As US plans Space Force, could World War III be fought in space?

10 Aug 2018

Image: Non C/Shutterstock

The future of warfare could take place among the stars.

US president Donald Trump’s administration has announced plans to create a new Space Force by 2020.

It is intended that Space Force will be the sixth branch of the US military and will have the same standing as the US Army, US Navy and the US Air Force.

‘Russia has been designing an airborne laser to disrupt our space-based system’

Trump’s re-election campaign has begun using the initiative as a way to drum up support, asking supporters to vote on their favourite Space Force logo.

However, for Space Force to become a reality it would have to achieve congressional approval.

Preparing for the next battle space

US military and NASA badges. Image: Militarist/Shutterstock

US military and NASA badges. Image: Militarist/Shutterstock

US vice-president Mike Pence told military personnel at the Pentagon that president Trump has already signed three new space policy directives to reorient America’s space programme towards human exploration as well as to “unleash America’s burgeoning commercial space companies, and safeguard our vital space assets with new space traffic management policy.”

Pence said: “President Trump’s highest priority is the safety and security of the American people. And while, too often, previous administrations all but neglected the growing security threats emerging in space, president Trump stated clearly and forcefully that space is, in his words, ‘a warfighting domain, just like … land, air and sea.’

“And just as we’ve done in ages past, the United States of America, under his leadership, will meet the emerging threats on this new battlefield with American ingenuity and strength to defend our nation, protect our people, and carry the cause of liberty and peace into the next great American frontier.”

Pence drew parallels to the fledgling US Air Corps in 1939 and how, by 1945, it had 30 times the number of planes and 85 times the number of pilots compared with six years earlier.

“Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people and to our nation.  The time has come to establish the United States Space Force.”

Vice-president Pence said that the US Department of Defense has released a report outlining the first stages of the plan to create Space Force.

“The Space Force will not be built from scratch because the men and the women who run and protect our nation’s space programmes today are already the best in the world. And, since the dawn of the Space Age, America has remained the best in space.”

Pence pointed to elements of the future Space Force that may already exist in the form of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, the Missile Defence Agency in Alabama and countless other bases and facilities across the United States that could form the nucleus of Space Force.

Trump has called on US Congress to invest $8bn in space security systems over the next five years.

The new Space Force could also receive funding from a surge of defence investment approved by Trump, including $1bn for space defence programmes.

The Trump administration really believes that space could be the next battlefield.

Why the US government fears an orbital war

Pence claimed that nations such as China and Russia are already ahead of the US in priming their forces for the next frontier of warfighting.

“The space environment has fundamentally changed in the last generation. What was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial. Today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and challenge American supremacy in space as never before.

“For many years, nations from Russia and China to North Korea and Iran have pursued weapons to jam, blind, and disable our navigation and communications satellites via electronic attacks from the ground.

“But, recently, our adversaries have been working to bring new weapons of war into space itself. In 2007, China launched a missile that tracked and destroyed one of its own satellites — a highly provocative demonstration of China’s growing capability to militarise space.

“Russia has been designing an airborne laser to disrupt our space-based system. And it claims to be developing missiles that can be launched from an aircraft mid-flight to destroy American satellites.

“Both China and Russia have been conducting highly sophisticated on-orbit activities that could enable them to manoeuvre their satellites into close proximity of ours, posing unprecedented new dangers to our space systems.

“Both nations are also investing heavily in what are known as hypersonic missiles, designed to fly up to five miles per second at such low altitudes that they could potentially evade detection by our missile-defence radars. In fact, China claimed to have made its first successful test of a hypersonic vehicle just last week.

“China and Russia are also aggressively working to incorporate anti-satellite attacks into their warfighting doctrines. In 2015, China created a separate military enterprise to oversee and prioritise its warfighting capabilities in space. As their actions make clear, our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already. And the United States will not shrink from this challenge,” Pence said.

While the idea of a Space Force sounds thrilling and futuristic to Trump and his supporters, perhaps we should fear that future.

As Einstein is purported to have said: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years