That is what China has been up to recently. In mid January, the Chinese successfully shot down one of their own weather satellites with a missile fired from the ground. The Australian reported,
CHINA signalled yesterday that its first ballistic missile strike on a satellite was aimed at bringing the US to the negotiating table for a treaty to prevent a space arms race.
China made it clear yesterday that its first missile strike — which a Foreign Ministry spokesman refused to confirm or deny — against an orbiting satellite was intended to force the US into talks aimed at abolishing weapons in space.
As it faced an international chorus of protest against its test — the first such launch for 20 years — its officials insisted that they wanted space to be free of weapons.
“As the Chinese Government, our principle stand is to promote the peaceful use of space,” the spokesman said.
“We oppose the militarisation of space. In the past, in the present and in the future, we are opposed to any arms race in space. Of this everyone can be confident.”
It is no secret that the U.S. military is vitally dependent upon satellites for information and communications, both of which have become the core of U.S. military strategy. The Chinese know this too, and as such, their recent activity can only be seen as a veiled threat, a demonstration of their own space warfare capabilities that is an attempt to blackmail the U.S. into leaving its space assets undefended in the name of “opposing militarization”.
Of course, it seems a ridiculous hypocrisy to oppose the militarization of space by using a space weapon to blackmail your neighbors. Apparently, however, this kind of logic is perfectly acceptable to Senator Joe Biden, who responded to the incident by parroting the Chinese government’s line and blaming President Bush. Forbes reported,
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman warned on Sunday against fostering an arms race in space after China was reported to have conducted an anti-satellite weapons test.
Biden, who is running for president in 2008, said President Bush’s policy on weapons in space need to be reviewed.
In October, Bush signed an order asserting the United States’ right to deny adversaries access to space for hostile purposes. As part of the first revision of U.S. space policy in nearly 10 years, the update said the U.S. would oppose the development of treaties or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit America’s access to or use of space.
“This is not the direction we want to go, in escalating competition in space. And we should be talking about it,” Biden said.
So, our military is totally dependent upon space assets. This includes nuclear command and control and early warning capabilities. And Biden’s conclusion is that preventing “access to space for hostile purposes” is “not the direction we want to go.” Most experts still agree that the greatest threat of the use of nuclear weapons comes from an accidental launch due to a breakdown of communications and a failure of early warning systems. The scenario is one in which the U.S., or Russia, or maybe even China, fears that it is under attack due to a lack of or poor information and launches its missiles, causing its opponent to do the same. Thus, the capability to take out an adversary’s satellites is not just an inconvenience, or even just a tactical threat, but rather, a strategic threat of the highest order. It is the capability to render an enemy deaf, dumb, and blind as prelude to a major attack. Thus, it is my contention that the capability recently demonstrated by China could greatly increase the risk of accidental nuclear war.
Luckily, there are some U.S. political and military leaders who seem to have a little more sense than Senator Biden. GovExec.com reported,
Republican leaders on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday launched a push for more spending on classified space programs, stating that China’s recent anti-satellite missile test ushered in a “new era of military competition.”
But the United States must be prepared to pre-empt threats, shield U.S. military assets in space from adversaries and quickly replace destroyed systems, Hunter said.
Hunter also emphasized that the United States should lean on European allies to halt sales to China of any technologies that could be used to attack U.S. space technologies.
They wrote a letter Tuesday to President Bush, contending that space systems are “integral to the daily execution of virtually every military campaign, operations and exercise involving U.S. forces today.” They called on the administration to review Defense Department programs that protect U.S. space assets, and they encouraged the development of new systems.
“The dependency of American warfighting capability, and the economy, on space assets compels our nation to take the necessary steps to ensure our forces cannot be targeted through an adversarial space strike,” they wrote.
Even before reports of the Chinese anti-satellite missile test, there were reports that the Air Forse is seeking to strengthen its satellite defense system. GovExec.com reported,
The Air Force is trying to reestablish the robust defensive system it had to counter Soviet satellites during the Cold War, the service’s head of space acquisitions said Tuesday.
The effort will entail beefing up the service’s ability to accurately track and monitor the position of other satellites in space, and developing systems that can destroy those viewed as a threat. Both ground- and space-based systems to handle any potential space-based threats are critical, said Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, director of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.
Of course, I do not think anyone wants space to be militarized, not even the military. It is one more area of vulnerability, one more area to worry about on the offense and the defense. It would be nice if space could remain a “neutral” zone where only communications, surveillance, and weather satellites reside.
But it has been clear for some time that where military operations are concerned, communications and surveillance are not “neutral” subjects. In this sense, space has been militarized since Sputnik. As U.S. military capabilities, as well as the capabilities of many other nations’ militaries, become more reliant, even completely reliant, upon satellite-based information and communications assets, space becomes militarized. Buck Rogers and laser weapons are not required for the militarization of space.
So, it seems clear that space has been militarized for some time. It is increasingly clear that the U.S. military is vitally reliant upon space-based assets. This includes nuclear command and control and early warning. Thus, it should be equally clear that the U.S. cannot cede “the ultimate high-ground” to its potential adversaries, leaving vital assets undefended in the name of an ideal (non-militarized space) that has not existed for quite some time. The potential consequences are just too great.