Weaponisation of space
- In the past half-century, no weapons have been used against space objects in a deep crisis (Cuba 1962) or even in warfare, even though the means and the reasons for doing so were available. One reason for the restraint on the part of the then superpowers could be attributed to their reliance on satellites for keeping a check on each other's ballistic missile arsenal. However, now with increasing proliferation of satellites into the military doctrines of the US, Russia and China, to cite a few examples, a prospective opponent will understandably view any space capability contributing to the opposing military as part of the forces arrayed against it in a theatre. When the space capabilities represent an easier target than the other critical nodes, one can expect interference with them and, hence, greater protection for them.
- The natural consequence of space integration into military activity is a more hostile environment for space. However, the shift in US military thinking is evident from the planning and policy documents released in recent years that envision the development and deployment of anti-satellite weapons and space-based weapons. These new systems are meant to fulfil four general missions, which could well be applicable to any country.
(a) Defending its own satellites and ensuring own freedom of action to operate in space.
(b) Denying adversaries the ability to use space assets.
(c) Intercepting ballistic missiles using space-based interceptors.
(d) Attacking targets on the ground or in the air using space-based weapons.
- The US space policy document released on October 6, 2006, is a pioneer in this regards at least with respect to the open source literature. Its policy states, "The United States considers space capabilities — including the ground and space segments and supporting links — vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, as per the Joint Space Operations the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests." The policy document has evoked spontaneous criticism across the globe, notably in China and Russia, that the US is bent on charting a course towards weaponising space (whether for defensive or offensive purpose).
- The ASAT test conducted by the Chinese in January 2007, has only strengthened the fears of a big power. Though Russia voiced her concern against the Chinese ASAT test, but it attributed the test as the Chinese reaction to the US space policy that aims to set in motion a chain of action-reaction events that may eventually lead to arming the heavens in the near future; which is nothing but the weaponisation of space. Another area of grave long term threat lies in the creation of the anti-missile system based on outer space echelons. This has been developed primarily to create an effective defence against any massive attack; conventional or nuclear. Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) using electromagnetic waves or particle beams to destroy ICBMs and SLBMs in a single hit, are another possibility of space based anti-missile systems. Weapons like Long-rod penetrators, often called "Rods from God" by proponents of space-based weapons, are another tool for global power projection. The orbited log-rod penetrators, which are tungsten or uranium rods in the shape of cones, would be de-orbited on command to strike a fix target on Earth.These could be spaced based assets capable of using lasers in infra red, high energy particle accelerator and ultra high frequency generators. If any country has to have a first strike capability then it has to invest heavily in the security of these space based weapons. This would lead to adding on to the already crowded space in terms of military usage and assets. The US Department of Space regards 'Offensive systems' as "counterspace operations". As the chart below explains, "defensive counterspace" operations not only include attack detection and reporting, but in the roughly 2016-2028 timeframe, the deployment of "active on-orbit protection" – which one must assume includes "shooting back" in some fashion at a potential or ongoing attack from another space-based object, although the Master Plan is less than clear on what exactly is being considered. According to the Master Plan, the desired capabilities in "offensive counterspace" are first concentrated on three ground-based systems: the mobile Counter-Coummunications system to jam uplinks and downlinks of enemy satellites; the Counter-ISR system to blind optical sensors; and the Counter-Navigation system to prevent adversaries from using space-based navigation signals. However, in the 2016-2028 timeframe, the plan envisions the availability of "space-based counterspace" systems, which most of us would probably define more simply as anti-satellite weapons (ASATs). The plan elaborates intentions to field "full-spectrum, space-based OCS systems capable of preventing unauthorized use of friendly space services and negating adversarial space capabilities from LEO to GEO altitudes."
- There are some prophecies for space weaponisation propounded by the US. The first theory argues that due to US reliance on space for both military and civilian capabilities space dominance is essential. The second says that weaponisation is simply inevitable and therefore the United States would be remiss to prepare. The third school asserts the importance of space, but seeks to maintain the status quo, limiting the militarisation of space to passive systems, or at least defensive systems, through arms control agreements. Finally, there is the space sanctuary school, sometimes known as the space doves. This group would like to have space off-limits to the military. Space being the highest ground gives ultimate altitude to gain military advantage. This advantage however is the most vulnerable also, as there are no self protection measures with the space based assets.
