THE INEVITABLE SPACE MILITARISATION NOT WEAPONISATION

The satellites are increasingly being utilised as dual-use (can be used for both military and non-military purposes). A number of countries own between 10- 20 satellites, but at least 115 countries (approximately) in total own a satellite or a share the resources of one. There are about 529 plus operational dedicated military satellites worldwide, with the US operating approximately 239 satellites and China approximately 140 satellites followed by Russia approximately 105 satellites. These are the three countries with the most military satellites owned outright. Space is emerging as an important ‘arena’ and integration of space support systems will play a crucial role for the future military operations of the nations as well as in the world economics. The capabilities in development around the world are largely dual use and will have profound effects on the balance of power. Many space faring nations think that future wars will/may be fought in all medium including space. The issue at hand is how to effectively manage the security dilemmas that will inevitably arise due to weaponisation of space.

A distinction must be made between “militarisation of space” and the “weaponisation of space”. These terms are sometimes used as if they were interchangeable, but they are not. While there are no specifically deployed weapons in space yet, there are satellites that could be manoeuvred to act as weapons to disable or destroy the space assets of others. Therefore, when considering questions of space security, it must be recognised that though space has not yet been specifically weaponised, it is already heavily militarised. The laws of aerodynamics cease to apply in space and one is therefore obliged to consider it as a medium different from air. As an operating medium, space is entirely different from the terrestrial mediums of sea, air and land. It requires specific operational means and doctrines that take into account its unique physical characteristics. One major consideration, for instance, is that space assets are obliged to follow pre-determined orbital trajectories to remain close to earth and motion in space knows no geographic boundaries. One can exploit space assets without the support of space based weapons or space weapons. Both the United States and the Soviet Union developed and tested rudimentary anti satellite weapon (ASAT) systems during the Cold War. It was the ability to destroy enemy surveillance satellites in low earth orbit that drove the anti satellite weapon(ASAT) programme in both the Unites States and the Soviet Union. Both superpowers developed anti-satellite interceptors, but then abandoned their ASAT programme. Some insist that space has already been weaponised. The various issues concerning the theory of weaponisation of space, threat and the possible options for India are discussed in succeeding paragraphs.

The major driver behind space weaponisation is missile defence. Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary of Defence, noted in October 2002, ‘Space offers attractive options not only for missile defence but for a broad range of interrelated civil and

military missions. It truly is the ‘ultimate high ground’. The issue of weaponisation of space raises the important yet ultimately intractable question of whether the migration combat operations to orbital space is bound to take place sooner or later or it is a perception of few scholars and military brass. Many regard such an eventual development simply as a given. Former US Air Force General Joseph Ashy declared during his incumbency as C-IN-C SPACE Command, “it’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen. Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue … but absolutely we’re going to fight in space. We’re going to fight from space, and we’re going to fight into space.” This widespread belief in the eventual inevitability of space weaponisation stems in part from air analogies and, in particular, from a conviction that the space experience will naturally repeats the air experience.

Most would agree that space weaponisation is not inevitable in the near term. Indeed, there is scant observable evidence to suggest that the military use of near-earth space will be substantially different in 2020–2025 than in past years, at least regarding the development and fielding of new technologies and systems that would broaden the use of our on-orbit assets from force enhancement to force application.

Moreover, it is quite possible that if a potential enemy did want to develop the ability to attack space systems, it would choose to do so in ways that would not involve weaponising space such as investing in computer network attack capabilities, non-space weapons to attack the terrestrial elements of space systems, or anti satellite weapon(ASAT) capabilities that are not weapons in the conventional sense and against which the logical defensive countermeasures would not involve deploying space weapons. For military as well as commercial satellites, a transition to redundant networks of satellites would do much to reduce their vulnerability, perhaps together with supplementing satellite platforms for some military functions with new types of terrestrial systems, such as high endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In the end, most of the inevitability arguments are weak. Even the best one that space weapons will provide

irresistible military advantages for those who

employ them, are plausible but not decisive. Many of those who assert it probably harbour exaggerated expectations about the capabilities that space weapons will offer. Inspite of the many people who apparently believe the inevitability thesis to be true, there is good reason for prudent policy makers to assume that the weaponisation of space is not in fact predestined, and that military space policy of space faring nations especially US, will be one of the factor, other than technological and financial hurdles, that will shape the likelihood of space weaponisation by other countries. Moreover, if the weaponisation of space is a virtual certainty, it also follows that arms control efforts, whether broadly or narrowly defined, to foreclose this competition are without merit.

