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Single Space Corps

The Case for a Single Space-Security Agency, Command or Corps

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Should the United States have a separate Space Corps? Proposed legislation says yes; some service leaders say not now.

Authors Lt. Col. Heather Bellusci is a faculty member at the Eisenhower School and National Defense University with experience in program management and information technology at the Defense Information Systems Agency, U.S. Special Operations Command and the intelligence community. Col. J. Dave Price is a faculty/staff member and former chair of the Department of Strategic Leader Development at the U.S. Army War College. He previously was the chief of the Strategic Capabilities Division in U.S. Army Pacific and commander of the 1st Space Battalion, 1st Space Brigade.

For Your Consideration:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of a single Space Corps?

  • How could a single Space Corps be established?

  • What are other approaches to unifying space activities in the Department of Defense?


Which will come first, the space or cyber “Pearl Harbor?” Ideally neither, but the United States may be best prepared for the cyber fight. The Department of Defense has radically matured and maneuvered to a position of advantage for these ever-increasing threats to its networks and military capabilities, in general. Space may very well be the last frontier and domain that the DOD is organized to defend and apply combat power through, to, and in.

We can make a case that the U.S. military has a need to establish one organization solely responsible for the manning, training, development and acquisition of materiel, doctrine, readiness, intelligence collection and warfighting functions of all things space-security related. There is momentum in the current executive administration and Congress to fully consider such a change in the near future.

There are two major reasons why a single space security organization needs to be established. First, a single organization is essential to realizing the full potential of space power as an integral component of U.S. national security apparatus and to developing highly technical and tactical skill sets required for effective space security. Second, the skill sets required for this domain need to be managed with priority and not as an afterthought.

It should not be a surprise or unexpected that an organization will prioritize its core competency over any other sub-competency. This fact helps to solidify the argument why an organization focused on the space security domain needs to be established in order to bring proper priority to this competency. For many years, the Air Force fought the Army to retain helicopters for close air-to-ground support and movement of land forces. Today it is both practicable and accepted that the Army flies a number of airframes to bridge the gap between the land and air domains and service-specific capabilities.

In another example, most people think of the Marine Corps primarily as a stand-alone service. While the corps is a large part of the Navy Department, it clearly has their own land and air component roles. In the same way the Navy provides medical corpsmen to support Marine operations, a Space Corps might provide space “corpsmen” to support Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force tactical and operational requirements.

Multiple Organizations and Policies

Currently, the authorities and responsibilities of defense space-related activities in the federal government are spread out amongst multiple organizations, policies, directives and other DOD guidance. As a result, U.S. decision makers lack a coherent understanding of space-related funding, an enterprise grasp of capabilities and redundancies, and a single touch point for the management of the space security domain.

In order to establish a single organization responsible for all defense space activities, Congress will need to change and create laws. As early as 1998, Rep. Bob Smith recommended that perhaps the time had come to establish an entirely new service for space power.1  Beginning in spring 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) voiced their concern regarding the lack of priority that space activities receive within the Air Force and the increasing potential of Russia and China to deny U.S. forces the use of space.2

The House of Representatives and the Senate separately have proposed organizational changes for the Department of Defense in their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018.3 Regardless of which version survives legislative deliberation amid public opposition by senior Air Force leadership, some lawmakers are intent on addressing the current organizational weaknesses of the nation’s military space domain.

Precedence and Momentum

Precedence and momentum already exist within Congress to make such changes. In September 1986, the 99th Congress passed H.R. 5109 to establish the National Special Operations Agency, which eventually became the U.S. Special Operations Command. The reasons were analogous to many of the same organizational issues that plague the defense space community today.

In 2000, Congress commissioned a study to assess U.S. national security space management and organization, often referred to as the “Rumsfeld Space Commission.” The report was released in January 2001 and subsequently overshadowed by the events of September 2001. Its unanimous conclusion was that organizational and management changes were needed to ensure that “space interests be recognized as a top national security priority.”4  In the intervening 16 years, the DOD cyber community may have leapt ahead of the space community in terms of organization, acquisition and resource solutions.

