We are off to a reasonable start. The readings include a parable from Plato known as "Gyges's ring," a ring that gives the wearer the power to become invisible, so that he can lie, cheat, and steal with impunity, for no one will be able to see him. But the wearer also can do good works anonymously, for those deeds, too, will go undetected.
Would you opt to possess such a ring? Do you consider morality primarily externally regulated—a matter of being subject to sanctions, both positive and negative? Or is morality inner motivated, indifferent to external systems of enforcement and regulation? If it is somewhere in the middle, where in the middle is it?
The question is not a trivial one for midshipmen living in a highly rule- and sanction-enforced system of morality. And it is not a trivial one for future officers, whose stripes and decorations are the external indicators of their character and professional competence. At some level, each midshipman understands that being a person of character is quite different from being someone who acts out of fear of being hammered for some dereliction. In the day-to-day life of Bancroft Hall, however, home to all Academy midshipmen outside of class, the signs of externally imposed morality and authority are pervasive, and more than one midshipman in my class confides to me that he thirsts for a ring that might at least allow some freedom from surveillance, some liberty to see how motivated he would be when assessment of risks and rewards was not a major factor.
I see the classroom as a place to voice just such a thought. My hope is that there will be a genuine exploration of why certain views and judgments are held and a questioning of views if they are held for reasons that one discovers one can no longer avow or endorse. The point is not to promote skepticism, but to sort out and deepen moral convictions—to come to know the reason why honesty is so important in a chain-of-command hierarchy, why loyalty may have limitations, why the Geneva Accords give prisoners of war special status.
But all this requires clearing away some rubble. Gyges's parable begins with a question: "Why be moral if it doesn't always pay in the common currency of happiness?" After class, a midshipman cautiously asks, "Isn't there a difference between the immoral act of cold-blooded murder, or rape that involves assault on a woman, and cheating, where it is property and not persons that are at stake?" Might we use Gyges's ring for cheating, he implies, but not for murdering? It is clear that the other officer instructors and I have our work cut out for us. Those who claim that ethics has no place in a college curriculum—that everything one needs to know about morality is learned in kindergarten—either are born saints or are naive concerning the twists and turns of moral development and the miraculous ways reflection affects action.
The first day is a time to air moral doubts. Gyges's parable asks why be moral if you can get by without it? In addition, there is the common skeptical stance that morality is just a matter of opinion, of preference, of taste. Moral debates often have the feel of that old Gershwin song whose lyrics reflect our differing backgrounds: "You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to. You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to.... Let's call the whole thing off." The more vitriolic the moral debate, the more one might be tempted to say it is just a matter of gut feeling and taste.
But this is not where morality rests. If morality were just a matter of what an individual likes or dislikes, then the daily moral decisions officers make regarding the welfare of their troops would be little more than statements of preference, such as thinking that tea tastes better than coffee. Any attempt at justification really would be just a rationalization for holding onto a position at whim.
But few of us really believe this. And especially in the profession of arms, it is all the more imperative that moral commands be grounded in conviction, in understanding the principles underlying choices. May one lie if it will help many? If right action is grounded in good consequences, then we have a green light to lie. But if right action is grounded in not manipulating people, then the light turns red, even when the lie is benevolent. What if the person being lied to is evil, and is bent on the destruction of good people? Is lying to save innocents a special case? Does lying to the enemy fall in that category? Only a reasoned discussion will guide choice in these cases.
But talk of principles underlying moral judgment often obscures the crucial role played by emotions in the moral deliberation process. As the course progresses, we address this point. One common picture of emotions that emerges from the class is that emotions are the enemy of reason; they are the troublemakers, disrupters, upheavals, and passions that steer one from cool, calm judgment.
This is far from the total picture, of course, and an important thrust in the NE 203 classroom is to show that emotions can be salutary to moral judgment. They are part of our capacities for moral perception, antennae by which we pick up moral radar. By being emotionally sensitive, we notice who is hurt, whether a remark was more cutting than funny, that a loss affected another more than we might have thought. Emotional antennae pick up what is morally relevant for response in the very way that the emotion of fear can give the warning signals of danger. We read others but also ourselves through the tell-tale signs of emotions—being anxious alerts us to a concern we thought we were well over, being fearful warns us that there may be real threats ahead, giddy feelings may signal that we are on the verge of falling in love. Of course, emotions can get the data wrong. But that just means we need to calibrate our equipment better, not throw it out.
