Friday, December 18, 2015

Nations Prepare For Next Battlefield - Space

Nations Prepare For Next Battlefield - Space
December 16, 2015  
Share this article

The ‘race for space’ seems to have evolved rapidly over the past several decades. It long stopped being a race of ‘firsts’ between yesteryear’s superpowers, the former U.S.S.R and the United States. Their Cold War antics left rest of the world’s nations watching helplessly; pressured to take sides between NATO and the WARSAW Pact alliances for mere survival’s sake.

Yesterday’s space race is fast transforming into today’s orbital arms race, where the competition to control or dominate satellite presence and capabilities for military advantage is currently at fever pitch. The field has widened also, as far more countries control satellites and possess nuclear weapons that they could deploy, than was the case in the days of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. A key consequence of this recent jostling by the key players is the ‘weaponizing’ of space.

A recent analysis posted by Sam Jones of the Financial Times (FT) refers to the Union of Concerned Scientists, according to whom there are at least 1,300 satellites now orbiting the Earth. Some have military purposes. Some are for civilian and commercial use. Most -549 - are American. Russia has 131, the UK 40. But growing numbers are from rising from other countries. China now has 142 in orbit, India 33. 60 more nations are reportedly positioning themselves to join the bandwagon as soon as they possibly can.

The FT Magazine report quoted an array of military officials from the US, Europe and Asia, with one recurring theme emerging across the board: almost every country with strategically important satellite constellations and launch facilities is considering how to defend and weaponize their “extraterrestrial assets”.

One senior European intelligence official was quoted saying that “I don’t think there is a single G7 nation that isn’t now looking at space security as one of its highest military priorities and areas of strategic concern”.

The current ‘big three’ players are said to be the U.S, Russia and China. Neither Russia, nor China are in the G7 but are said to be working hard to counter and surpass U.S space capabilities.

Oleg Ostapenko, the commander of Russia’s space forces, reportedly told Itar-Tass, the news agency, that the military was developing a new generation of “inspection and strike” weapons. “Our policy is that there should be no war in space,” he said. “But we are military people and we should be ready for everything.”

In 2013, China launched the Dong Neng — another ASAT interceptor. Late 2014, the, quoting the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, Adm. Cecil D. Haney, reported that China conducted another test of a satellite-killing missile that reflected Chinese efforts to weaponize space. Today China currently has three ASAT-capable vehicles positioned in space.

According to Frank Rose, US assistant Secretary of State for arms control, “The threat is increasing and this is a major concern…both Russia and China are developing ASAT [anti-satellite weapon] capabilities to hold US systems at risk. Now, we don’t believe it’s in anyone’s interest to engage in a space arms race. . . we don’t want conflict in outer space. But be assured, we will be able to operate in a degraded space environment. We’ve made it clear that we will do what is necessary to protect the space assets of the US and our allies against potential attack.”

Elizabeth Quintana, senior research fellow at the military think-tank Rusi similarly expressed concern: “…with that, there are a number that are developing very serious anti-space capabilities, most notably China and Russia. When you think that western militaries and societies are critically dependent on space, it is an area to be seriously concerned about.”

Quintana further noted that everything that gives modern western forces their technological and tactical edge over rivals, stems from space-based systems. These include precision weaponry, drone surveillance and sophisticated real-time battlefield communications, among many others.

No wonder then that the struggle for dominance in these fields is unrelenting. An example of the lengths to which competing nations can go was illustrated last September, when hackers broke into the data system of the US federal weather satellite network, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Information from the satellites is used in everything from daily weather reports to environmental emergency planning and ballistic missile flight navigation calculations.

Damage was reportedly minimal compared to the potential risks of a successful hack. According to two senior cyber security officials, the Chinese were responsible, but there has been no public US government response.

A purely offensive anti-satellite programme is in fast development as well. High-energy weapons and maneuverable orbiters such as space planes all open the possibility of the US being able to rapidly weaponize the domain beyond the atmosphere, should it feel the need to do so.

Russia may already have beaten the U.S to that tactic. and both reported that Russia has adopted this exact strategy: creating “suicide satellites” - orbital “battering rams” in which satellites approach other spacecraft for nefarious purposes, from hacking their target’s communications systems, to outright physically damaging or destroying them. During a conflict, Russia could knock out other countries’ satellites—and by extension, those countries’ ability to communicate, navigate, and spy.

This option is said to be significantly cheaper than standard ASAT weaponry. On the downside is the perpetual debris problem. Spinning at extremely high speeds, the pieces of debris could turn Earth’s orbit into a wasteland, where pretty much any spacecraft not fitted with (currently non-existent) super-shielding would be destroyed within days or even hours. The amount of debris such as China has produced, is said to be a danger to all satellites out there including those of the countries whose tests create the debris.

No comments: