Sep 3, 2019 - Science

Space Force's Catch-22

Animated GIF of a constellation in the shape of a soldier

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump's pitch to create a Space Force is championed by supporters as a way to deter nations that plan to weaponize space.

Why it matters: Some experts warn that the U.S.' renewed focus on space weaponization is actually validating adversaries that hope to bolster their own military uses of outer space.

What's new: Last Thursday, the Trump administration relaunched U.S. Space Command. The combatant command is expected to protect U.S. interests in space from potential threats, and it's seen as a step toward the creation of Trump's Space Force.

  • "Our adversaries have had a front row seat in our many successes of integrating space ... and they don't like what they see, because it provides us such great advantage," Gen. John Raymond, leader of U.S. Space Command told reporters last week. "They're developing capabilities to negate our access to space."
  • The Space Force is still awaiting Congressional approval, but if stood up, Space Command would be able to draw on troops and resources from the Space Force to carry out missions.

Where it stands: Geopolitical conflicts today are starting to play out in orbit, with U.S. officials becoming increasingly worried about China's and Russia's capabilities, from jamming communications satellites to taking them out.

  • Some experts say that establishing the Space Force would signal to the rest of the world that space is a weaponized domain, even if the force itself isn't actually focused on developing space-based weapons.
  • "Now the United States is overtly and proudly and loudly ... talking about the weaponization of space, and it's drawn a response," Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, told Axios in an interview.
  • She points to India's test of an anti-satellite missile system earlier this year, which created hundreds of pieces of space junk.

But, but, but: Other experts say space is already being weaponized, and the U.S. is behind.

  • "We didn't make the choice," a former military official told Axios. "The choice was made for us, and we're going to have to weaponize space."
  • India's test was the latest in a series by other nations. Russia is reportedly testing anti-satellite missiles, and a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 purposefully destroyed one of the country's weather satellites.
  • Debris-producing tests are particularly alarming because the space junk created can impact other satellites or even make wide parts of space difficult to access.

The bottom line: If a U.S. Space Force is established in the coming years, it would further alter geopolitics on Earth and in space, potentially transforming a once peaceful realm into a war-focused regime.

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