Often, we feel emotions we wish we didn't feel. To suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome is not to choose a mental condition that any rational person would want to endure. But part of what we know about emotional well being is that it requires that we acknowledge emotions, not box them up and shove them under the carpet. However much compartmentalization may be a necessary part of the warrior mentality, finding a time and place to decompartmentalize, to acknowledge grief and mourning, to be honest about longings to be with one's family, to not merely suck up pain but to seek solace is crucial to developing a whole and integrated psyche. Aristotle puts it well: Morality requires not merely making wise choices but having the right emotions. One must hit the mean with regard to both.
An ethics course, such as the one now being taught at the Naval Academy, reviews some of these issues. With Navy commanders and captains as section instructors, the ethics outreach is substantial. Perhaps the most exciting part of my job has been to teach with officers who have themselves been bitten by ethical inquiry, and can now took back on watershed decisions in their military lives in moral terms they earlier didn't quite know how to formulate. In some cases, the assessment has led them to question their judgment calls, in others, to realize they were justified though didn't then understand fully their reasons.
It is for reasons like these that the Secretary of the Navy has established a new Center for the Study of Professional and Military Ethics at the Naval Academy. One of its goals is outreach, to infuse ethics into the fleet and Marine Corps in the way that we have begun here.
Under the Center's first director, Dr. Al Pierce, case studies in military ethics have been commissioned, and plans for conferences and short courses in topics in military ethics are being discussed. I have taught seminars at several bases as well as with Naval Reserve Officers Training Courses on campuses around the country, and am continually impressed at how hungry officers and students are for substantive discussions on ethics.
The example of Marcus Aurelius, second-century Roman emperor, shines before us. He was a man of meditation as well as action, fighting the German campaigns on the Danube by day and writing a philosophical treatise on Stoic doctrine by night. Not a bad example.
Dr. Sherman , Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University, holds the Visiting Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Man-Overboard Signaling Technology Can Save Lives
By Dr. Charles D. Ferguson and Keith G. Tidball
"Man overboard, port side!" shouts a sailor.
Only a quick response can save someone who goes overboard in cold waters or other hazardous conditions. In frigid waters, hypothermia sets in within six to seven minutes. While every crew trains to respond quickly, prompt recovery depends on sounding the alarm immediately; nevertheless, a sailor falling overboard may go unnoticed. A Marine standing night watch on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean recently fell overboard when the hatch he leaned against popped open; his absence went unreported for several hours. After treading water in shark-infested waters for several hours, he was rescued by a fishing boat. Fortunately, he was in warm waters and had the presence of mind to create a flotation device using his trousers.
The key to saving lives in such situations is to equip each crew member with an alerting device. What features should such a device possess?
- It should incorporate both manual and automatic activation features; not everyone who goes overboard is conscious during the first few critical minutes in the water when help is still nearby. Saltwater activation is one possibility.
- It should fit compactly and unobtrusively on a sailor's uniform or body. Ionizing radiation dosimeters, for example, worn by crew members of nuclear powered vessels take up very little space on belts and look shipshape. Identification tags offer another convenient location for miniaturized transmitters.
- It must be inexpensive because we are going to buy in quantity. Although a few such devices already are available, they are prohibitively expensive. The ALERT system, for example, which consists of a single transmitter and receiver, costs about $400; extra transmitters cost about $200 each. Providing every sailor on every ship with this device would cost millions of dollars.
To reduce costs, the Navy should combine forces with the Coast Guard, the merchant marine, and commercial sea enterprises, thus providing an incentive for manufacturers to produce the device in large quantities, which should drive prices down—especially if they are marketed internationally. Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers cost more than $2,000 when they first came on the market a decade ago. Today, hand-held models are available for less than $100.
