WASHINGTON — Up in the sky known as space, it is not a plane nor a bird nor even Superman. It is Tractor Bear.
Or perhaps “Ursa Tractor.”
Buried in an overview of existing military programs that could migrate to a new Space Corps or Space Force is a line item simply called Tractor Bear.
Depending on where one sleuths, Tractor Bear is one of dozens of classified programs for research, development, test and evaluation. The current budget is for $23,170,000 and the program falls under a clarification of “research, development, test and evaluation.”
It is an Army program and the Army confirms the program exists. Beyond that, press spokespersons shuddered when pressed for details.
“It is safe to assume it has nothing to do with tractors or bears,” Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis and director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, said in an interview with TMN.
Harrison said classified programs are occasionally made public in budget documents or committee hearings but are deliberately given seemingly illogical monikers to avoid any kind of linkage to mission.
Tractor Bears is one of a slew of “Tractor”-dubbed programs, all classified and all geared to what some analysts said are providing protection and punch from space.
“Tractor is the name they use for classified programs,” John Pike the director of GlobalSecurity.org, told TMN in an interview.
The mission names and categories change frequently as part of the shell-game.
For example, in one document obtained by TMN, Tractor Bear was included with Tractor Cage and Tractor Tire as budget line items for “engineering and manufacturing development.”
Yet on the same document, Tractor Cage appeared again — along with Tractor Hip, Tractor Hike, Tractor Nail and Tractor Eggs — in funding for “advanced technology development.”
It appeared for the third time, along with Tractor Tire, in a budget request for “classified cyber capabilities.”
Three cousins — Tractor Pull, Tractor Smoke and Tractor Card — had no designation for funding. But one more — Tractor Beam — was listed for “demonstration and validation.”
The imagination soars when one thinks of a “tractor beam” and outer space.
“The challenge is that there is no particular reason to believe that there is a direct correlation between individual budget line items and actual programs,” Pike said.
Usually by mistake — or in footnotes — are the names of classified programs revealed.
For example, the Pentagon Inspector General’s latest report on ISIS and Syria/Iraq notes that there are three classified operations — Operation Yukon Journey, the Northwest Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation, and the East Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation — that are part of the larger non-public report.
Queries about those programs received similar rebuffs as questions on Tractor Bear.
Despite repeated denials about militarizing outer space, the Pentagon and other government entities have continued research and development to do just that, documents show.
For example, documents declassified and recently released provided a treasure trove of intriguing details about a secret Cold War project known as the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL).
That Air Force program was conducted from December 1963 until June 1969, spending an estimated $1.56 billion on various reconnaissance activities. One gambit, code name “Project Dorian,” was “a superpowerful camera system” to provide enhanced photographic coverage of the Soviet Union and other locations, according to published reports.
The MOL also worked on “the assembly and servicing of large structures in space,” delivering non-nuclear “negation missiles” to targets in space, and capturing and relocating enemy spacecraft, according to published reports.
Said Pike: “The whole thing is revealed as a variant of Three Card Monte.”