Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower

  • Published

Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower by Brandon J. Weichert. Republic Book Publishers, 2020, 422 pp.

An excellent analysis of the threats to US national security present in the space domain, Brandon Weichert’s Winning Space attempts to inform readers of the national security implications associated with motivated adversarial space-capable nations. In analyzing the actions, potentials, and rationales of several international space powers, Weichert mostly succeeds. Weichert—a geopolitical analyst and author of the independent news blog The Weichert Report: World News Done Right—leverages his expertise to argue that the United States is on the brink of losing the second space race to rival nations, China and Russia. He attributes this eventuality to the dissembled actions of adversarial space powers that seek the hegemonic decline of US dominance in the space domain, including China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. Weichert employs his expertise in space policy to navigate international space-related current events to present a critical vulnerability of US national security: indefensible geosynchronous orbiting (GEO) satellites that are the backbone of America’s military might. This asymmetric vulnerability places the United States at significant risk for a Pearl Harbor-type event in space (xiii). The inevitable disaster, predicted to occur in the 2020s, would leave the United States vulnerable to military defeat in other warfare domains that rely on space-based capabilities.

Weichert supports his argument by detailing, country by country, the political frictions, history, and national ambitions that motivate adversary nations to threaten American space infrastructure. Ironically, the United States was primarily responsible for advancing the space prowess of rival governments in the 1990s. To make matters worse, previously cooperative relationships with China and Russia transformed into aggressively competitive ones due to political differences accumulating over time. Further, rival countries, including Iran and North Korea, are all too aware of US forces' critical dependence on satellite infrastructure to dominate military engagements and project power through all domains of warfare. Targeting US space assets or critical US infrastructure from space is essential for rivals to gain a disproportionate advantage in combat and offramp from an American-led world order. For example, Weichert predicts, “North Korea’s strategy to employ High-altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) weapons from low-earth orbit (LEO) could send the U.S. back to a nineteenth-century level of technological development overnight” (144).

The most significant threats to US national security are the antisatellite (ASAT) weapons and co-orbital threats that have been troublesome in recent years.[1] In detail, Weichert highlights one serious ramification of ASAT weaponry—the potentially hazardous debris fields they produce that become a permanent threat to existing space infrastructure and future space operations. More importantly, he describes the implied threat associated with ASAT testing by adversarial nations, as demonstrated by China’s destruction of one of its weather satellites in 2007, an incident that "signaled to the United States that China has capabilities to threaten any system in orbit” (48). Anti-satellite weapons are only one dimension of the threat picture defined by Weichert. On-orbit satellite-to-satellite capabilities are considered more ambiguous threats that mask their true capabilities behind dual-use satellite inspection and repair functionality. The satellites constructed with these dual-use capabilities were “designed to hunt critical U.S. satellites and disable them” (2).    

Beyond his analysis of adversaries, a strength of Weichert’s argument is his focus on NATO and non-NATO Allies that can contribute to America’s endeavor of upholding its leadership in space and promoting the unrestricted use and exploration of space by all nations. The critical space Allies include France, Japan, Israel, India, and Brazil—each covered in its own chapter. Weichert highlights these countries because they teeter on the brink of aligning with the new Sino-Russian alliance due to varying motivations. Further, Weichert sensibly suggests that the United States needs to reinforce relationships with potential space allies due to their unique capabilities that could enhance American strategic power, such as leading global CubeSat development, cheaply producing launch vehicles, or owning near-perfect launch real estate. To exemplify this idea, Weichert paraphrases President Lyndon B. Johnson, who when describing the ascent of India’s space program and associated ASAT testing stated, “I’d rather have India inside America’s strategic tent pissing out than India outside of America’s tent, pissing into it" (207).

Although the threat analysis is valid, Weichert could have improved his book if his study of the US space program was not so politically charged. Weichert is not shy about his political posture, affiliations, and fondness of former President Donald Trump’s space policies. Biased attributions, such as blaming the “left-wing ethos” for stunting America’s ability to “win wars, develop timely treatments for diseases, and explore space,” could result in alienating some readers and diluting his thesis (229). Additionally, the author often makes jabs at the scientific community when it provides insight that runs counter to his arguments. For example, "Western scientists pooh-poohing ionosphere testing as being insufficient are missing the wider strategic implications of the Sino-Russian experiments” (133). Not surprisingly, the timing of the book’s release (September 2020) preceded the 2020 US presidential election. For those not familiar with the recent challenges to US superiority in the space domain, it could be difficult to discern the author’s argument from any possible underlying intent to celebrate the achievements of a potential future employer.

Even with these political drawbacks, this book provides an excellent analysis of the current threat picture, the major chess pieces involved in the second space race, and convincing motivations for why deterring adversaries in space should become a national priority. Weichert’s book adeptly depicts the impetus causing the shifting focus in strategic guidance, including national security and national defense strategies.[2] Further, the analysis can help readers understand the recent events and motivations that led to the creation of the US Space Force, diversifying from vulnerable geosynchronous space-based capabilities and creating resiliency by proliferating satellite constellations in low-earth orbit.[3] This book would serve senior/mid-level leaders, policymakers, analysts, and space planners who will navigate the United States in this contested domain. Readers interested in learning about the trajectory of space technology and the implications of these capabilities would also benefit. The thorough analysis of space capabilities and policy provided by Winning Space will ensure relevancy for a long time.

Lieutenant Charles Bibbs

[1] The White House, “FACT SHEET: The Biden-Harris Administration’s National Security Strategy,” press release, October 12, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/.

[2] Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Space Strategy Summary (Washington, DC: DoD, June 2020), https://media.defense.gov/.

[3] DoD, Defense Space Strategy.

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."