Such a device should appeal particularly to commercial fishing enterprises. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites fishing as ". . . the single most deadly occupation," and "falls from ship or boat" account for almost a fifth of all commercial fishing fatalities.
- In addition to warning a ship's crew, the device's transmitter should link with GPS or Loran to mark the time of fall and position of an overboard sailor on a shipboard monitor. (The ALERT system, for example, has this capability.) If the transmitter were encoded with an individual's name—and the monitor could display it—the ship could identify the crew member in distress.
- It should incorporate the vital signs monitoring technology included in the "smart shirt" being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Yale University-National Aeronautics and Space Administration Commercial Space Center for Medical Informatics and Technology Applications. The smart shirt, worn as an undergarment, contains fiber optic cables that monitor a wearer's vital signs and transmit information to medical personnel, giving them a heads-up.
The sea services should develop or encourage the development of such a man-overboard signaling device. Such a standard issue surely would save lives.
Dr. Ferguson , a former submarine officer, and Mr. Tidball are research analysts for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C.
The Naked Fleet
By Rear Admiral W. R. Smedberg IV, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Satellite-guided missiles showered the U.S. Fleet, which was naked to Chinese surveillance sensors high in space." Journalist Tom Ricks used this quote in a 20 July 1994 Wall Street Journal piece describing a Navy war game held at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.
Obviously, the fleet was using a modus operandi developed from more than half a century at sea without having been seriously challenged. The fleet was vulnerable to enemy surveillance at such long ranges that it would be fortuitous if much of it survived to execute the offensive mission for which it was built.
This particular war game postulated hostilities against a militarily built-up Chinese force in a 2015-2020 time frame; the war game presumably postulated U.S. naval forces modernized to reflect that same time frame. It appears, however, that the U.S. Navy had failed to capitalize on technological and operational concepts available in the 1990s that, if incorporated, could have prevented the disaster.
The technologies and concepts center around the observable signatures of U.S. Navy ships. Every ship has signatures by which it can be detected:
- Radar cross section (RCS)
- Wake (sometimes considered a subset of radar cross section)
All of these signatures are important, but they can be prioritized. From the standpoint of initial detection, two are critical: a ship's radar cross section signature and its electromagnetic (EM) signature. Today, our combatants have such high signatures that enemy sensors can detect them well beyond the range of the ships' defensive weapons. What this does, of course, is provide the enemy with the first-shot advantage. To reverse this advantage, we must reduce the signatures. The Navy has been remiss now for at least a half a decade for not doing something significant about ships' signatures.
There is a direct and vital relationship between ships' RCS and EM signatures. Since both signatures can be detected from hundreds of miles away, it does not do much good, from an initial detection standpoint, to reduce just one of them. Given this, one important point must be addressed at the outset. Some in the current Navy hierarchy who believe that the only way ships can survive in this age of the antiship missile is to ensure that all ship radars and equivalent sensory systems must be radiating all the time in order not to be surprised by the enemy. (This was the philosophy stated by the Navy's senior "Missileer" flag officer in response to a question posed by the author at a recent Surface Navy Association symposium.)
Those who accept this premise as gospel need read no farther—for it is my premise that exactly the opposite is true. If we have to radiate all the time, then we give the enemy the option to attack us whenever, wherever, and however he chooses. We rely on radar today because our ships' RCS signatures are so large that there are no other viable options available to us. Figure 1 depicts today's situation:
- We give the enemy the initiative and first-shot advantage.
- We lose battle space and time.
- We must defend against incoming missiles
- We remain essentially reactive against enemy strength: a plethora of sophisticated missiles.
There is an option to the continued use of radar; it lies in significantly lower RCS signatures for our ships. As Figure 2 shows, this very-low RCS option means:
- We preclude having to radiate constantly for defensive purposes.
- We buy back battle space and time.
- We regain a first-shot advantage.
- We regain the initiative and exploit the enemy's weaknesses—his detection, classification, and targeting systems.
Figure 3 is another way of illustrating our point today, with radars radiating from high RCS ships, versus the way we could operate tomorrow, with low RCS ships and radars operating under emission control (EMCON).