After the Rumsfeld Space Commission noted a need for fundamental shifts in the organization to properly support the national security space programs, DOD made only incremental steps toward progress. In October 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense signed a memorandum designating the Secretary of the Air Force as the Principal Department of Defense Space Advisor. This is a re-designation from the position of DOD Executive Agent for Space, which was primarily a “coordinator” amongst space stakeholders.5  These changes don’t appear to be aggressive enough for U.S. national leadership, whilst adversaries are moving with a sense of purpose.

The designation shift recognizes that a position tasked with “coordinating” is not an authority or agent toward progress. The updated memorandum gives the new position a seat at the table as primary space advisor to the Deputy’s Management Action Group, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and the Defense Acquisition Board.

This move still stops short of the needed authorities to make real progress in the space security arena. It doesn’t reduce the multitude of organizations that are conducting space security missions under separate headquarters and acquisition authorities. That change has not happened to date, despite acknowledgement of the need. It will not happen until there is a single organization with the appropriate authorities and responsibilities for the mission.

Arguments Against

Of course, there is a lot of disagreement on the subject of building another space organization. Here, the authors will examine some of the reasoning against this proposal. One statement is that the current organizational construct is “successful,” and the authors don’t pretend to deconstruct the current setup to refute the idea, knowing full well they are counter-arguments, valid or not. However, we suggest that there remains a lot of work to be done in the DOD space organizations, and a singular entity like a corps or functional combatant command may be more effective, efficient and productive than status quo.

There are at least three reasons why a single space security organization inside the federal government should not be established. First, success of a coherent approach to space security is not dependent upon a single organizational construct and could be accomplished through a whole-of-government collaborative approach. Second, funding would be diverted from existing services and agencies in order to fund an additional organization. Finally, the existing organizational structure is successful, and changing that structure would be expensive and time-consuming.

The whole-of-government approach is widely acknowledged as the stretch goal of all mission sets that cross the intergovernmental divide. However, there is still a large gap between acknowledgement and action. Examples are growing of successful collaboration in the space domain between the DOD and federal agencies, but not at the pace necessary to maintain a technical advantage over our adversaries, especially in the space-security domain. The time necessary for a collaborative movement to sweep through the federal government that transcends funding streams and authorities is most likely not worth the growing risk of being unprepared for what lies ahead in the space domain.

Regardless of the implementation of a separate service or agency from the existing organizations, an additional Space Corps or service will divert funds from existing military services and agencies. The DOD budget will become even more divided, and competition for resources can only expect to increase. Additional funds would be needed for administrative overhead and consolidation changes.

Having all space-related programs, operations and capabilities under a single organization may reduce redundancy and consolidate technical expertise. It remains to be seen whether the move to a single organization would be a resource burden or savings.

The dissolution of approximately 60 organizations from their parent establishments into a single entity would take a significant amount of time and resources. The current space security missions are successful, and such a sweeping change, the amount of resources and the time necessary to make a change cannot be justified by any notable return on investment.

These counter-arguments are reminiscent of those made in resisting the establishment of an independent U.S. Air Force 70 years ago. The recommendation to establish a consolidated organization focused on the space-security domain should not be viewed as a failure of the current organizations, but as an opportunity to improve.

Inside One Service or Separate?

Consideration should be made to the creation of a Space Corps that would reside inside the Department of the Air Force. Precedent exists in the Marine Corps and its relationship to the Department of the Navy or the Army Air Forces within the Army during World War II.

Another approach is the establishment of a separate space service with parallel constructs to the current military branches. Again, it would be a fully executable organizational construct with precedent, existing structures and processes. The scope could start at one service, such as the Air Force, and slowly include space functions from the other services and then the intelligence community. The change could be abrupt and sweeping but most likely should start as incremental over five to 10 years as an agency with senior leaders and staff of 50 to 100 personnel to get the major milestones set.

The services have their own methodologies to manage force size and the careers of their service members. Unfortunately, that means each service establishes a different standard for expertise in space-related skills. The Army does not even have a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) for soldiers with space expertise. As a result, soldiers with an MOS that is similar in technical skills needed in the space community are brought into space-related units and put through a specialized training program. The Army rarely capitalizes on this training over the long run.

