Review of High Frontier, by General Daniel Graham, USA

High Frontier is an old book (1983), but it's still relevant.

I first learned of this book while reading Robert Heinlein's introduction to it in his book Expanded Universe. He said that General Daniel Graham’s plan was "as nonaggressive as a bulletproof vest".

High Frontier calls for establishing point defenses of U.S. ground based missiles and then space-based missile defenses to protect the United States and its allies. The idea is to replace Mutual Assured Destruction, which deters attack by threatening military (counterforce) and civilian (countervalue) targets, with Assured Survival, in which U.S. defenses are strong enough to ensure that a first strike will be unlikely to do catastrophic damage to the United States.

Not much was done about High Frontier during the 1980s; space-based defenses were ridiculed as Star Wars. Not much has been done recently. That's a crying shame.

The world has changed a lot since the 1980s:

North Korea is now able to threaten American cities.

China has become much more powerful and dangerous, and is also able to threaten American cities.

The Soviet Union is no more, but Russia still has a nuclear arsenal that can threaten American cities.

All of these can be addressed by High Frontier.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are the fastest way of delivering a sledgehammer blow against another country, whether by airburst, groundburst, or electromagnetic pulse (EMP). (EMPs can also happen naturally.) Taking ICBMs off the table would force hostile nations to use slower methods such as bombers or Russia's nuclear-armed drone submarine. Doing that will, to some extent, reinforce the protection provided by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Moreover, High Frontier isn't just about missile defense. High Frontier also contemplates space-based solar power and asteroid mining. Space-based solar power satellites would have large arrays of solar panels collecting sunlight 24-7 -- no night or weather to interfere.  The energy would then be beamed to receiving stations on Earth. The resources to make these satellites could come from mines on the Moon or the Asteroid Belt. Jerry Pournelle addressed these ideas in greater detail in A Step Farther Out. The space based defenses of High Frontier would serve as a way of protecting space-based solar power satellites, as well as other U.S. space assets. With more and more dependence on GPS and other satellites, and more and more private U.S. investment in space such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, the time to start building the space defense assets of High Frontier is now. Even Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes the idea seriously. (Maybe that will help – Tyson is something of a celebrity, and celebrity endorsements are very important these days.)

General Graham was at his best when he mentioned the importance of the hope that High Frontier can bring. He mentioned teen crime, pollution, the low public savings rate -- issues that are problems today.  In his words: "A major thrust into space would provide the world with clear and convincing evidence that the resources available to the human race are not fixed; that new wealth can be created without depriving others." General Graham also noted that hope "would alter economic realities for the better, more rapidly than any amount of tinkering with social programs or Federal Reserve rates.”  In other words, doing something concrete to provide energy and resources will do more than financial hocus-pocus to employ Americans. Modern politicians would do well to heed General Graham’s words, but that seems unlikely at a time of political polarization. Sadly, High Frontier, the one thing that might end the political polarization crippling the United States, may well be held up by it.

We can't dither forever. If the United States does not take major steps now to establish a permanent space presence, nations hostile to the United States that are not paralyzed by Itchy and Scratchy politics might very well do so. They would then use that presence in space to dictate terms to the United States. Those who are primarily concerned with"social justice" ought to consider whether a United States impoverished and at the mercy of hostile powers would have any room for social justice. There would be none in the event of an EMP.

One might ask how to pay the initial costs of High Frontier. Graham touched upon this when he denounced the military procurement system, which makes contractors and their bought-and-paid-for Congresscritters happy, but is grossly inefficient at getting equipment to front line users. Here are two other ideas to free up some venture capital (the Silicon Valley term) for High Frontier:

End the drug war. Legalize and moderately tax drugs -- all drugs, not just marijuana. End the futile attempts to keep people from wrecking their minds (if any) and bodies. Government should only prevent people from harming and defrauding others; it should not prevent people from wrecking their own lives.  Spend that money on security and prosperity! Spend it on High Frontier!

Less meddling in hostile foreign countries. Jerry Pournelle, another advocate of High Frontier, stated on his website that the United States could have had energy independence for the cost of the Iraq War.  To fund High Frontier, let’s not get involved in the affairs of other countries so much. Every dollar spent on futile foreign adventures is a dollar that cannot be spent on the security and prosperity that High Frontier can provide. 

I enjoyed learning about High Frontier and it is a crying shame that nothing has been done to accomplish the goals in this book. President Trump's call for a U.S. Space Force might be a first step toward taking High Frontier more seriously. Let's hope he also starts pushing High Frontier.  The energy, resources, jobs, and hope that High Frontier can provide are the best way for President Trump to Make America Great Again. 


Further reading:

General Daniel Graham's Biography (Wikipedia)

Everett Dolman, Astropolitik

Robert Heinlein, Expanded Universe

Jerry Pournelle, A Step Farther Out

High Frontier: