Space Analysis By Assertion

Posted: July 2, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , , ,

aol defense screen shotWhen you find out government authorities have opened a can of fiscal whoopass to the space program you hold near and dear to your heart, there’s a category of reclama to readdress the issue called “error in fact.”  When this happens, the authorities have somehow revealed they used the wrong “facts” to make cuts to your program and you can attempt to reengage on that basis. 

However, when the authorities fail to reveal the “facts” they’ve been using, it becomes much more difficult to readdress the issues at hand.  In this case, staff and staffers, using their great wisdom authority, might well choose to use arbitrary and capricious positions (but still resulting in important funding decisions) which are simply sprayed about in a sort of fiscal drive-by.  The result: survivors, bystanders, and clean-up crews are often left trying to figure out what just happened, why, and what to do next. 

So let’s run through some similar puzzlements provided in Joan Johnson-Freese’s article in AOL Defense, China in Space: Not Time for Bright, Shiny Objects.   While there are several basic factual errors, more substantively, the article is highly assertion-based.  So while fact-based footnotes and/or links are notably missing, myriad assertions bloom like rare flora in a Tampa hothouse throughout much of Johnson-Freese’s article.


Where the Chinese are concerned, everything they do in space is considered a threat by the United States.

While the author intends this to be a contemptuous dismissal, she doesn’t bother to define the terms “everything” (which is traditionally pretty all encompassing and as such, is almost always wrong) as well at “the United States.”  Who all says China is doing idiotic things in the space domain?  Peace-groups like Ploughshares, The Federation of American Scientists, and The Secure World Foundation in addition to other well-documented sources.  And while we’re at it, who is the “United States” in the assertion: the military; the defense industry; the executive branch; Congress; the American people?


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s nuclear missile fixation and China’s 20-plus nuclear missile arsenal provided a justification for both the US missile defense program and aspirations for "space control,"…

Twenty-plus nuclear weapons?  Yeah try adding at least two-hundred to the twenty plus number, although the actual weapon count is among the closest-held state secrets of all time.  And missile defense was started in the 1950s, when a nuclear weapon was still a gleam in the eye of the Hermit Kingdom’s leadership.  Regarding “space control,” I’d guess Johnson-Freese is falling back on not-based-in-reality documents from USSPACECOM circa mid to late-1990s.  Maybe she could instead offer what the current US space control aspirations, capabilities, and funding lines are?  Always remember and never forget: if it ain’t funded, it ain’t.


With President Obama’s 2010 National Space Policy taking the United States in a new, badly needed, direction, China is now racing itself – or maybe India – to the Moon

The 2010 policy provided no substantive changes, unless a kinder, gentler tone is considered substantive.   And as far as the US space-racing with China?   It hasn’t ever happened based on funding, priorities, vision, or policy.  I’d put in a link myself, but it’s hard to link to things that haven’t happened.

Still more,

The US must set and pursue its own course for space exploration and development, human and robotic, and understand that the biggest threat of the Chinese human spaceflight program is that it will draw partners to it and away from the United States, because we are often considered just too difficult to work with.

How exactly is it a threat to the US if “partners” are drawn away, and which partners will be drawn?  A few quality partners come to mind: the Aussies, both on WGS and space fence but they’re in for the long haul.  The UK and Japan are all in.  While some nations are partnering with China (Pakistan, Venezuela, and Nigeria) it’s all either naked politics or quid pro quo (trading space for natural resources).

Even still more still,

Remember that one of the goals behind the Apollo program was to convince Cold War non-aligned countries that working with the United States, in general and on high-tech issues specifically, was a better bet than working with the then Soviet Union.

It may have been one of the stated Apollo goals (but if it was, it would have been a very low one) yet more importantly, how did the ‘goal’ work out?  Did it change any behavior occur, by whom, in what way, and was there any substance to the change?

Then a very basic error in fact:

Space debris is a real threat. China created the biggest space debris mess to date with its 2008 ASAT test

The test, as referenced earlier in the article, was in January 2007, even as the “mess” part of the sentence is correct.

And now, how about an error in fact combined with an unsubstantiated assertion?

China’s 2008 ASAT test was irresponsible in the debris created, and disturbing for the United States in its demonstration that the "space control" or domination of space which had been increasing pervasive in U.S. rhetoric was technically impossible.

Again, the test (better, demonstration) was in 2007 (is that piling on?).  Also, the US rhetoric was unlikely to have changed the situation in any way: China will do what China wants to do, time, money, and physics permitting.  They are a sovereign and will pursue their own interests regardless of US rhetoric.  They do it in trade and monetary policy, in cyberwar, regarding intellectual property, and in their military build-out.

It doesn’t stop yet:

Though the U.S. protested loudly about the dangers of Chinese ASATs as space weapons, using an SM-3 missile fired from the USS Lake Erie to obliterate the failing US-193 satellite in 2008 provided the modus operandi for others to subsequently follow toward ASAT development, virtually free from censure. Subsequently, China and India both conducted missile defense tests in 2010, demonstrating ASAT capabilities.

Guess what?  ASAT is a long-lead item.  China and India were planning such activities well before the USA-193 shoot down, which unlike China’s 2007 effort, left no lingering debris and was done under the rubric of public safety.

A final example (from early in the article):

[Replacing the shuttle] will be part of a new US approach to space, one relevant to the globalized world, recognizing economic realities, and the dual use nature of most space technology which makes military considerations an imperative part of US considerations.

Beyond the two-time use of “considerations” in a sentence, could you bother to tell us what the new US approach is?  I’m assuming it is commercialization, but my mindreading skills are a bit rusty.

While the article also accurately reflects plenty of conventional space wisdom, I’m thinking the Naval War College (and AOL Defense) could use a few fact checkers/interns/researchers/analysts.  The article ain’t Steven Glass, but it ain’t good.


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