Sri Lanka Army

Defenders of the Nation

30th August 2019 13:00:07 Hours

Complexities, Arising from Militarization of Space Discussed

In her remarks on ‘Complexities Arising from Militarization of Space’ under the theme ‘Military Modernization’, Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (India), Distinguished Fellow & Head of the Nuclear & Space Policy Initiative, Observer Research Foundation pointed out since there is no hard fast rule in the use of space, it is important to initiate some policy alternatives in future.

In her presentation, she made an elaborate analysis on ‘Implications of Militarization of Space’, ‘Changing Asian Strategic Order’, ‘Asian Strategic Order in Flux’, ‘Space Security Challenges’, etc and asserted the need for a comprehensive policy.

Considering changing regional and global military balance; growing trend of militarisation (weaponization); securitization of political issues mean greater emphasis on hard power; signs of arms race, incl. in OS. Other spacefaring powers re-examining their options, strategies, capabilities - assigning a greater security role to their space assets.

Advanced military space programmes, growing counter-space capabilities and no weapons in outer space yet; ground-based assets are significant threats Increasing space debris, risking civilian assets.

Satellites must for well-coordinated and synchronized tactical capability, integrating weapon systems, missile, radars and sensors, unmanned vehicles, electronics and communication networks, aerial capabilities, logistics and support systems, and defence forces are in a vast geographical area.

In the absence of successful multilateral efforts, states will be forced to rely on deterrence, deterrence effects will cascade: if one state relies on deterrence, others will be forced to also. Consequence will be negative for all, Will lead to increasing suspicions that will make cooperation difficult. Deterrence model not yet policy for any state re. space, so possible to prevent it, Necessary too, before states proceed down this path.

Maintenance of predictable and non-escalatory relations between states, Common strategic understanding between states - absence of it makes stability fragile and questionable, thus not just absence of war, but absence of fear of even escalation, even if relations otherwise are poor, suggests some level of confidence in all states that no one would gain unilateral advantage, but emerging trends in space security could affect strategic stability, moving from militarization to early signs of weaponization.

Following are the salient points in he presentation;

Development of ASATs, co-orbital satellites or any weapon that might disrupt or destroy space system

ASAT missiles putting low earth and geosynchronous orbits at risk

Co-orbital ASAT weapons

Missile defense interceptors that might be used as direct ascent ASATs

Ground-based high-energy lasers

Examples: Chinese trio satellites - Shiyan-7, Chuangxin-3 and Shijian-15; Roaming Dragon; Russian Kosmos 2499; US X-37B pilotless space drones

Impact of ASATs

Potential to disrupt strategic stability and step up the possibility of war

Arms race instability

Benign environment for two decades but beginning to change from 2007

Technological sophistication of new ASATs; leading to possible ASAT arms race

Crisis instability

Use of ASATs or lasers to disrupt communications could complicate the command & control dynamics; also reduces the possibility for crisis control mechanisms to play out

Loss of surveillance satellites would have similar impact

Could undermine crisis management and exacerbate the potential for escalation

Strategic Stability - Challenges

Establishing clear linkages between space and strategic stability difficult

Emergence of a large number of actors – no major technologies in space but new actors bringing out the salience of some of the old technologies including counter-space technologies

US and Soviets several ASAT tests until early 1980s

Changed circumstances in which states find greater incentives/ willingness to develop and potentially use offensive counter-space cap make the situation more precarious

Greater reliance on space for mil ops as against earlier emphasis for strategic ops

Not in a vacuum – global power transition and shifting Asian balance of power including military balance

Space Weapons

Technologies with peaceful applications – such as satellite inspection, refueling and repair (on-orbit satellite servicing) or technologies to clean up space junk – can also be used

Office of the US Director of National Intelligence, 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community: “We assess that, if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against US and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived US military advantage derived from military, civil or commercial space system.”

Dual use nature of space assets add to the complexities

Not just dual use assets but launches with multiple payloads make it complex

Why Act Now?

Growth trends

More states mean overcrowded space

More regional space agencies?

Private sector participation

Why proliferation?

Supply side:

Growing prosperity = greater resources for space programs

Industrial/technology spread = space tech spreads

Demand side:

Competitive pressures

SSA - Critical if one has to be in this business

Better awareness about the OS environment and how it impacts on our activities in OS

Three essential components: Tracking of objects in space; Monitoring space weather; Characterization of space objects – these can help avoid collisions (debris, solar)

Close to 80 states and non-state entities operate more than 2000 sats; operate in an environment that contains estimated 500,000 pieces of space debris that damage or destroy these sats thru’ collision

Solar storms and explosions of charged particles damaging sats or even power grids on Earth

Characterization of objects gives the ability to understand the behaviour of OS objects - electromagnetic signals and emissions, radar and optical imaging can provide clues as to their function and capabilities.

