This op-ed originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News…
Designed to defend against conventional missile attacks, the U.S. air defense network is poorly matched to the maneuverability, speed and lethality of China’s hypersonic weapons.
After the horrific events of World War I, France was convinced that the German menace was not gone forever. To better protect their country from another devastating German invasion, French military leaders created the Maginot Line along their border with Germany. A complex system of heavily fortified concrete and steel-reinforced bunkers, the Maginot Line would ensure that France could repel a German invasion like the one they had been subjected to in 1914. The Maginot Line was an engineering marvel. When reviewing the Maginot Line in August 1939, Winston Churchill was so impressed he remarked, “The French front cannot be surprised.”
Nevertheless, in May 1940, less than a year after Churchill’s comments, the French were completely surprised by another German invasion. With the Maginot Line, France was prepared to fight and win the last war. Germany, however, had adapted new technologies — tanks and dive bombers — and tactics, such as blitzkrieg, for winning the next war. France quickly fell to Germany without the Maginot Line having ever been helpful to the defense of France in World War II.
Similarly, the United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars over many decades to build a comprehensive air defense system. Resolved to never again allow for a Pearl Harbor-type surprise attack on the United States, the national air defense system can track and possibly defend the homeland from airborne attack. Yet, the technology is designed to fight weapons that were first developed in the Cold War. Today, the threats facing the United States are more sophisticated than they were during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the United States battled for global dominance.
Recently, the People’s Republic of China stunned the world when it successfully tested an advanced hypersonic weapon system. Traveling at more than 3,800 mph, the Chinese weapon circled the globe in space twice before screeching toward the Earth below and falling within 20 miles of its target. The Chinese system is revolutionary in that it affords Beijing the ability to launch a massive strike upon any target in the world — including the American homeland — in under half an hour. What’s more, the American air defense system is presently unable to reliably track or defend against such a Chinese attack.
The U.S. military, on top of not having a defense against the Chinese hypersonic weapon threat, also lacks its own arsenal of hypersonic weapons, recent high-profile tests of which have failed.
Designed to defend against conventional missile attacks, the U.S. air defense network is poorly matched to the maneuverability, speed and lethality of China’s hypersonic weapons — just as the Maginot Line was badly matched against Germany’s tank and aerial bombardment capabilities of World War II.
America’s national defense is predicated upon the lessons learned from the previous century of conflict. Yet, in an age of radical and exotic military technologies, where the United States is no longer the only technologically dominant state, America is not well defended.
American strategists have been conditioned to assume that no rival is as smart or smarter than the United States. Washington’s leaders are convinced that the defense of the United States is robust — just as French leaders during the Interwar Years insisted that the Maginot Line would prevent France from ever falling to a German invasion.
As the United States continues behaving as though its national defenses are impenetrable, China continues expanding its capabilities to threaten America.
Last month, Beijing deployed a satellite-crushing satellite, Shijian-21, in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). Located at 22,236 miles above the Earth, GEO is the highest orbit around Earth and allows satellites to match the Earth’s rotation, meaning this is the perfect orbit to place sensitive military communications and surveillance satellites. Earlier this month, another object, an apogee kick motor (AKM), generally used to enter geostationary orbit, was identified near Shijian-21 by the U.S. military.
Shijian-21, nicknamed a “space stalker” by American military experts, can tailgate sensitive U.S. military satellites in geosynchronous orbit, such as the Nuclear, Command, Control and Communications (NC3) satellite constellation or the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) or the Army’s Wideband Global Satcom network — systems which are the backbone of America’s global military dominance.
Should those U.S. satellites be destroyed, America’s ability to project military power globally or to prevent an attack on the country will be constrained. Given this imbalance, China has the capability to launch an attack on America’s sensitive satellites, possibly rendering the U.S. military blind and unable to defend itself, while initiating a series of devastating hypersonic missile attacks on the continental United States, in order to conquer Taiwan, for example.
Rather than ignore the threat, Washington must invest in a newer, more dynamic national defense. A space-based defense system must be deployed by the Americans to both protect the United States against China’s hypersonic missile threat and to protect other critical American satellites in orbit from attack. American leaders must not repeat the same mistakes as the French leaders did during the Interwar Years by planning to fight the previous war. American defenses must be fundamentally overhauled — and time may be running out.