Because those soldiers need to retain their original MOS for career progression, the space-related units do not get a good return on investment without dedicated leadership involvement by career managers. An organization solely dedicated to space-related activities could educate and manage its service members in a manner that would benefit individual careers as well as the space service, in cooperation with the other services.

The solution may lie in establishing a clear balance between time and mission. The establishment of a single organization responsible for the space security domain should be done with a clear and concise agreed-upon measure of effectiveness, balanced between current operational needs and future planning. Either the Marine “corps” or Special Operations Command models would work with current services retaining some agreed-upon investment in space, while discussing a holistic and balanced solution over a longer period negotiated by DOD and Congress.

1 M.V. Smith, “America Needs a Space Corps,” The Space Review, March 13, 2017,

2 Ibid.

3 Phillip Swarts, “Space Corps Proposal Has Murkier Path Forward in the Senate,” Space News, July 14, 2017,

4 Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, Jan. 11, 2001, pg. ix,

5 Deputy Secretary of Defense, “Designation of the Principal DoD Space Advisor,” Oct. 5, 2015,


Satellites See Ice

Missile Warning Data in Use for Arctic Sea Ice Monitoring

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A military/academic partnership has potential to develop new capabilities and products and reduce costs.

Author: Capt. Nicholas Lewis studies remote sensing of the Arctic with researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. He is a master of arts student in geography at the University of Colorado Boulder.

For Your Consideration:

  • How does your organization encourage “outside-the-box” thinking and problem solving?

  • What relationships can your organization establish and leverage to improve processes and capabilities?

  • How is warfighter lethality enhanced by improved battlefield capabilities and situational awareness?


As the Arctic becomes seasonably ice-free, increased international commercial and military activity in the region is anticipated. This development will require that geographic combatant commands with responsibility in the Arctic (U.S. Pacific Command, Northern Command and European Command) re-assess their Arctic capabilities and response preparedness. A military/academic project is exploring the feasibility of using data from missile-warning satellites to develop an ice characterization algorithm for charting and eventually tracking sea ice in the high Arctic.

The partnership between the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) represents a type of unorthodox relationship that academics and defense personnel are beginning to embrace in order to achieve their individual goals. For the Department of Defense these partnerships provide access to experts in fields that are difficult to source internally, while reducing cost by less reliance on defense contractors. Similarly, as research funding declines across all disciplines (National Science Foundation, NASA, etc.), academics are warming to DOD as potential funding sources for research. Often the research is directly applicable to the researcher’s interests and has additional applicability in a national security or intelligence role. It may also have tangential implications for defense organizations, providing both researcher and customer with purpose.

Common Ground

Located in sunny Los Angeles, the SMC Remote Sensing Systems Directorate’s top priority is to support warfighter operations. Conversely, the federally funded NSIDC in Boulder, Colo., home to research scientists and big-data managers, considers sea ice its “bread-and-butter.” The common ground between these organizations is the belief that the Air Force’s remote sensing data can be exploited in new, innovative and unprecedented ways.

Only a few products exist that provide situational awareness in the remote Arctic, and none of them is at a temporal or spatial scale to which most commanders are accustomed. SMC currently provides data that support characterizing and researching sea ice through passive microwave sensors on Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites. The new partnership has NSIDC attempting similar operations with data from the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) in highly elliptical orbit.

This effort provides an opportunity for the Air Force to assess the potential of the SBIRS constellation to support new missions, leveraging the expertise of a team of academics with impressive credentials. If the ice product has utility, that is a bonus for geographic combatant commands and civil users (as the products will remain classified). More significantly, success demonstrates the vast capability of the SBIRS constellation and challenges the DOD and intelligence community to exploit this constellation to its full potential.

For NSIDC the project represents a potential fire-hose of data that could fuel scientific exploration for many years and develop products to increase user base and fuse the data with other sources to enhance existing or emerging products. Further, by demonstrating the scientific potential of this abundant data, there is an increased emphasis on storing all of the collected data, not just that deemed interesting in the near term by the DOD and intelligence agencies.

