7:42 AM

    I don't. When I see stuff like this, I'd rather recognize the author as some kind of nutcase. An expert like Jeff having to say things like this, and still be completely ignored by those in power, shows just how far we've fallen. :(

  3. Nunya,

    Very nice of you to say, thanks much.


    I'm not all that fond of writing these things, either. ;-)


  4. Slightly OT: Just got Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (speaking of things that need to be said, but someone must truly hate having to write). Only 50 pages in, but I can already recommend it.

  5. Anonymous10:17 AM

    I wonder if what happened to the former USSR can happen to us here, namely that we bankrupt ourselves due to incredible defense spending. At least they had American capitalist pigs to compete with, who do we have?

  6. The USSR's economy wasn't globalized anywhere near what ours is. Unfortunately I think it means we can keep this up for a long long time yet...

  7. Jeff,

    Yeah, that's kind of what I'm afraid of. We can go on for so long that nobody will believe we're bleeding ourselves to death until we're a skeleton.

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