This year, the Pentagon will spend $2 billion on weapons to protect the United States from growing threats in outer space, only a fraction of a larger $5 billion investment in space warfare (1). Once merely a staple of science fiction films and conspiracy theories, space warfare has become a serious matter of national security. The prospect of an actual war in space first became a concern for the U.S. in 2007, when China clearly demonstrated their ability to wage war beyond the boundaries of the Earth’s atmosphere (2). As part of a military experiment, China demolished one of their own satellites in “a burst of energy that, if it were visible light instead of infrared, would have been a hundred thousand times brighter than the sun” (2). In the years following the demonstration, the U.S., China, and Russia have all directed large amounts of resources towards further developments in space warfare. In a defense report written in November 2015, the U.S. actually singled out China’s Counterspace Program as a focal point for the military (2).
While we can take some comfort in existing limitation agreements such as the 1966 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits the use of nuclear warfare and “other weapons of mass destruction” in space (3), the treaty offers no protection from quieter attacks that need not involve actual explosives to do serious damage (1). As military journalist David Axe writes, “It’s hard to say exactly how many weapons are in orbit…With the proverbial flip of a switch, an inspection satellite, ostensibly configured for orbital repair work, could become a robotic assassin capable of taking out other satellites with lasers, explosives or mechanical claws. Until the moment it attacks, however, the assassin spacecraft might appear to be harmless” (2).
Axe’s point of course raises the unnerving suspicion of whether there are existing “sleeper weapons” already out in orbit, simply waiting for the right moment to strike (2). More than any other country, the U.S. military relies heavily on satellites, a vulnerability that our potential enemies are well aware of. As China and Russia gain the ability to disable American satellites with increasingly advanced anti-satellite technology that is not always detectable, the U.S. must act quickly to ensure they are prepared to fight back in the face of an attack (1).
(1) Palmer, Coburn. "Pentagon Spending $2 Billion on Weaponized Satellites to Fight War in Space." Inquisitr.com. The Inquisitr, 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 June 2016. <http://www.inquisitr.com/2920300/pentagon-2-billion-weaponized-satellites-war-in-space/>.
(2) Manaugh, Geoff. "The Growing Risk of a War in Space." Theatlantic.com. The Atlantic, 21 June 2016. Web. 24 June 2016. <http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/06/weaponizing-the-sky/488024/>.
(3) "The Outer Space Treaty." Unoosa.org. United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, 2016. Web. 24 June 2016. <http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/introouterspacetreaty.html>.
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Iliana Arbeed is a student at the University of Southern California originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Law with a double minor in International Relations and Italian. She is involved in several campus organizations including University Student Government, and spends her summers pursing business and legal internships and traveling abroad. Outside of USC, she has studied at Oxford University and is looking forward to spending Summer 2017 at the American University of Rome. She started working with Global Intelligence Trust in 2016 as a Security and Legal Specialist prior to becoming an Editor. Her professional interests range from national security and intelligence to international law, and she plans to receive a combined law and business degree in the future. She aspires to work for the U.S. government or to work as a human rights lawyer for the United Nations.