This archival data could then provide context for future operations as well as scientific context for continued scientific monitoring of the Arctic. The combination of well-regarded research institutes (like NSIDC) with trusted data (from Overhead Persistent Infrared systems) creates a winning combination with regard to product credibility for DOD and intelligence users.

Noise is Good

In most circumstances, the SBIRS data that NSIDC is interested in constitutes noise for the rest of the user base. In fact, NSIDC is only concerned with the data that does not have national security purposes, as these types of scenes would likely disrupt processing due to anomalous events. The potential of this “noise” from OPIR is understood to a limited extent by both Air Force Space Command and Army Space and Missile Defense Command, but demonstration of ice characterization capability with the OPIR constellations dramatically increases the potential for this data.

The design for a SBIRS-based ice product (termed ICARTA–Ice Characterization of the Arctic for Transportation Applications) leverages the persistent nature of the constellation. Ice and water can be identified based on their unique spectral signatures in the short-wave infrared frequencies, although images are complicated by the prevalence of clouds in the scenes. This is where the unique structure of SBIRS/OPIR is most beneficial. Because clouds move faster than ice, using a temporal approach, clouds can be filtered out of images by their relative motion to the background (ice/water). This distinction is available because of SBIRS’ persistence and allows for near real time/short delay reporting. During processing, as the ice/water is determined, any pixels obscured by clouds will default back to their most recent cloud-free value (ice or water) given a six-day cache of images.

Most existing ice products are developed using passive microwave, which determines the brightness temperature of the surface at different microwave band frequencies (10-89+ GHz). These products rely upon the DMSP series of satellites for the passive microwave data, but because of the low power of these emissions they have to aggregate over a large area to derive a meaningful signal. This aggregation results in 25-kilometer pixels for standard ice products covering the entire Arctic.

Regional products supplement this data with visible and near infrared data to increase resolution but have limited utility during times of polar darkness and under cloudy conditions; the Arctic is often cloudy. With the congressional cancellation of DMSP-20, the future of the passive microwave sea ice record, continuously dating back to October 1978, is in jeopardy with no easy or foreseeable backfill.

The research team working on ICARTA includes a former NASA International Space Station program manager, a physical scientist from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and an Oceanographer and Remote Sensing Applications expert at the Naval Research Laboratory, among other scientists and researchers with noteworthy contributions to Arctic sciences and big-data management. In this group, three scientists already possess active security clearances while four others previously held clearances based upon prior employment, enabling access to the restricted data. These scientists are accustomed to proposing innovative research, as they are almost exclusively reliant upon research grants to pay their salaries.

In fact, the idea for ICARTA was derived from an SMC call for proposals that said little more than “if given ‘x’ data, what would you do with it and how much would that cost?” This $400,000 and 15-month investment into the NSIDC team of researchers/scientists funds the salaries of these professionals and nets SMC rights to all of the data, algorithms and products developed by the team.

Think Beyond the Threat

The space warfighter community needs to continue to think beyond the threat fan with the instruments available and leverage the talents of those with institutional expertise to pull new signal from the noise. The SMC/NSIDC sea ice project is an excellent example of defense/academic collaboration to explore the true utility of existing (and expensive) satellite systems, forge unorthodox relationships that are mutually beneficial and achieve results on short timelines and with limited budgets. While a near-real-time sea ice product would be unprecedented in its utility to the Arctic’s continued development, the model sought by SMC to employ experts and get results is one that could enhance warfighter capability dramatically and on expedited timelines.

Air Force SMC is able to leverage the expertise of gifted academics to test the bounds of the SBIRS data. NSIDC can then potentially incorporate a new data source and create products necessary to support increased military, civil and commercial operations as the Arctic becomes more navigable. While Overhead Persistent Infrared was designed to detect high-intensity heat events, showing its ability to similarly capture significant events in some of the coldest water on Earth would challenge the Defense Department and intelligence community to further exploit the sensors at their disposal.



Managing a Missile Crisis

Managing the Next Great Power
Crisis: Lessons from ’62

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Today’s cyber and space capabilities and vulnerabilities are examined against the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis, 55 years ago.

