Project Thor, aka “rods from god,” is an initiative under development that could weaponize space, encourage China and Russia to follow suit, and enrich America’s defense contractors, and apparently violate the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
“Insane U.S. Plan to Spend Billions on Weaponizing Space Makes Defense Contractors Jump for Joy—But Rest of World Cowers in Horror at Prospect of New Arms Race Leading to World War III” is the rather lengthy headline of a new Covert Action piece by Karl Grossman. While the headline raises eyebrows and maybe some goose-bumps, Grossman, the author of six books, includingWeapons in Space, a TV program host and full professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, pulls no punches.
“Imagine this scenario from the year 2045”, Grossman writes: “The U.S. and China, after years of belligerence, go to war over control of the Taiwan straits; most of the battles are fought through cyber-attacks and space-based weapons systems that had been perfected over the previous decades.
“In a desperate maneuver, the U.S. activates its ‘rods from God’—a scheme developed in Project Thor involving telephone-pole-sized tungsten rods being dropped from orbit reaching a speed ten times the speed of sound [7,500 miles per hour] hitting with the force of nuclear weapons— and Beijing’s military command centers and other significant targets are destroyed.”
The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/outerspace) bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in outer space, prohibits military activities on celestial bodies, and details legally binding rules governing the peaceful exploration and use of space. It was put together by the U.S., Great Britain and the former Soviet Union and has wide support from nations around the world. 111 countries are parties to the treaty, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.
“This foundational treaty has allowed for half a century of ever expanding peaceful activity in space, free from man-made threats,” writes Paul Meyer, in his chapter ‘Arms Control in Outer Space: A Diplomatic Alternative to Star Wars,’ in the book Security in the Global Commons and Beyond.
Blake Stilwell of We Are The Mighty (https://www.wearethemighty.com/author/blake/)
explained how Project Thor was an outgrowth of the use, during the Vietnam War, of what was called “Lazy Dog” bombs” ((https://www.businessinsider.com/air-force-rods-from-god-kinetic-weapon-hit-with-nuclear-weapon-force-2017-9). According to Stilwell, “Lazy Dog” bombs were “solid-steel pieces, less than 2 inches long, fitted with fins. There was no explosive: They were simply dropped by the hundreds from planes flying above Vietnam.
“Lazy Dog projectiles (aka ‘kinetic bombardment’) could reach speeds of up to 500 mph as they fell to the ground and could penetrate 9 inches of concrete after being dropped from as little as 3,000 feet. The idea is like shooting bullets at a target, except instead of losing velocity as it travels, the projectile is gaining velocity and energy that will be expended on impact. They were shotgunning a large swath of jungle, raining bullet-size death at high speeds.”
According to Stilwell, Project Thor ratchets up the destruction. “The ‘rods from god’ idea was a bundle of telephone-pole-size (20 feet long, 1 foot in diameter) tungsten rods, dropped from orbit, reaching a speed of up to 10 times the speed of sound.
“The rod itself would penetrate hundreds of feet into the Earth, destroying any potential hardened bunkers or secret underground sites. More than that, when the rod hits, the explosion would be on par with the magnitude of a ground-penetrating nuclear weapon — but with no fallout.”
Stilwell pegs the cost of each rod at around $230 million per. For more on the development of Project Thor, see “Outpacing The Threat With An Agile Defense Space Enterprise,” prepared by The Project Thor Team at The Aerospace Corporation (https://aerospace.org/sites/default/files/2019-09/Aerospace_OutpacingThreat_09242019_1.pdf)
Covert Action’s Grossman reported that at a meeting of the National Space Council of the U.S. in 2018 Donald Trump declared that “it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space…. I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces … It is going to be something.”
The following year, the U.S. Space Force was established. Defense News reported earlier this year that President Joe Biden has no intention of eliminating the Force. “White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters during a Feb. 3 briefing that the new service has the ‘full support’ of the Biden administration.”
Covert Action’s Grossman pointed out that “For decades there has been an effort to extend the Outer Space Treaty and enact the Prevention of an Arms Race, the PAROS treaty, which would bar any weapons in space.
“China, Russia (and U.S. neighbor Canada) have been leaders in seeking passage of the PAROS treaty. But the U.S.—through administration after administration, Republican and Democrat—has opposed the PAROS treaty and effectively vetoed it at the United Nations.”
According to Air Force Magazine (https://www.airforcemag.com/space-force-2022-budget-request/), the Space Force “is asking for $17.4 billion in its 2022 budget request—more than 10 percent of the Department of the Air Force’s $173.7 billion ‘blue’ budget and a $2 billion increase from 2021. It would grow the service to 8,400 Guardians, pay to transfer satellites from the Army and Navy to the new service, and fund more than $800 million in new classified programs.”
The budget also calls for $#7 million for the Space Warfighting Analysis Center to “generate new operational expertise with unique analytical tools, datasets, and intelligence to develop operational architecture options to fulfill space missions.”
Grossman explained that Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative dubbed “Star Wars” program of the 1980s, had “Its roots are with the former Nazi rocket scientists and engineers brought to the U.S. from Germany after World War II under the U.S.’s Operation Paperclip, where more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers and technicians were taken from former Nazi Germany to the U.S. for government employment after the end of World War II in Europe, between 1945 and 1959.”
In his book, Arming the Heavens: The Hidden Military Agenda for Space, 1945-1995, Jack Manno, a State University of New York professor, wrote: “Many of the early space war schemes were dreamt up by scientists working for the German military, scientists who brought their rockets and their ideas to America after the war.”
Grossman cites a 104-page report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2021 entitled “Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration” which declared: “Space nuclear propulsion and power systems have the potential to provide the United States with military advantages.”
Bruce Gagnon, the coordinator of The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space told Grossman: “The aerospace industry has long proclaimed that ‘Star Wars’ would be the largest industrial project in human history. Add the nuclear industry’s ambition to use space as its ‘new market,’ and one can imagine the money that would be involved. These two industry giants have put their resources together to ensure their ‘control and domination’ of the U.S. Congress. Both political parties are virtually locked down when it comes to appropriating funds to move the arms race into space and to colonize the heavens for corporate profits. Just one example is the recent approval in Congress of the creation of the ‘Space Force’ as a new service branch in the military.”
Gagnon continued: “The Pentagon is looking to a future where space would be fully privatized and a new gold rush would ensue. Corporations and rich fat-cats like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson, while ignoring the UN’s Outer Space and Moon Treaties that call the heavens the ‘province of all mankind,’ would move to control the shipping lanes from Earth into space. The Space Force would be used by these ‘space entrepreneurs’ as their own private pirate forces to ensure they controlled the extraction of resources mined from planetary bodies. This provocative vision would in the end recreate the global war system, which has been deeply embedded into the culture and consciousness here on Earth. Russia, China and other space-faring nations are not going to allow the US to be the ‘Master of Space.’”
Was the headline of Grossman’s Covert Action story a bit of fear-mongering? Perhaps so. I prefer to see it as a prescient warning that the mash-up of war mongering and war profiteering is as dangerous as it has ever been.