The phrase "significantly lower RCS signature" requires some elaboration. The following three definitions, which have been used in the past, will explain what we are talking about:
- Conventional ships: those built over the past century with no attempt to minimize their RCS; includes almost every U.S. Navy ship up to and including today's Aegis cruisers.
- Low observable (LO) ships: those constructed and/or backfitted with the goal of reducing their RCS signatures to a level where it becomes easier to decoy incoming missiles (actually their seekers); includes the Navy's newest surface combatants, the Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class, which was designed from the start to have a lower signature, and other current destroyer/frigate types that have been treated to lower their signatures.
- Very low observable (VLO) ships: those designed from the start with signatures sufficiently low not merely to maximize countermeasures effectiveness against incoming missiles but also to preclude detection at long ranges by potentially hostile enemy sensor systems, e.g., ideally, these efforts will render the ships undetectable by enemy platforms/sensors until they are inside the lethal range of the targeted ship's weapon systems.
It is to this latter class, the VLO ship, that the phrase "significantly lower RCS signature" applies. More than a decade ago, the U.S. Navy built and tested a 500ton demonstration ship, aptly named Sea Shadow, which proved the feasibility of VLO ships; for all intents and purposes the Sea Shadow was undetectable at long range by any of the variety of radars tested against her. Unfortunately, there are no such ships, to the author's knowledge—even on the drawing board—for the U.S. Navy today. There are, however, some newer ships in foreign navies which look from the pictures as if they may meet this VLO criterion. The Royal Swedish Navy's new Visby -class corvettes are an example. (See "Swedish Navy Mixes Evolution and Revolution to Launch Stealth Multimission Corvette," Proceedings March 1999, pages 60-64.)
The simple illustration of Figure 4 is presented to show the difference in detectability of ships with the different degrees of observability noted above. Figure 4 is simply a calculation of an aircraft surveillance radar sweep width/sweep rate versus a single ship with the three different RCS signatures defined above. (The 100,000 square mile area, not incidentally, is about the size of the Persian Gulf.) The point is, one does not gain a whole lot by reducing initial detectability until dropping below the LO signature; after reaching that level, however, one gains a lot. We begin to clothe our nakedness.
One additional graphic can put the benefits of a VLO ship into true perspective. Study for a moment Figure 5, for it is the heart and soul of this article.
The differently shaded areas represent detectability envelopes for an aircraft radar (in the example an X-Band radar in Sea State 3) at any particular altitude and range against a ship ( in lower left hand comer of graphic) of differing RCS signatures. The signature "E" envelope is representative of a conventional ship of today; it can be detected by an aircraft radar at the radar horizon, e.g., 200 nautical miles at an altitude well above 30,000 feet, and if the aircraft continued inbound maintaining 30,000 feet the radar could continue to hold the large target until about the 50-nautical-mile point when it would lose it, owing to the increasing grazing angle/sea return noise.
Signature "D" is about representative of what we have accomplished with our most modern LO ships. The reduced RCS signature may have improved our countermeasures effectiveness against missiles, but we have not significantly reduced our long-range detectability by radar. The bigger impact starts with the envelope seen as signature "C." A ship with this signature could be detected initially at ranges of 130 to 140 nautical miles—but only if the aircraft is below about 20,000 feet; an aircraft radar above that altitude would not detect the ship with RCS signature "C" at any range. Figure 5 further indicates that an aircraft at 10,000 feet altitude would initially detect the "C" signature ship at 120 nautical miles, but would lose the ship at about 70 nautical miles.
Now note the very limited detectability of a ship with radar cross section signature "B." The enemy aircraft/radar would have to be at about 10,000 feet to detect the ship at 100 nautical miles. Just above that altitude, the ship would not be detected at all. For aircraft below that altitude, the initial detection-opportunity decreases rapidly. Even at 10,000 feet, the detection opportunity window is very small, approximately ten miles (which equates to two minutes for an aircraft flying at 300 knots). Suddenly the ship has acquired a first-shot advantage.