Author: Capt. Boyd DeLanzo is commander of the Joint Tactical Ground Station theater missile warning detachment in Stuttgart, Germany. He has degrees in international relations from Seton Hall University and Troy University.

For Your Consideration:

  • Are space and cyber initiatives shifting the military balance of power toward more offensive capabilities?

  • Could a war escalate solely from space and cyber domain activities?

  • In what ways has a policy lagged behind the impact of new technology on the battlefield?


Crises between great powers are inevitable, but the outcomes are subject to many variables. Crises often stem from misperceptions of military strength and intentions, as well as miscalculations in assessing an adversary’s escalatory response to an action. Capabilities relating to the space and cyber domains, however, are having a comprehensive and deleterious effect on these critical variables of crisis management. They are eroding traditional conceptions of military strength, increasing economic vulnerabilities and shifting the balance of military power toward offensive capabilities, while also giving disproportionate power to third-party actors and rogue states to influence events.

The threat of runaway escalation occurring is now greater than ever. Furthermore, the next crisis is likely to occur under circumstances not experienced since the Cold War, where the United States was confronted by a power of similar strength. Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis provide a useful case study to understand the dynamics of a great power crisis, as well as its applicability to current political and military developments.

Managing Cold War Crises

It is widely believed that the Cold War remained relatively cold between the United States and the Soviet Union due to successful management of a series of crises, the most famous of these being the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Key aspects of those 13 days reveal that misperceptions of capabilities and intentions nearly resulted in an all-out nuclear exchange between the two superpowers. In the early stages of the crisis, hardliners on the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm) tried to convince President John F. Kennedy to order an invasion of Cuba, in the belief that Soviet forces on the island did not yet have nuclear warheads.

Kennedy and the ExComm were missing critical intelligence. At a January 1992 conference in Havana, Soviet General Anatoly Gribkov said “the nuclear warheads for both tactical and strategic nuclear weapons had already reached Cuba before the quarantine line was ever established–162 nuclear warheads in all.”1 The CIA had estimated 10,000 Soviet ground troops in Cuba; the real number was up to four times higher. Therefore, the ExComm was making recommendations based on faulty information.

Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara said that “if the president had gone ahead with the air strike and invasion of Cuba, the invasion forces almost surely would have been met by nuclear fire, requiring a nuclear response from the United States.”2 Nikolai S. Leonov, who was chief of the KGB’s Department of Cuban Affairs for 30 years, said it would have been “inconceivable to me that the Soviet ground commander in Cuba would have neglected to arm and fire his tactical nuclear weapons.”3

Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis

There are six important lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis, each of which can be applied to future crisis management:

  • Doctrine and policy always lag new military technology.
  • There will always be intelligence gaps of an enemy’s intentions and capabilities.
  • Hardliners reflect parochial interests and often discount the escalatory response.
  • Individuals may take independent action, sending conflicting diplomatic signals.
  • Deterrence has to be actively managed in an open process between both sides.
  • Presidential leadership matters.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff accused President Kennedy of appeasement and believed Moscow would be deterred by air strikes and an invasion of Cuba. Kennedy deserves credit for ignoring their advice. As acknowledged years later, that action certainly would have resulted in nuclear war.

It is important to remember that Kennedy had been badly disappointed by the advice of his generals to proceed with the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961. If it hadn’t been for that disaster, he may not have been as skeptical of their judgement during this crisis. Presidential decisions can only guard against deliberate folly. Lower-level officials, government agencies and even allies, however, all had the capability to escalate the crisis, too, and did. For example:

  • The commander of the Strategic Air Command, without informing the president or any national security staff member, raised the command’s Defense Condition level to 2.
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base test fired a missile without contacting the Pentagon.
  • A Soviet air defense commander in Cuba shot down a U-2 spy plane without authorization.
  • The CIA continued sabotage missions against the Fidel Castro regime.
  • A Soviet submarine commander prepared to fire a nuclear-tipped torpedo after U.S. Navy ships dropped practice depth charges against the submarine. A lone Soviet officer vetoed its use.
  • Castro pleaded with Moscow to immediately strike with nuclear weapons.

