By: Vaishnavi Verma, Research Analyst, GSDN
Space dominance is starting to emerge as a critical factor in the quickly changing world of combat that determines military success. The capacity to manage and utilize resources and technologies associated with space will significantly impact how war is fought in the future. The “Militarization of Space” has received much attention in the media during the last few years, even though the concept is not new. Even if a space conflict sounds like something out of science fiction, we should consider it. Its impact on everyone on Earth, as well as the ramifications for future human space travel, would be catastrophic. Much of this debate has been fueled by the formation of the United States Space Force, the re-establishment of the United States Space Command, and the acknowledgment of space as a new area for fighting wars. With the deployment of everything from nuclear weapons to kamikaze satellites into orbit, space has become the most recent battlefield to experience extensive militarization. Space dominance may now be up for grabs due to what was once merely a two-horse competition between the US and USSR, with severe geopolitical repercussions for the Earth.
However, we need to understand why space has recently emerged as a new topic of discussion. We must look at the history of warfare and human activities in the space.
As Clausewitz puts it, “War is an act of force used to compel our adversary to obey our will,” technological advances have opened up new areas, such as space and cyber, to help us achieve these goals.
Many people are familiar with Sun Tzu (544-496 BC), an ancient Chinese military expert, and his masterpiece ‘The Art of War,’ which he authored while researching classical military methods and tactics. Modern space combat still follows these old rules. Applying these concepts to a space warfare strategy alone might be necessary for a future space fight because space warfare theory is still in its infancy. Warfare experts know the best way to win is to exploit an adversary’s perceived vulnerabilities. According to Sun Tzu, winning a battle is attacking the weak points while avoiding the strong ones.
As we consider space and cyberspace as new arenas of combat, we must remember that these notions apply to all human conflicts. War is a struggle of the wills between two opponents, and historically, these conflicts have occurred wherever people live and work.
EVOLUTION OF SPACE DOMAIN
The advancement of Cold War-era technologies and the “space race” culminated in our current capabilities. The development of each country’s rocket technology and, finally, intercontinental ballistic missiles, which permitted nuclear weapons to be deployed over long distances with little warning, increased animosity between the two countries. These innovations influenced the Cold War and the advancement of each country’s space program. President Dwight D Eisenhower prioritized intelligence collection to get insight into the Soviet Union while developing the US initial space strategy. Following the launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite, which established the first space rule of unfettered overflight in outer space, the US initiated the CORONA program.
As the US and USSR fought it out for dominance in space, both countries worked to create several space weapon systems in addition to their intelligence capabilities, like Starfish Prime, the first high-altitude nuclear explosion test conducted by the US and the Soviet Union’s fractional orbital bombardment system, which intended to enable nuclear bombing from orbit, both took place in the 1960s.
Space has great potential for scientific and technological advancement and economic prosperity. Globalized society is becoming increasingly reliant on the Space system, and Japan is taking part in the Artemis Program, led by the United States, to explore lunar space. China, which wants global economic leadership, is also pursuing cislunar space exploration and is anticipated to collaborate with Russia. Through the creation and use of pertinent technology, non-military competition for growing resources in space has already started. Space systems’ vulnerability will decrease due to advances in quantum computing, ICT, and other similar technologies.
In space, a cold war is being waged. Regarding technological growth, the balance of power has also begun in space. Space power can be defined as space operations dependent on leadership, but a constant shift in leadership may jeopardize a state’s space future. Like sea and airpower researchers, space academics believe that “who controls space controls the world,” and the US does not want to relinquish its hegemony. The United States is extending its hegemony to outer space to sustain its hegemonic status.
The United States is working hard to retain its worldwide dominance in space, as it has in other defense sectors. Space is a growing medium of warfare, and states such as the United States, China, Russia, and India are investing in it to become space powers. The land has been employed since the dawn of human civilization and is also the earliest combat medium. Like land power, air and sea power have evolved over the period. Initially, the public was unaware that the sea might be used for military purposes, primarily air as a combat medium. Still, as time passed, they were introduced with more advanced capabilities.
