As a reporter for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, I covered the military space sector, including U.S. Space Command and U.S. Air Force Space Command. I interviewed four of the four-star generals who headed those commands within an eight-year period, and they all expressed the same concerns: our satellites are vital to national security; they are vulnerable to attack, and, if we lose them, the nation is in serious trouble immediately. However, Washington-based political leaders rarely acknowledged the seriousness of those concerns.
I wrote news stories quoting these officers, and the magazine’s aerospace readership “got it.” Collectively, industry executives and their military counterparts understood the threats and the ramifications of losing the U.S. space infrastructure to either hostile action or natural events — such as a massive solar flare. Still, dozens of news stories failed to prompt political action. Years passed, but our satellites, ground stations and other space-related elements critical to both national security and economic security remained at risk.
My coauthor, Mike Coumatos, was seeing the same results in his wargaming business. Outcomes from space-focused wargames repeatedly highlighted the vulnerabilities of our space infrastructure. But Washington failed to take mitigating action.
Comparing notes, Mike and I decided the most effective way to alert national political leaders and average citizens to these dangers was through fiction. Hence, we wrote “Space Wars” to depict what could happen, if an enemy started knocking out satellites. Suddenly, pay-at-the-pump gas purchases would cease. Automatic teller machines would no longer authorize cash-dispensing transactions. More importantly, GPS-guided bombs could go astray, causing horrific results, and far-flung military operations would be severely crippled by the loss of communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, weather, navigation, and missile-launch information.
The story is fiction, of course, but our theory was quickly validated, after Space Wars was published: Washington started paying attention. Suddenly, congressmen, senators and White House staffers “got it,” too. They became worried enough to start whispering: “Space Wars is scary. This could really happen!” A congressional panel invited us to testify about China’s space program. The National Reconnaissance Office and Air Force schools made Space Wars required-reading at certain venues. And an intelligence agency hired us to conduct a “future-space” study.
We hope Space Wars doesn’t play out in the real world. But it could….unless national leaders take firm, positive steps.