- Through the years the requirement of protection of the space based assets has led to development of weapons or measures for their safeguards. These could be offensive or defensive measures. A few examples are development of space based antiballistic missile system, microsatellites or microsats, space based directed energy weapons, space based kinetic energy interceptors and even advanced tracking satellites. The Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMDS) is another step of the United States in this direction. This however has got both space and ground based defence systems and is the defensive part of the protection umbrella. Missile defense is one important step toward U.S. space control. The United States has promoted the development and deployment of missile defense, particularly of an integrated, layered system, and it has increased the budgets for missile defense programs. Since 2004, the it has begun deployment of a ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system. Seven interceptors in Alaska and another two in California were deployed by November 2005. Moreover, this GMD system could be the first step toward a more robust, layered system, capable of targeting missiles at various points in their flight trajectories. Some observers view this GMD system as a space weaponry system.
- The scope of space weaponry, as generally defined in a few states, includes not only space-based weapons, but also any weapons that target objects in outer space, regardless of where they are based. Objects in outer space would include satellites as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) traveling through outer space. Because this GMD system would intercept its target at an altitude that these observers who have defined as outer space (above 100 km), it would be considered space weaponry. Many feel that the U.S. plan to deploy a missile defense system is an intentional first step toward space weaponization. Most important, controlling space requires ASAT weapons to negate an adversary's space capabilities, including their satellites. Even if the GMD system does not effectively intercept incoming missiles, it will have an inherent anti-satellite capability. Many experts realize that it is technically easier to intercept a satellite than to kill a ballistic missile.
- There is a requirement of protecting one's own assets in space. But to what extent a country can go depends on its doctrine and the importance in that which is given to this in order to shape all the future operations. Needless to say that the importance space is getting in today's environment only a poor or a short sighted nation will disregard its strategic nature. The question now is how to achieve such a feat. Technology is one aspect which if invested correctly can pay rich dividends. Countries like the US, Russia and now even China are heavily into realms of space based technological innovations. Decisions regarding which technological programs to pursue should be based on threat assessment, need and technical feasibility. Reliance on hard power will unquestionably result in other countries being threatened, which is not desirable in most cases. Thus a balanced approached based on a risk based assessment, cost and potential effectiveness subjugated by political goals and economic consequences is the need of the hour.
- Arms competition in space. The country that takes the lead in deploying weapons in space will enjoy an advantage for a period, but it will not be able to monopolize space weapons. Other states, when they find it affordable economically, scientifically and technically, will follow suit at a different pace and scale. Space-based weapons are at once threatening to other countries and vulnerable to attack, it is reasonable to assume that countries capable of blocking their use would do so. One possible response would be the development of ASATs to target space-based weapon systems. It is widely believed that space-weapons platforms and sensor satellites would become prime high-value targets and the most vulnerable to defense suppression attacks. Destroying a satellite is far simpler than destroying a warhead carried on a re-entry vehicle. As a result, for systems that rely on strike weapons or crucial sensors based in space (e.g., BMD), as Ashton Carter stated, "ASAT attack on these components is probably the cheapest and most effective offensive countermeasure." It is reasonable to believe that other countries could resort to asymmetric methods to counter critical and vulnerable space-based components in LEO, such as weapon carrier vehicle satellites and space-based tracking satellites.
 US Chiefs of Staff, 'Joint Space Operations' Joint Publication 3-14, January 2009.
 David Hobbs, 'Illustrated Guide to Space Warfare', Salamander Books, UK.
 Developments in Military Space: Movement toward space weapons: Theresa Hitchens, Vice President, Center for Defense Information, The Space Policy Institute, George Washington University, October 2003.
 'Space as a Strategic Asset', Joan Johnson-Freese, Columbia University Press,2007, pg131.
 Office of the Press Secretary, White House, "National Policy on Ballistic Missile Defence Fact Sheet', press release, May 2003.
 Lisbeth Gronlund, David C. Wright, George N. Lewis, and Philip E. Coyle III, Technical Realities: An Analysis of the 2004 Deployment of a U.S. National Missile Defense System (Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists, May 2004).
 'The Relationship of ASAT and BMD Systems' in Weapons In Space- Ashton Carter,, ed. Franklin Long et al. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1986)
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