What is a Space Force?
Space warfare is combat that takes place in outer space. The scope of space warfare therefore includes ground-to-space warfare, such as attacking satellites from the Earth, as well as space-to-space warfare, such as satellites attacking satellites (source).
Personally, I would add space-to-ground to the list. More about that later.
One of the reasons for the announcement of the US Space Force by President Trump on June 18, 2018 is the advancements of other nations in space war. But is that so?
One of the issues mentioned is the ability of destroying satellites in orbit. Let’s get the facts for that.
- In 1985 a USAF pilot in an F-15 successfully shot down the P78-1, an American research satellite, in a 345-mile (555 km) orbit.
- In 2007 China used a missile system to destroy one of its obsolete satellites
- From the 1960s, Russia developed multiple system for space war and they focused on destroying satellites.
- In 2008 the United States similarly destroyed its malfunctioning satellite USA-193.
Early technical efforts to perform ground-to-space warfare was seen as very hard and not effective; too slow and reduced by Earth’s atmosphere and gravity. They concluded that space-to-space warfare was the ticket.
In the 1960s, the Russians came up with the the Almaz project, a project designed to give them the ability to do on-orbit inspections of satellites and destroy them if needed. In August, 1962, the US responded with the Blue Gemini project, which consisted of modified Gemini capsules that would be able to deploy weapons and perform surveillance. Further, the US started the so-called Starfish Prime test, when the US exploded a ground-launched nuclear weapon in space to test the effects of an electromagnetic pulse. The result was a deactivation of many then-orbiting satellites, both American and Soviet. The deleterious and unfocused effects of the EMP test led to the banning of nuclear weapons in space in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
Even with the Outer Space Treaty, through the 1970s, the Soviet Union continued their project and test-fired a cannon to test space station defense. Both the Soviets and the United States developed anti-satellite weaponry designed to shoot down satellites. While early efforts paralleled other space-to-space warfare concepts, the United States was able in the 1980s to develop ground-to-space laser anti-satellite weapons.
The US firstly focused on developing missiles to destroy satellites with mixed results, mostly failures. To make a long story short, the final proof of concept was that on February 21, 2008, the U.S. Navy destroyed the malfunctioning U.S. spy satellite USA-193 using a ship-fired RIM-161 Standard Missile 3.
The Russians came up with the Istrebitel Sputnik (or also called the IS) (which means “fighter satellite”). The IS system was “co-orbital”, approaching its target over time and then exploding a shrapnel warhead close enough to kill it. The missile was launched when a target satellite’s ground track rises above the launch site. Once the satellite is detected, the missile is launched into orbit close to the targeted satellite. It takes 90 to 200 minutes (or one to two orbits) for the missile interceptor to get close enough to its target. The missile is guided by an onboard radar. The interceptor, which weighs 1400 kg, may be effective up to one kilometer from a target. A total of 23 launches have been identified as being part of the IS test series. The system was declared operational in February 1973.
At 5:28 p.m. EST January 11, 2007, the People’s Republic of China successfully destroyed a defunct Chinese weather satellite, FY-1C. The destruction was reportedly carried out by an SC-19 ASAT (anti-satellite weapon) missile with a kinetic kill warhead similar in concept to the American Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle. The Israeli Arrow 3 or Hetz 3 is an anti-ballistic missile, currently in service. It provides exo-atmospheric interception of ballistic missiles. It is also believed (by experts such as Prof. Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, chairman of the Israel Space Agency), that it will operate as an ASAT (anti-satellite weapon). India is also researching and developing ASATs.
Is America the first with their announced space force?
But Russia is not the only one with the aspirations of getting a dedicated space force. We have China, French, the already mentioned Russia and as last, but not the least the Americans. On June 18, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the establishment of the United States Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Why does President Trump wants this?
In the so called mainstream media, almost everything hat President Trump is doing and saying, is seen as a joke, nonsense and underestimated. Russia and China clearly disagree with that approach and see it as a serious problem for their possible existence in future. And they are right. This is a serious groundbreaking announcement.
With the US (and others) investments in space with many applications like navigation, reconnaissance, weather forecasting, intelligence collection, communications, command and control, precision targeting and much more, the risk of that being destroyed by other countries like China and Russia is too great. Its reliance on satellite-guided munitions has increased with each new conflict in recent years.
There is the ability of Russia, China and the US to destroy each other satellites, but there is no dominance or defense against such attacks. If one or more of those countries go to war, it’s a guarantee that the first to go are all the satellites.
That’s one reason, but not the most important reason.
The second reason is that the country with the dominance of the space, will dominate any other nation. Space war is not only ground-to-space and space-to-space warfare, but also space-to-ground warfare. Can you imagine a system, which is designed to be able to destroy any launch of a rocket or airplane or any other air vehicle? Can you imagine a defense weapon, which can stop any attack on the US, even with the attacks of the so called super sonic weapons? It would with one move, neutralize any weapon system based on rockets.
The third reason is the commercial exploration (and exploitation) of space. Space holds much more then millions of trillions (from Quintillion to Centillion) of dollars worth of resources. In order to explore and exploit this, stability must be accomplished for development of space technologies by peace or dominance.
Creating the US Space Force would be the most ambitious reorganization of the military since 1947.
The fourth reason is the conception of what the space force will do. For sure, the space force will not be tasked only with the threats of satellite destructions and defenses, but developing multiple technologies, which makes it possible to have effective ground-to-space, space-to-space and space-to-ground weapon systems (which are mostly managed currently by 60 different US entities.
Commercial exploration and exploitation of space
Automatic factories for the development of satellites, resources for space ships and space stations, launch platforms for space ships, storage space, multiple space stations, production platforms for mining and construction and the list can go on and on. What you can read in many stories of Science Fiction books through time, becomes reality.
Next to the dominance of space by one country, only one (the first) country who’s able to exploit and/or mine only one comet, overloaded with gold, gems, rare metals, etc. is enough to dominate others and anyone on earth, make all combined earthly economies dwarfed.
It’s clear, that the potential profit of space exploration is greater then anything you can exploit on earth. And that’s enough reason to invest now (what’s everywhere already happening) and supplying a safe fundamental platform to keep it safe.