The US Air Force has proposed piggybacking nuclear command and control onto the growing network of commercial satellites, floating the idea as a money-saving possibility as its nuclear infrastructure decays into obsolescence.
“One of the areas that I think we’re going to be able to leverage significantly is…the rapid and exciting expansion of commercial space and bringing low-earth orbit capabilities that will allow us to have the resilient pathways to communicate,” Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein told an audience at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on Wednesday. “Whether it’s Silicon Valley or commercial space, there are unlimited opportunities ahead right now for us in terms of how we think differently on things like nuclear command-and-control.”
Staring down a steep price tag – the Congressional Budget Office estimated in January that it would cost $494 billion over the next nine years for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy to update and modernize the “nuclear triad,” which consists of bombers and ICBMs (both operated by the Air Force) and nuclear submarines (operated by the Navy) – the Air Force is casting a jealous eye at the commercial space industry. The Air Force is already looking to “save costs and optimize best practices” by finding synergies with the Navy, Goldfein pointed out – why not take the extra step and capitalize off existing commercial space infrastructure?
Asked whether private corporations might balk at allowing their communications satellites to be used to launch nuclear weapons and potentially annihilating life on earth, Goldfein dismissed the possibility, arguing “patriotism” would carry the day. “I really think we can come to that common ground because I see no shortage of patriotism in industry anywhere,” he declared.
Besides, it’s not like the Air Force would actually be using those satellites to launch nukes – it’s just in case the main nuclear communications satellites get knocked out by the bad guys, Goldfein continued: “We want to get to a point…where if some portion of the network is taken out…I’ve got five other pathways” to relay nuclear commands.