Consider further the following scenario. Enemy aircraft are searching for our carriers or amphibious ships. The aircraft want to remain at high altitude, about 30,000 feet, to ensure detection at long range. These aircraft would fly right over ships with signature envelopes of "C" or less without even knowing the ships were there; until, of course they were greeted by a Standard Missile. This is what VLO technology can provide!
The VLO benefit provides additional advantages. Since VLO ships will not be detected as often, and thus not subjected to as many enemy attacks, they will be able to reorient their weapons loads toward more offensive weapons and fewer defensive weapons. Figure 6 reflects what might be a representative reorientation; it translates directly into increased offensive mission effectiveness and on-station endurance.
Consider another scenario with reference to Figure 6. The Navy is tasked to dispatch ships to neutralize some critical enemy targets with offensive (Tomahawk) missiles. It is estimated that the mission will require 120 Tomahawks. Because the VLO ships are detected and attacked less often, and have a larger load of offensive missiles, only two VLO ships are required rather than four conventional ships. If this were insufficient rationale for decreasing the RCS of our ships, there is yet another valid reason. While the Navy's near-term signature reduction efforts have enhanced our countermeasures effectiveness against current antiship missile-seeker technology, it would be foolish to believe that seeker technology will not advance and that we will not need to reduce signatures even more to guard against the future.
Rear Admiral Smedberg , a surface warfare officer, consulted on advanced naval technology for Bell Helicopter Textron before retiring to Florida in 1995. While on active duty, he commanded a carrier battle group and was Director of Naval Warfare.
Space: The Salvation of America's Shipyards?
By Gene Meyers
The U.S. Navy's starvation budget is turning America's once-strapping shipyards into anorexic waifs. Without the government subsidies enjoyed by foreign yards, our shipbuilders find it impossible to compete commercially in the world market. Desperate times spawn exotic solutions, and this may be the most exotic of all: Within a year our yards could be designing a radically new, exclusively U.S. class of ship-like vessels, each able to hold several hundred passengers—or Navy personnel. But rather than sailing the seas of earth, by 2005 these vessels could be sailing the seas of space.
The idea's centerpiece is the space shuttle's orange, silo-like external fuel tank. Two of these hollow, 28-feet-by156 feet cylinders, joined end-to-end, match the dimensions of most U.S. submarines built from the 1940s to the 1960s, including the legendary Nautilus (SSN-571). The tanks are standard 2219 aluminum alloy; thinner than the three-inch steel plates used in submarines, but dozens of times thicker than airline fuselages. The external tank, pressure tested to three atmospheres before launch, is the strongest, most rigid component of the shuttle system.
While the shuttle's two rocket boosters are released two minutes after launch to parachute into the ocean to be used again, the far larger external tank continues feeding its liquid oxygen/hydrogen fuels to the shuttle's engines until it reaches orbit 6 minutes and 30 seconds later. After release, the shuttle actually nudges it back down to burn up in the atmosphere. An hour after launch its molten remains smash into a remote region of the Pacific. More than 90 have met this fate so far.
Engineers realized that empty tanks could be left in orbit if guidance systems and small engines could be attached to them. More startling, the engineers suggested that a dozen of these empty, Boeing 747-sized cylinders could be joined into a rigid, slowly rotating ring-like structure to create a real-world version of the space station in the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey . A station composed of 14 tanks could hold 300 tourists under cruise ship-like conditions—or an even larger naval crew.
Hollywood has long presented these wheel-shaped stations as space hotels, but their similarities to cruise ships and submarines are even more striking. Air recycling, plumbing, food preparation, emergency medical care, entertainment, fire suppression, isolation of damaged sections, the layout of crew, officers, and guest quarters, along with many other aspects will require the skills of naval architects; not aircraft designers.
The shuttle's design budget was slashed by Congress in the late 1970s, leaving no funds to explore this concept. When space station discussions resumed in the early 1980s, 300-person commercial stations never were considered seriously.
