When we think of wars in space, we may imagine science fiction scenarios such as Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star, but the U.S. military is taking the threat of a war in space as fact, not fantasy. As a result, the United States is currently investing heavily in developing defenses to protect its interests, while readying for what some say is an inevitable war in space.
Unlike the staple of science fiction movies, however, it is not with aliens that the U.S. is preparing to battle, but instead its perennial rivals back here on Earth. According to U.S. military analysts, China or Russia could use the United States’ reliance on satellites to their advantage by attacking them and ultimately crippling the country back on Earth.
A planned attack that would disrupt US television, mobile networks and the Internet would also interfere with everything from bank and stock transactions, to air travel, to the US military’s ability to rely on its armed drones, smart bombs, missiles, or nuclear attack early warning system. Needless to say, as the country that has invested the most money launching complex telecommunications satellites into space, the United States is likewise the country most vulnerable to attack from outside of our atmosphere, and its enemies know this. As Peter Singer, a Defense Department adviser on space threats, explains:
“There’s incentive to take that away from us. And that means if there was conflict on Planet Earth, it would almost inherently start with some kind of conflict in space.”
In fact, Russia has already launched satellites, such as “Kosmos 2499,” that the U.S. believes are capable of destroying their satellites by acting like kamikaze pilots, while China has a “Shiyan” satellite equipped with a grappling arm that could pull American satellites out of orbit. Such actions could either come in response to U.S. action, or alternatively could be used in a first attack on the country. In any case, the United States is taking steps to defend itself if any of its rivals decides to make a move.
In order to deal with any potential threats that may arise in the future, the United States has founded Space Command, an agency with an annual budget of $25 billion. Staffed by 38,000 employees located at 134 offices around the world, the agency is tasked with protecting U.S. interests in space, and by extension the nation as a whole. Presently, Space Command is largely a monitoring agency, with its employees keeping a close eye on the activities of Chinese and Russian satellites so as to spot any potential threats. The agency also runs mock attacks to see what responses could be taken if China or Russia did strike.
What has become clear from these simulated acts of war, however, is that the United States is in need of weapons that could take out orbiting threats before they have an opportunity to strike. Some are already in development, while others are already operational, such as the Laser Weapons System called LAW on board the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf that could be focused on a satellite, and potentially shoot it down. In addition, the U.S. is working on how to arm pilotless space drones that could be deployed to fight at a moment’s notice.
While the U.S. is working on solutions, China and Russia are making landmark strides in new technologies, changing the game and posing new threats. Needless to say, the United States will have to work hard to be one-step ahead in this ever-changing technological landscape if it is to have any chance of winning a real-life Star Wars saga that many experts believe will play out before the 21st century comes to an end.