Not since the days of the “Star Wars” projects of the 1980s have we seen any real talk of space based warfare. That’s all changing now however, with a number of countries including China and Russia currently developing technology designed to take out satellites belonging to rival nation states. The latest developments include technology that can take out satellites completely from space or damage or jam them from the ground.
The USA has been ramping up their spending on space weaponry over the last few years and will invest over $5.5billion over the next five years in space defence. The US believe they are being forced to do this because of increased aggression from other nations, particularly Russia and China.
Russia are believed by many to already had a space weapon in orbit – a satellite launched last year has been noted to have exhibited some strange manoeuvres consistent with what we would expect to see from a weaponised satellite and the Russians are keeping very quiet about its purposes.
Satellites have become key to both western military and civilian infrastructure and play a major role on the battlefield providing everything from communications to up to the minute intel on enemy movements and even nuclear command. If these satellites could be easily taken out by rival countries the implications are huge and could result in catastrophe in a warzone or even at home if major civilian satellites were targeted.
So what would happen if an American satellite were attacked by the Russians or Chinese – or vice versa? It seems likely that response would have to be the same as if any terrestrial asset was attacked and that doing so would likely be considered an act of war. In this situation it would take very heavy diplomacy to prevent the outbreak of a devastating global conflict.
It seems more likely that if anything were to happen right now it would likely be that a weaker ally of one of these superpowers would be targeted to both test the reaction of their rival and the effectiveness of their new space weapon technology. This could take a form similar to the Russian manoeuvres seen in European airspace over the last year that have resulted in jets being scrambled from several European nations including the UK and Norway. The manoeuvres were intend to provoke and test responses and it is within the realms of possibility that they would try something similar in space – perhaps firing close to but not directly at satellites belonging to other nations, or even just letting it be known that these space weapons are out there in an effort to unsettle rivals.
What is certain is that in a world increasingly reliant on satellites, technology that can remove or disrupt them could have a deeply destructive impact, not just during all-out war but also in a colder war situation or even peacetime.