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Significance of Space in Future Conflicts

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A kind of cold war is being fought in space. Balance of Power as being maintained among states has been started in space as well in terms of technological advancement. Space power could be determined through space activities and these activities are dependent upon the leadership but the continuous change in leadership could not be in favour of a healthy space future for a state. Like the scholars of the sea and airpower, space scholars believe that “who controls space will control the world” and the US does not want to lose its hegemony. The way the US enjoyed its hegemony around the globe, it is being extended to outer space to maintain its hegemonic status.

The US is trying hard to maintain Its global dominance status in space as it dominated the other areas of defense. Space is an emerging medium of warfare and states like the US, China, Russia and other great powers are investing in it to become a space power. The land is considered the oldest medium of warfare as it is being used since the beginning of human civilization. Similarly, sea and air power were introduced with the passage of time. Initially, people were unaware of the use of the sea for military purposes especially air as a medium of warfare but these were introduced with advanced capabilities by the passage of time. 

As similar to sea and air, space is now an emerging medium for warfare in the modern world. The way states especially the US is investing in space for decades, future conflicts are more likely to occur in space. US Secretary of the air force-Heather Wilson said, “We must expect that war of any kind, will extend into space in any future conflict, and we have to change the way we think and prepare for that eventually”. The first Gulf War in 1991 is considered a true application of space power in terms of policies, doctrines and technologies used like GPS and use of other satellite technologies. The US had applied its space power capabilities and space-based technologies in the first gulf war and Operation Desert Storm resulted in the destruction of the Iraqi military. ISR also reflects US space capability that allows policymakers and experts to collect information for future planning and decision making. Gulf war showed that how dependent the conventional forces are on outer space. 

The way the world is moving, the war in space is inevitable in modern times. The Dual-use of space and many of the satellites could result in armed conflict in space that might cause devastating effects on the planet’s life. The way the space race is going, would lead towards space conflicts and war easily. Ongoing arms race in space is alarming for using space as a medium of war. Competition among states in space is becoming increasingly dominant. US plans for building space force as they dominated the world by increasing their land forces clearly show the US intentions towards their hegemonic design. The United States “Full Spectrum Dominance” includes the former President Trump’s Space Directive-4, the creation of laser-armed fighter jets as space weapons and nuclear weapons to be placed into orbits. The “Full Spectrum Dominance” mission includes the military superiority over the resources of land, sea, air and the fourth medium of warfare-spec. The US had militarized the space as they use space for guiding crafts and missiles. But their new doctrine to weaponize space is to get dominance over space and satellites which is clearly a violation of the Outer Space Treaty-1967(treaty banned space militarization and weaponization). Not the only US but the British Ministry of Defence said, “Economies are becoming increasingly dependent upon the space-based system. By 2050, space-based weapons system may also be deployed, which could include nuclear weapons”.

As everybody is aware of the war’s consequences, a full-fledged war in space will be a catastrophe for modern life but it could be predicted that upcoming conflict might involve irregular attacks like cyber-attacks. There is a number of events for the hacking of the satellites including the NASA Climate Satellite in 2007 and 2008 but no significant damage was reported. In space, when a satellite attacks another satellite in the orbit, it will cause equal damage to the attacker’s satellite as well-whereas the cyber attacks and hacking satellites are effective tools for the one who conducts attacks. Cyber attacks are being used as a tool to target the adversary in space. European Space Agency’s director said, “We have to take cyberattacks seriously” for developing quantum encryption techniques for future missions to protect their satellites from cyber attacks.

Space is being used for spying as well. US, China and Russia are using spying satellites to keep an eye over the adversary in space. By the use of GPS and other satellites one state can be aware of any kind of military movement of its adversary and it helps to timely detect the upcoming threat or attack from your adversary.

In the broadest sense, Damage caused by space-based conflicts could be temporary or permanent. In the context of temporary damage, cyber-attacks and hacking satellites or hacking of satellite’s ground stations are significant. On the other hand, permanent damage includes the full destruction of a satellite by the conventional use of weapons. It could be done through space-to-space attacks and attacks conducted through the land on a satellite. By keeping in mind about the cost and effects of conventional use of weapons, causing temporary damage to the satellites system would be more useable in future than the permanent damage.