Anti-Satellite Missiles and International Tensions See US, China and Russia Preparing for War in Space
While science fiction fans eagerly await the upcoming new Star Wars movie, a very real war for space may be brewing down here on Earth.
Tensions are reaching new heights between America, Russia, and China over threats to satellites in outer space. Chinese tests of what experts call "ground-based anti-satellite kinetic weapons" began in 2007, but have been occurring as recently as July 23rd of last year. No satellites have been destroyed yet, and Chinese officials state that the tests are only for scientific experimentation and peaceful defense, but is that the whole story? Michael Krepon, an arms-control expert and co-founder of the Stimson Center, says that the Chinese are testing to miss "with the same hostile capability as an end result."
A 2013 test sent a missile 30,000 kilometers above Earth, approaching the strategic location of US and Russian geosynchronous satellites. These hovering satellites, which could be considered easy targets, were a source of concern during the Cold War, but the recognition of possible nuclear repercussions stopped aggressive action by both the Russians and Americans against these vulnerable assets. Now that the Chinese government has shown that they have the ability to take down these satellites, the US must decide what lengths they are willing to go to in order to protect their claims in space.
Attempts to handle the tensions using diplomacy stalled last month at the United Nations when Russia, China, India, Iran, and more opposed a European Union-drafted code of conduct for spacefaring nations. Preparing for possible conflict, the Obama administration has budgeted at least five billion dollars to enhance the US space program's offensive and defensive abilities over the next five years.
In May 2013, the US also declassified details of its Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP), a set of monitoring and inspection satellites acting as a system of space security. Frank Rose, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, has stated that while US will do everything they can to avoid conflict in space, it may not be completely avoidable.
The issue's prominence was taken to new levels in April, when CBS's 60 Minutes dedicated a whole show to what they labelled 'The War Above'. During the show, it was revealed that Pentagon spending on Space operations was around $10 Billion, but when 60 Minutes investigators looked into the issue, they found that when you account for classified spending on things such as spy satellites, that figure was closer to $25 Billion. So it would seem that the words of people like Frank Rose are far more than a simple act of bravado; they're a declaration of the country's policy to do what it takes to maintain its position as the major power in space.
You can watch the full episode of 60 Minutes below: