It’s a well-established fact at this point that Robert Mueller’s press conference last week was a mess.
Neither side received the concrete answers it was looking for, and many Americans came away from the press conference more confused about the state of the Trump administration than they were before. However, Mueller’s corrupt statement wasn’t a total loss.
Despite his incoherence in summarizing the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice, the special counsel did manage to make one thing clear: Putin’s Russia is certainly our enemy.
During Mueller’s press conference, which lasted a little over 11 minutes, the special counsel (who has now resigned from that position) detailed the extent to which Russia attempted to launch an attack on America’s political system. Russian operatives, according to Mueller, used “sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.”
The investigation revealed that the Russian government initiated a coordinated offensive to undermine our nation’s political discourse. Couple that with Russia’s newly found chummy military relationship with another U.S. adversary — the communist Chinese — and Americans can easily identify the threat.
Regardless of one’s political persuasion, that revelation should be enough to dismiss any illusions of camaraderie between Russia and the United States.
While Russia’s return to a Cold War posture, when such attempted interference was routine, may be front-and-center in the news, it’s not the only threat posed by the former Soviet Union. In truth, the United States and Russia are not international compatriots; we are locked in a fierce confrontation over technological supremacy.
The U.S. is constantly seeking to fortify its defenses against Russia’s unwelcome influence. And there is no greater illustration of that reality than how the two nations are approaching the domain of space.
Essentially, America and Russia are once again pitted against each other in a space race. It is an unexpected development. We thought the “space race” was behind us. But recent developments have shown us otherwise. A 2019 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency found that Russia has every intention of militarizing space in an attempt to neutralize America’s influence. The Russians are playing hardball, and the United States must respond in kind.
Unfortunately, America isn’t as prepared for this confrontation as one would hope. For one thing, a large portion of our space launch systems is still dependent on Russian technology. The United States, for example, still uses the Russian RD-180 rocket as its chief space launch engine. As a consequence, we are forced to cede a degree of control to Russia — our chief space race rival. If they wanted, the Russians could hamstring a significant and vital portion of our space enterprise.
We must have domestically produced rocket motors to restore wholly independent, secure, and self-contained operations in space.
Luckily, America is on track to do just that. Through an Air Force program known as the National Security Space Launch (NSSL), the Department of Defense has, since the 1990s, been aiming to secure domestic self-sufficiency by working with private companies to create new American-made rockets. While each of this program’s resulting launch systems has served its purpose and some will continue to serve the Air Force and NASA, today the U.S. must update its technology.
Of the three rockets developed by the NSSL, the first is scheduled to be discontinued; the second is entirely dependent on the Russian engine; and the third cannot carry heavy payloads. Failing to develop new U.S. capabilities would either result in prolonging reliance on Russia or losing access to space altogether. Neither of these are acceptable options.
The Department of Defense has, since the 1990s, been aiming to secure domestic self-sufficiency by working with private companies to create new American-made rockets.
Recognizing the need to act, this month the Air Force started Phase 2 of the NSSL, where it will work with multiple contractors to create new rockets. This process will ensure that the U.S. retains assured access to space in 2022 and beyond. But despite the obvious necessity of the program, not all lawmakers are on board.
Vocal critics of the NSSL, like House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, are sorely misguided. Notwithstanding assurances from the U.S. Air Force that the program is effective and efficient, political figureheads like the chairman insist the initiative be delayed to fit their own arbitrary legislative requirements. The chairman should resist his ideological impulses.
Indeed, the chairman’s political party has a long history of opposing anything that gets in the way of Russia’s / Soviet Union’s anti-American agenda. If the NSSL program is forced to stall, Russia will have America right where it wants her: in a state of dependence and vulnerability, unable to achieve proper independence in space.
America cannot afford a costly misstep in our battle over technological supremacy, and assured access to space is a key component in the nation’s strategy for success. There’s little doubt Russia will attempt to stymie the NSSL program, just as it tried to disrupt our political process.
At the end of the day, Mueller was right about one thing: Russia is our enemy. It’s time we recognized that.
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