At the time of the crisis, nuclear weapons were incorporated into all aspects of military operations: missiles, bombs, artillery shells, torpedoes and even depth charges. Top U.S. and Soviet military chiefs were in support of their use since they were primarily focused first on winning, without concern for the likely escalatory response of their adversary. Mutually Assured Destruction was in its infancy as a deterrence concept. Doctrine and policy on nuclear use had not been fully determined prior to the crisis, and most importantly, there was no significant dialogue as to their acceptable military application and deployment between the sides.

The Next Crisis

In 1996, the first major crisis arose between the United States and China in the post-Soviet era. Mainland China had been intimidating the Taiwanese with military exercises across the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to influence their elections. In a show of force, President Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carrier groups near the strait.

Nearly a generation later, the United States can no longer operate so freely in the first-island chain. China’s economy and military capabilities have grown exponentially. In a hypothetical Taiwan conflict, a RAND Corporation study found that China’s military capabilities are either at parity or greater than the United States in six out of nine categories related to air, missile, naval, space and cyber forces.4 The report focuses solely on a comparison of capabilities, however. It overlooks the psychological and operational impacts of space and cyber warfare on crisis management, and correspondingly, how that precipitates greater escalatory risks.

The majority of President Kennedy’s ExComm felt it was necessary to immediately invade Cuba despite the grave escalatory risks. If a similar crisis happened today, the inclination toward action would be even greater. Space and cyber capabilities are biased toward first-mover advantage. A series of coordinated non-kinetic attacks on networks, sensing systems and infrastructure can provide a decisive advantage to the side who employs those capabilities first.

The United States has the world’s best offensive cyber force, but it is by far the most vulnerable to an attack. Contrarily, China or Russia may be prepared to behave more aggressively in cyberspace because their economies are much less vulnerable to cyber-attack.

Space capabilities are a similar issue. The United States is the number-one user of space, and therefore the most vulnerable. The weakness of effective deterrence in these domains erodes the mechanisms that normally stabilize escalation risk by encouraging a first-mover incentive.

Tensions could be further exacerbated by third-party or patriotic actors who had an interest in causing disruptions. The problem of identifying cyber attackers means that both sides may not be able to immediately determine the attack’s origins, or even worse, hackers could make it appear as though one side was attacking the other. Such activity could embolden hawks’ arguments for escalation, initiating a cascading effect.

A conflict employing the full use of space and cyber capabilities will create a chaotic battle environment where communications, timing, navigation, intelligence and cyberspace will all be in various stages of denial, degradation or disruption. This will reduce the ability of military leaders and politicians to accurately assess the situation as communications and intelligence are severely impacted. The fog of war will be great. Leaders who are accustomed to receiving the latest imagery and watching live drone feeds may have to make many decisions in the dark. It is a situation ripe for miscalculation.

Avoiding a Crisis

As during the Cuban Missile Crisis, new military technology is disrupting traditional means of deterrence. Similarly, military doctrine and civilian policy are lagging behind rapid technological change, and there are few international or bilateral agreements relating to the application and deployment of these new capabilities. This creates mistrust and precipitates an arms race to gain military advantage in the cyber and space domains.

The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis shows how quickly such an unstable status quo can lead quickly to the brink of conflict and nuclear war. Agreements, effective deterrence and clear lines of communication are the best means by which to avoid a crisis. This requires a comprehensive, coordinated diplomatic and military strategy that is currently lacking.

Once a crisis begins, history demonstrates that a host of variables can drive escalation, even if both sides preferred peace. Without a new strategy, the great powers are drifting toward the next crisis; their fate in the hands of Fortuna.

1 Robert S. McNamara, “Forty Years After 13 Days,” Arms Control Today, Nov. 1, 2002,

2 Ibid.

3 Quoted in “A Conversation in Havana,” edited by Thomas S. Blanton and James G. Blight, Arms Control Today, Nov. 1, 2002,

4 “An Interactive Look at the U.S.-China Military Scorecard,” RAND Project Air Force, n.d.,