WASHINGTON --- On the anniversary of the first man-made object reaching the moon, the Department of Defense’s executive agent for space urged America to strive for dominance in space.
Undersecretary of the Air Force Peter B. Teets, who also serves as the director of the National Reconnaissance Office, used the occasion of a Soviet Union mission to highlight what he believes to be the three keys for the United States to achieve space dominance.
“I believe that, today, it is fair to say the United States is the leading space nation in the world, but it certainly hasn’t always been that way,” he said Sept. 14 at the Air Force Association’s 2004 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here.
“Forty-five years ago today, the Soviet probe Luna 2 reached the moon. It didn’t land on the moon; it (crashed). But, it was still the first man-made object to touch the surface of another world,” Mr. Teets said.
That probe, launched Sept. 12, 1959, hit the moon near the Sea of Serenity, where Apollo 15 touched down 15 years later. The relation between that Soviet probe and current U.S. space supremacy lies in America’s approach to space research and technology, Mr. Teets said.
“At the time, the United States and the Soviet Union were taking their first faltering steps on the road to space,” he said. “We called it the ‘Space Race,’ and it was not a foregone conclusion that we would win.”
The Soviets chose to “take the low road,” in terms of technology, while the Americans opted for the “high road,” Mr. Teets said. The United States used finely tuned, one-of-a-kind spacecraft and rockets that performed very well, but were extremely delicate, he said.
“(The Soviets) took a lower-tech road … in some ways it was like a brute-force road, with mass-produced spacecraft and rockets that were less sophisticated but were very much more operationally responsive,” he said.
Mr. Teets said it is a mistake to assume that one approach is always better than the other.
“Even though we have superiority in many aspects of space capability, we don’t have space dominance, and we don’t have space supremacy,” he said. “The fact is, we need to reach for that goal. It is the ultimate high ground.”
Mr. Teets said the United States needs strong and enduring commitments in three areas to meet that goal: developing a professional space cadre, having a strong and well-funded industrial base, and maintaining a position at the leading edge of space technology.
“The first, and unquestionably the most important, is the development and maintenance of a strong professional cadre of military and civilian government personnel,” he said.
“If we do that right, I believe the rest will fall into place,” he said. “If we do that, we’ll have professional acquirers, people who have experience in the development of leading-edge high-tech systems, extremely well-qualified and trained military officers who can operate the systems that give us such an edge in our warfighting capabilities.
“There can be no doubt that we enjoy the benefits today, in major ways, of our national security space systems,” Mr. Teets said.
The second area of attention is the space technology industrial base, he said.
“We need a strong and consistently funded industrial base able to produce quality space systems and products,” Mr. Teets said. “We can’t have a roller coaster effect where we’re asking our industrial partners to build up one year only to crater the next year. We can’t have them developing the talented work force necessary for production of high-tech space systems, and … the following year ask them to lay those same people off.
“It’s important for us to have a certain amount of consistency and constancy in our investments in important space systems,” he said.
Mr. Teets referred to recent problems with the acquisition system to illustrate his point:
“There was a period of time … when we let some of the industrial base start to wither. At the same [time],” he said, “people who had been involved in the space system for many years started to take retirement, so it kind of [had] a double whammy effect.”
The final piece needed to achieve space dominance, Mr. Teets said, is continued governmental investment in leading-edge space-system research in technology.
“We are at the forefront of space technology. We need to remain there,” he said. “I know certain European countries have picked up the challenge and started to invest more heavily in leading-edge technology; certainly China has shown some of the same inclinations. We need to maintain a strong and vital space system research and technology endeavor going forward. That’s what will keep us on the leading edge
Teets: America Must Reach for Space Dominance