Our cities remain vulnerable, as are our ports, mass transit centres, and airports to variety of attacks from terrorists or other organisations/nations. Our computer networks continue to invite hackers. These terrestrial targets are far more accessible to adversaries than satellites orbiting the earth. Conventional explosives which account for the resulting from asymmetric warfare, are far easier to acquire than ASAT capabilities. Fissile material, combined with conventional explosives, can cause longer lasting disruption than acts to interfere with satellite signals. The use of a radiological weapon or a”dirty” bomb in a city is likely to cause more profound psychological injury than the covert, temporary disruption of pagers or cell phones. Asymmetric warfare in space does not favour the weak against the strong. The strong have greater means to reduce their weaknesses in space and to exploit the weaknesses of others. Moreover, weaker states have a greater chance of causing harm to the ground systems than in space. Attacks by weaker states against satellites would initiate military campaigns, but it would not change the outcome of warfare. Acts of warfare initiated in space do not grant to the perpetrator greater dispensation or relief from retaliatory strikes. Most would therefore agree that asymmetric attack is far more probable and worrisome on Earth than in space.

The use of nuclear weapons in space warfare would be a widely reviled act. It would break the taboo against nuclear warfare. Nuclear testing in atmosphere was stopped four decades ago against the backdrop of public revulsion generated by increased radiation levels. A “Space Pearl Harbour,” whether or not it involves nuclear detonations in space, would leave the attacker with little international protection to face a near-term, devastating military response. Current preoccupations about

sneak attacks in space revolve less around nuclear detonations than on covert, small satellites that could serve as space mines. These satellites could be manoeuvred to “park” nearby satellites, where they could be detonated on command. Alternatively, disabling attacks could be carried out in a more limited, covert, and plausibly deniable fashion. However, the more limited the attack, the less militarily effective it is likely to be.

Many scholars and military officials believe that having a counter space capability will act as a deterrent and will thereby protect own space assets. The presumed additional deterrent value of space weapons is however questionable. If existing conventional military and nuclear superiority prove insufficient to deter, it is doubtful if the addition of

space warfare capabilities would make an appreciable difference in an adversary’s calculus of decision. The search to strengthen or supplant nuclear deterrence by means of space warfare capabilities will therefore appear to many as a quest to escape from, rather than “enhance,” deterrence. When viewed though this lens, the pursuit of space weapons appears, less for strengthening deterrence and more for negating the deterrents of potential adversaries. These arguments appear to be without any basis. The question is whether flight-testing and deployment of space warfare capabilities are the best way to protect the space assets. Common sense suggests that the flight-testing and deployment of space warfare capabilities would neither be conducive to security of space assets nor to commerce that depends on the unhindered utilization of space. The drive toward space weaponisation will have adverse effect on space commerce. Since the vulnerabilities of commercial satellites are very great and the costs of protective measures are open-ended, cost-benefit calculations of commercial investments in space would become more problematic. Space commerce requires the minimisation of space debris. The growth of commerce in space therefore requires a peaceful environment. This environment has been nurtured over the past decade by the absence of space weapons’ flight-testing and deployment. 

