Home DEFENCE Outer Space: The future battlefield

Outer Space: The future battlefield

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27 March 2019: As part of an operation code-named Mission Shakti India tested an anti-satellite missile capable of shooting down targets moving at a speed of 10 km per second at an altitude of 1200 km. This test made India the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China to test an anti-satellite ASAT weapon.

Apr 15, 2020: Russia conducted a test of its Nudol missile system designed to destroy a satellite in orbit around Earth. It is believed to be the 10th test of this anti-satellite, or ASAT system. The Nudol system consists of a mobile land vehicle with a ballistic missile capable of driving around and launching from various locations on Earth.

On April 22, 2020: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched — a military reconnaissance satellite using Qased a three-stage rocket powered by a combination of solid and liquid fuels. The satellite call sign “NOUR 01” is said to be Iran’s first military satellite. The US Space Force commander General John W. Raymond, dismissed the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space”

Believe it or not, outer space is the place where future wars will be fought. There is a strong possibility that future conflicts on Earth could extend into space, or vice-versa.

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The scope of space warfare includes ground-to-space warfare (attacking satellites from the Earth below); space-to-space warfare (satellites destroying hostile satellites); and space-to-ground warfare, (surveillance satellites observing enemy deployment on Earth and destroying them). So to say space warfare is the format where the sky is the limit and everything is possible.

Though till now no actual warfare has yet taken place in space, a number of countries have conducted tests, demonstrated their strength and signed treaties to regulate conflicts in space and limit the indiscriminate use of weapons, especially nuclear weapons.

Even though many nations including the USA and Russia have sworn to keep outer space as a ‘zone of peace,’ more than 60% of the satellites launched by both US and Russia in the past decade have been military satellites. USA, UK, Russia, and China are among more than 100 nations that have committed to keep the outer space free to explore for all and purely for peaceful purposes.

The term warfare in space does not mean firing bullets and could involve many things that are already taking place like jamming, satellite communications, satellites photography, hacking as well as eavesdropping and interfering with telecom traffic.

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On December 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act creating — U.S. Space Force – the first new armed service since 1947. The new service had about 16,000 Air Force personnel — active duty and civilian — to start with and its aim was to help the United States deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground.

“Space is the world’s newest warfighting domain,” President Trump said. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. We’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, and very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot,” he added

“Space is the world’s newest warfighting domain,” President Trump said. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. We’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, and very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot,” he added

“Let there be no mistake, the United States is the best in the world in space today. Consistent with our National Defense Strategy, the United States Space Force will ensure we compete, deter and win from a position of strength, securing our way of life and our national security,” the commander of U.S. Space Command, and chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said.

Not to be left behind Russia established a Space Forces branch within the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2015, dovetailing the traditional air force and air defence capabilities. The Russian Aerospace Forces are supposed to perform a number of functions like ballistic missile defence and the use of satellites for intelligence gathering, communications, navigation and early warning. Of late the Russian Aerospace Forces have been known to be regularly engaged in testing anti-satellite weapons. In February 2020 a pair of Russian satellites were reported to be tailing a U.S. spy satellite at times creeping within 100 miles of it– hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface.  A month later in April 2020, Russia is understood to have carried out another test of its anti-ballistic PL-19 Nudol missile. The Nudol missile interceptor normally protects Moscow from missile attacks and also doubles up as a satellite killer capable of shooting down satellites in low-Earth orbit. Moscow is looking to perfect the art of using one satellite to kill another. Russia is known to have developed an anti-ballistic missile system codenamed A-235 which is designed to protect Moscow from nuclear attack. The A-235 is designed to destroy incoming missile warheads at very high altitudes, near if not in low-Earth orbit.

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On 24 July 2020, France coined the phrase French Air and Space Force consolidating its regular Air Force and Space Force under the Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space Force (CEMAAE) – who reports directly to the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA). The French defence ministry reportedly issued a statement saying that France was looking to develop space control capabilities and active defences, such as small bodyguard satellites and space-based laser defences to protect important space assets. The project also included: patrolling by nano-satellite swarms, ground-based laser systems to blind spying satellites, and machine guns mounted on satellites.

satellite in outer space

China’s ambition is to become an “aerospace superpower”. It has conducted over 200 successful orbital launches and aims to launch over 60 satellites in the coming year. China’s space capabilities are jointly looked after by the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) and the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF). According to experts China has recently designated space as a military domain and is taking steps to integrate space, cyber, electronic and information warfare under a single military command.  There is strong evidence that China has been consistently trying to develop a wide range of anti-satellite capabilities in both low earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous orbit (GEO). China is developing a sophisticated network of ground-based optical telescopes and radars for detecting, tracking, and characterizing space objects. According to unverified reports China has deployed counter space jammers on the India-China border.

China’s game plan is to become an undisputed leader in space exploration over the course of the next decade both for military and civilian purposes. As Wu Yanhua, the deputy chief of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) was quoted as saying in January 2017 China intends to be among the major space powers of the world by 2030.

The People’s Republic of China used a missile system to destroy one of its obsolete satellites in 2007, the United States followed suit by destroyed USA 193 its malfunctioning satellite. In due course, India too joined the anti-satellite spree.

This has led to an arms race where many countries have stepped up their military efforts to make their presence felt and dominate the outer space. Many countries are developing their own range of anti-satellite (ASAT) and direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapons or purchasing satellites to support their own strategic military activities.

The saving grace till now is that so far no ground target has been engaged from space and there have been no human casualties due to conflict in space. But the question remains –for how long?

The writing on the wall is clear – the space is an uncharted territory each country wants to dominate.

In short, the outer space has emerged as the fourth battlefield, after land, air and sea.

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Neeraj Mahajanhttps://n2erajmahajan.wordpress.com/
Neeraj Mahajan is a hard-core, creative and dynamic media professional with over 35 years of proven competence and 360 degree experience in print, electronic, web and mobile journalism. He is an eminent investigative journalist, out of the box thinker, and a hard-core reporter who is always hungry for facts. Neeraj has worked in all kinds of daily/weekly/broadsheet/tabloid newspapers, magazines and television channels like Star TV, BBC, Patriot, Sunday Observer, Sunday Mail, Network Magazine, Verdict, and Gfiles Magazine.

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