Helps in predicting threats by developing a catalogue of OS objects and detecting new events

No. of mega constellations to be launched in LEO, OS crowding even more challenging; Univ. of Southampton - mega constellations will increase the risk of collision by as much as 50 percent

Counter-space capabilities

Existed in the past but the conditions today quite different

Greater willingness to develop and use such capabilities

Kinetic capabilities, in which there is physical destruction of a space object, difficult to hide

Electronic and cyber-attacks not so easy to detect; they can be developed and deployed or even used without others being aware or certain about who is doing it

OOS and RPO not new – more than 50 years of experience with human spaceflight, but increasing robotic interface automation, new challenges – also, more countries/industries engaged in testing RPO cap.

Change in orientation

Cold War, OS utilisation primarily for strategic operations, like strategic intelligence gathering, nuclear attack early warning and executing arms control agreements

Today far more pertinent role in conventional military operations bc operational and tactical benefits

Offensive or defensive counter-space ops today impact not just security but social and economic, and across continents due to large-scale civilian dependency on space-based applications

OS so vital to both civilian and military ops reflects the danger of inadvertent escalation and conflict, if there is, for instance, a disruption or denial of service during a period of heightened tensions, even if the incident was a natural incident or due to mechanical failure

Counter-space; Contd.

Mil ops becoming extremely net-centric one - shorter timeframes, high tech environment - integration of space assets absolutely critical

Operation Desert Storm & Iraqi Freedom demonstrated the ‘force-multiplier’ nature

Supports activities including Space-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), positioning navigation and timing (PNT), satellite communications (SATCOM), information gathering, weather, environment and terrain observation

Can have a multiplier effect in terms of gaining greater sense of predictability of the operating environment, reduce uncertainty, facilitate better command decisions (due to better awareness)

The very benefits a vulnerability as well – China has been investing to find the US’ Achilles heel for instance – the heavily networked US mil ops

Categories of Counterspace Weapons

Kinetic Physical: Weapons intended to create permanent and irreversible destruction of a satellite or to ground support infrastructure through force of impact with an object or a warhead. Such weapons include direct-assent ASAT missiles and co-orbital systems. The co-orbital weapons are satellites placed on similar orbits and can be directed to intercept or interference with close orbital rendezvous.

Non-kinetic Physical: Weapons meant to create interference or temporary damage and physical impact on space systems without physical contact. Categories of these weapons include Electromagnetic pulses or directed-energy

Electronic: Weapons that use radiofrequency energy to interfere with or jam the communications to or from satellites but do not cause permanent physical damages.

Cyber: Weapons that use software and network techniques to compromise, control, interfere or destroy computer systems that are linked to satellite operations.

Challenges for the future

No effective governance mechanisms

OST does not cover a range of new threats

Rule-making not easy because of new and numerous actors

Recent efforts failure for lack of clarity

Space weapon; defensive use of space


Geopolitics playing into writing future rules of the road

What must be done?

No defence against ASAT as yet, nor any arms control measures or even TCBMs to address ASATs and other counter-space capabilities

Ways to control - global governance norms - legal, norms, GGEs, CoC

Strengthen SSA capabilities

Building better redundancy, hardening of space capabilities, enhance the security of back ups

Make clear and public red lines and escalatory thresholds

Cross the speed bump re. global governance

Strengthen efforts at developing norms of responsible behaviour and legal instruments - not a choice but all must be promoted

Specific TCBMs

Space Traffic Management Measures

Pre-launch notifications

Notification measures for ballistic missile and space launches (HCoC)

Standards for small-sats to ensure tracking

Space Situational Awareness (SSA) data exchange

“No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space” pledge

Solemn but unilateral pledge

With no clear definition on space weapon, important to focus on intentions - no attack on each other’s assets or not to have an arms race in outer space (be it thru’ placement of weapons or ground-based)

Specific tcbms, Contd.

ASAT test guidelines/ intentional orbital breakups rules

The UNIDIR proposal – no debris, low debris, notification

Not the First to Act beyond the scope of Article 51

Exercising the right to self-defense on an imminent threat, before the attack has occurred – dangerous trend

Many developing countries see this as particularly troubling because they see this clause as further opening the door to conflict in space and a pretext to weaponize their capabilities buy footwear | Nike Shoes