Over the last 20 years, however, aerospace engineers have refined the concept to a remarkable degree, adding a 28-foot wide, 20-foot long extension—an aft cargo carrier—that would be filled with command-and-control items and living quarters for crewmen carried up in the shuttle. Thompson Ramo Wooldridge (TRW) even designed an unmanned space tug, an orbiting maneuvering vehicle, to be carried aloft in the shuttle's cargo bay for subsequent use retrieving damaged satellites for return to the shuttle for repairs. Gold-plating cost overruns canceled the program in 1990, but simplified tugs could help maneuver the external tanks.
Today, the commercial external tank station concept is getting a second look from the privatization-driven Republican Congress, which last year awarded a $7 billion contract to a private firm, United Space Alliance jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing), to assume responsibility for all shuttle maintenance and launch preparations. Now they want the firm to take over orbital operations too, and begin commercializing the shuttles. NASA would lease the flights it needed, while retaining some authority over safety and insurance issues.
Today, each shuttle launch, carrying a maximum of 50,000 pounds to orbit, costs $400 million. The commercial firm thinks this can be trimmed to $300 million per launch, or $60,000 per pound (which is still ten times more than the cost of using unmanned rockets). But if the firm could sell empty tanks (in orbit) to commercial station developers for $400 million each, It would make a profit even if it charged nothing for carrying cargo or passengers up and back. Unfortunately, the Lockheed Martin and Boeing managers running the firm—who have spent their careers selling only to the government—have no idea how to develop this concept commercially; private investors who have looked at the first space station's six-year construction cycle and speculative 10-15 year payback from space manufacturing, satellite repair, or even space tourism, are not interested.
Space Island Development, Inc., hopes to attract much of the required $12 billion in advance through Olympic-like corporate sponsorship. From 1998 to 2004, corporations are planning to spend $30 billion sponsoring two winter and two summer Olympic Games, in return for only four months of media coverage cluttered by hundreds of competitors. Space Island has a different pitch: For $500 million, each of 24 prime sponsors could receive six years of orchestrated media coverage as "their" external tanks are built, painted with their logo, transported, launched under contract by united Space Alliance, and outfitted in orbit (on live TV) by United Space Alliance-trained astronaut-construction crews.
Space Island Development will subcontract the design, component construction, launch, and orbital assembly. The firm is engaged in rounding up an initial $25-$50 million pool from travel and tourism firms to fund a year-long, international media campaign designed to attract larger consumer product sponsors like Coca Cola and General Motors.
The firm also will fund preliminary design and cost studies. Boeing engineers believe that improved, 100-passenger shuttles can be built commercially for 25% of the $2 billion NASA paid for their prototypes.
Mark Holderman, a Space Island principal, agrees. The former U.S. Navy pilot, who helped develop Central Intelligence Agency and National Reconnaissance Office space assets and was a member of engineering group that oversaw the first Aegis system integration, is NASA's point man for external tank engineering issues at Houston's Johnson Space Center. He was the first in the company to suggest that external-tank stations actually will resemble ships, requiring interior layouts, life support, and other systems far more familiar to the shipbuilding industry than to aerospace. He believes ship yards could build the hundreds of tanks (at $15-$30 million each) that will be needed over the next two decades.
The tanks will not require a huge, man-rated shuttle fleet. An unmanned cargo version would use a standard external tank and rocket boosters, but the shuttle would be replaced by a second, freight-carrying external tank with shuttle engines and guidance systems at its lower end. Each twin-external tank vehicle would cost an estimated $350 million to build and launch, and could lift 150,000 pounds into space. Since both tanks would be sold to Space Island in orbit to become part of another station, the cargo could again be carried for free.
Holderman has designed the first habitable external tank, which he calls Geode ". . . because of its plain exterior and dazzling interior." As a test bed for external-tank station components, it could house up to ten astronaut-construction workers. It also is designed to produce hundreds of pounds of zero-g alloys and pharmaceuticals for U.S. industry weekly. The Geode's 12 factories, each a thousand times larger than the shuttle's tiny labs, would be leased to client firms.
