The last major war among global superpowers ended on September 2, 1945 when Japan surrendered to the Allies, bringing an end to World War II. This was the same year that Arthur Clarke, author of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, had the notion of putting satellites in orbit around Earth.
Fast forward seventy years to today and you will see that a lot has changed. Humans are no longer confined to Earth and neither is the possibility of war.
Thousands of satellites actively circle the globe transmitting our favorite TV shows, phone calls to friends, and also military secrets. Communication satellites link troops on the ground with planes overhead and provide GPS navigation to missiles flying to targets.
The Cold War initiated the ‘’space race”, putting the United States and the Soviet Union at the leading edge of space frontier at the time. However, China has now turned into a space power as well.
China has sent hundreds of nd satellites into orbit. In space they have their own network of spy communications along with plans to have an operational space station by 2022, known as the “Tiangong”. More impressively, the creation of the Beidou2/Compass navigation network started this year. The Beidou 2/Compass will give China and Pakistan, one of China’s military clients, a GPS with accuracy of 10 centimeters.
With the superpower nations of the world all having a space presence, war with a space battlefield is not out of the question. United States Defense Secretary Robert Work points out that “the next 25 years is going to be a lot more challenging than the last 25 years from a national security perspective. Our space constellation or our space capabilities are going to be contested in a way that they haven’t been before. And we need to be prepared for that eventuality.”
Work’s remark does not come without reason. Nations around the globe know the importance satellites play. They know the benefits of being able to destroy another countries communication and military capabilities. Both the United States and China have carried out tests that prove their ability to shoot down satellites in space using ground-based, long-range missiles.
During the Cold War, a Soviet Union satellite was rumored to have a canon mounted onboard for potential use. Current research at UC Irvine is exploring the idea of mounting a laser on the international Space Station that can be used to destroy space junk (or enemies).
Non-conventional weapons are also a concern in space. With cyber-warfare, the integrity of a satellites software could be comprised and information could be placed in the hands of an opposing country. Proving this point, both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have had satellites hacked by the Chinese.
With possibility of space conflict General John Hyten, commander of the Air Force Space Command, says, “The United States must prepare for the battles high above Earth whether we like it or not.”
In hopes to be one step ahead of countries, the Pentagon has announced plans to create “an operations center to fend off Chinese and Russian attacks on U.S. military and government satellites” and increase spending by $5 billion on space warfare systems.