None of the above scenarios can be dismissed out of hand, but all appear to be far less plausible than a wide variety of asymmetric attacks that could cause widespread disruption or death by covert means on Earth. Attacks by a weaker adversary in space would not yield military gains, except perhaps for the most temporary kind. Nobody actually knows with confidence what will happen if and when space is weaponised and what shape weaponisation takes, and its consequences. As noted above, the space weaponisation rest on three assumptions: inevitability, vulnerability and control. The higher level of reliance on space assets for military purposes, the greater will be the vulnerabilities. Moreover, states with the capabilities to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) or put satellites in space will also be capable of launching an ASAT attack. Many space faring nations are concerned that the pursuit of space weaponisation would be expensive, provocative and escalatory. The only argument for space weaponisation that can plausibly stand on its own relates to military utility.  The remote possibility of a “Space Pearl Harbour” should not serve as the basis for a national policy that calls for the weaponisation of space.

The world community should note that ASAT weapons proliferation will become a major international problem comparable to nuclear proliferation. For countries that currently have rudimentary Anti Satellite Weapons(ASATs) will engage in developing more sophisticated ones, while others that never before imagined acquiring them will begin to think about it . Space industry worldwide, will be severely affected by the disastrous affects of space weaponisation and that the resulting decline in private investment will confront the industry with serious financial difficulties. As brought out earlier that the threat to space assets is directly proportional to degree of dependence, higher the dependence the greater will be threat and the vulnerability. 

Space based weapons could potentially help protect satellites by attacking some type of Anti Satellite Weapons(ASATs). On the other hand Space based weapons could create even greater insecurity and even greater debris. These systems would take years to develop and deploy and could be a very costly proposition both economically as well as politically. Attacking ground based Anti Satellite Weapons(ASATs) systems prior to launch might be effective against known high power lasers and other Anti Satellite Weapons(ASATs)  platforms, but would have only limited utility against possible mobile Anti Satellite Weapons(ASATs)  systems.

As discussed, satellites are vulnerable to many types of attack and defending them is inherently difficult. The vulnerability is a function of dependence higher the dependence on space system the higher will be the vulnerability. Indian defence forces use space assets for two main applications, communication support and surveillance (imagery), and these applications will remain dominant even in future. Therefore, the space assets that are of concern are communication and earth observation satellites, and associated ground systems. As far as communication is concerned, the satellite

systems are generally being used as overlay or an alternate media of communications, to act as primary when other form of communication systems are not available.

Communication is always planned in number of layers therefore the dependence

or vulnerability is reduced that much for communication satellites. For imagery data, satellites are required for strategic and tactical targets, and a number of earth

observation satellites are employed in collecting data. In addition, imagery data from friendly countries are either purchased or obtained on mutual basis. To disable all satellites simultaneously is not an easy task for an adversary. The dependence at the time of actual operations can be reduced by earmarking other aerial sources viz: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs), Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS), reconnaissance, reconnoitre(recce) aircrafts etc and mapping the strategic targets during peace time and before the onset of hostility till actual disruption occurs. In view of the above analysis it is recommended that the worldwide countries should adopt the following policy steps to meet its short term as well as long term goals:

# No space weapons should be developed in the next ten to fifteen years, although R&D should continue at an appropriate level.

# A number of small satellites for surveillance/earth observation in Low Earth Orbit would reduce the vulnerability to loss of single satellite and complicate the effort to target.

# Aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles(UAVs) could substitute for some space based assets and would potentially be harder to target, especially at the time of onset of hostilities.

# Use friendly nations’ satellites, especially for imagery, to take advantage of adversaries’ reluctance to target foreign satellite due to obvious political implications.

# Develop alternatives to support the requirements. This will ensure better exploitation of space assets.

# Develop alternatives to support the requirements. This will ensure better exploitation of space assets.

# Unify as large a group of states as possible behind a coherent concept for a space security treaty, and maximise the effective engagement of global civil society around achievable goals and viable strategies.

Many people think that the best defence is a strong offence but in space rules of warfare are different, where an act of destroying someone else’s satellite could create the debris that kills your own. Space is widely viewed as a global commons that should remain a sanctuary blessedly free from the disputes that plague us on planet “EARTH”.

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