The first Geode could be launched within 24 months, followed by an additional six months to outfit. Four more Geodes could go up the following year, when the first station's two-year construction phase could begin. Because Geode's design is so robust, modified versions of it could orbit the moon and even land on its surface to become lunar bases. In fact, since external-tank stations will recycle their air and water and grow their own food on board, they themselves eventually could be put into an endless, week-long loop around the Earth and moon, transferring passengers during the 45-minute Earth pass.
The first external-tank station and its Geode/space tug families would be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, into an equatorial orbit, but Space Island sees a strong satellite repair and maintenance market in polar orbit, which allows overflight of the entire earth's surface every 90 minutes. Most reconnaissance, weather, and environmental satellites, as well as the 2,000 commercial satellites now being launched to support worldwide cell phone and Internet networks, are in polar orbits. A capability to repair and refuel them in orbit for 10% of their replacement costs would be extremely attractive to owners. Indeed, most could undergo final assembly and testing aboard external-tank stations for about half the cost of assembling them on earth. The violent vibrations of unmanned launches require extremely robust satellite designs. Building the components on earth, launching them on unmanned twin external-tank launchers, and using station crews to perform final assembly would allow major design simplifications.
Polar-orbiting satellites are launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast, which was modified in the early 1980s to handle shuttles; the Challenger explosion canceled the effort. Space Island hopes to refurbish this complex to launch twin external-tank and second-generation, passenger-carrying shuttles by 2005, when at least one equatorial station can be operational. Polar costs would be higher because of the launch weight penalty, but there are operational advantages. If orbited slightly off the poles, they could stay in perpetual sunlight, never dipping into the earth's shadow every 45 minutes as equatorial orbits require. Solar-powered generators could work continuously (eliminating batteries), and the metal stressing, 500° temperature swings of equatorial orbit would be eliminated.
A more intriguing option involves launching unmanned twin-external tanks and, eventually, second-generation shuttles from U.S.-built, sea-based launch facilities. Boeing has invested $500 million in a concept called Sea Launch. Last year, Norway's Kvaerner shipyard, under Boeing contract, converted an offshore oil platform into a floating complex able to launch large, unmanned Russian rockets carrying U.S.-built satellites. The platform, housing 100 technicians who load the sats and erect the rockets, is accompanied by a separate command ship with luxurious quarters for several hundred executives, plus crew quarters for the technicians during launch. Based in Long Beach, California, the complex is scheduled to conduct its first at-sea launch this year. Space Island planners believe that derivatives of this complex could launch shuttles more cheaply than a modified Vandenberg complex, while avoiding a host of environmental and other land-launch issues. Second-generation shuttles could even be designed to land on the sea's surface near these floating complexes, which could extract their liquid oxygen-hydrogen fuel directly from seawater.
Public resistance to military external tank stations may develop, but if the stations' first uses were as space cruise ships and space factories, the need for a spacebased version of the Coast Guard would seem logical. Manned orbital maneuvering vehicles carrying passengers between stations would need search-and-rescue support. The Coast Guard could even act as safety inspectors, much as they do with offshore oil platforms.
Military stations designed to repair and maintain reconnaissance satellites in orbit, would have much in common with naval drydocks or space shipyards—building space vessels larger than the stations themselves.
There remains the orbital armament issue. The Department of Defense has asked aerospace firms for cost estimates of unmanned space fighters to be parked in polar orbit, waiting to drop down on target areas around the planet. Naval external-tank stations could become orbiting aircraft carriers housing dozens of manned space fighters, along with their pilots and maintenance crews.
The show-stopping design constraint of ground-based space fighters is that 90% of their launch weight is fuel. Naval external-tank stations carrying four to eight space fighters would obviate this. Fuel requirements would be one-third those of the Earth-launched versions.
If Space Island Development successfully launches its sponsorship campaign, the external tanks alone could represent nearly $30 billion in new business for America's shipyards. Sea-launch platforms could add billions more. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), supports commercial, manned-space concepts, as do Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Vice President Al Gore.
If supporters are right, this startling concept could set a dramatic new course for our Navy, our shipbuilding industry, and our entire nation's economy.
Mr. Meyers is the president of the Space Island Group, West Covina, California.