Space, like the sea and the air, is a growing medium for conflict in the modern world. Future battles are more likely to occur in space, given how nations, particularly the US, have invested in that sector for decades. We must anticipate that battle of any type in the future will definitely, stretch into space; we must modify the way we think and eventually prepare for it, according to US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. Regarding strategies, philosophies, and technology deployed, such as GPS and other satellite technologies, the first Gulf War in 1991 is considered an actual use of space power. In the first Gulf War, the US used space-based technology, and Operation Desert Storm led to the devastation of the Iraqi force. ISR also shows space capacity, allowing policymakers and specialists to gather data to prepare for the future and make decisions. The Gulf War demonstrated how reliant on space conventional forces are.
The United States announced its first National Space Strategy in 2018, recognizing that its opponents have transformed space into a battlefield. The Sputnik crisis in October 1957 sparked the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Recently, a rising number of governments pursued military uses of space. In January 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite obliteration test utilizing anti-satellite weaponry (ASAT), ushering in the post-Cold War age of space warfare. In response to an anticipated scenario in the Taiwan Strait, China sought to develop asymmetric capabilities in space and cyberspace.
The test generated a lot of space debris and drew harsh criticism worldwide. Even though the Cold War saw the military employ space for decades, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union conducted this testing since reckless physical attacks may severely impact all space operations. China which is pursuing an asymmetric warfare strategy has entered this “sanctuary,” forcing the United States to acknowledge the weakness of its space system.
Over the years, the race for space supremacy has increased. In March 2019, India conducted an anti-satellite weapon test, while in April, Iran launched its first military satellite. The Chinese PLA developed the Strategic Support Force in its 2015 reorganization, which addresses space, cyber, and electromagnetic spectrum issues. In the same year, Russia established an independent Space Force. In reaction to advance these advancements, France launched the Space Command in September 2019, and the United States founded the Space Force in December 2018.
The conflict in space is inescapable in the present world, given how things are going. Dual use of space and many satellites might lead to military warfare in the area, which could have catastrophic implications for life on Earth. The current state of the space race makes war and conflicts in space likely. The ongoing space weapons competition is concerning because it may be used as a battlefield. States in space are increasingly competing with one another. The US’s efforts to develop a space army as they expanded their ground troops to conquer the planet demonstrate their goals to establish hegemony.
The previous President Trump’s Space Directive-4, the development of fighter planes equipped with lasers as space weapons, and the deployment of nuclear weapons into orbit are all part of the US “Full Spectrum Dominance” strategy. The “Full Spectrum Dominance” mission calls for having military dominance over land, sea, and air resources and a fourth, specialized medium of conflict. The United States has militarized space because it is used to guide ships and weapons. However, their new philosophy for weaponizing space is to gain dominion over space and satellites, which violates the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (the treaty prohibited space weaponization and militarization). The United States and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence stated that “economies increasingly rely on the space-based warfare system, including nuclear weapons, might be deployed by 2050.
As everyone knows, a full-fledged space war would be dangerous for contemporary society. However, it is possible to forecast that the next fight may contain erratic strikes like cyber-attacks. Several incidents have involved satellite hacking, notably the NASA Climate Satellite, in 2007 and 2008. However, no serious harm has been documented compared to cyber assaults and hacking satellites, valuable tools for attackers. They target satellites equally if they strike another satellite in their orbit. Targeting the enemy in space is done with the use of cyberattacks.
Spying also takes place in space. Spy satellites are being used by the US, China, and Russia to monitor the enemy in space. One state can track any military activity of its adversary using GPS and other satellites, which aids in the early detection of impending danger or assault from your enemy.
However, there remains to be uncertainty regarding space combat’s philosophy, doctrine, methods, and tactics in the near future. Conflicts in space will occur because space is too vital to stay as a sanctuary. At the same time, great power rivalry continues, regardless of whether you believe in space combat or are frantically attempting to prevent it. On Earth, battles are occurring. Wars in space are possible but would result in fewer losses than protracted battles on the ground because space is too closely tied to how the combat on Earth will ultimately turn out. On the other hand, protecting our national interests in this field and improving our understanding and communication regarding space warfare is essential.