It is time for the United States to prepare for its own version of Star Wars, at least that’s what one high-ranking military official believes. Space.com reports that Navy Vice Adm. Charles A. Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), recently stated that the U.S. military needs to be ready and willing to engage in warfare beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Just as nuclear assets deter aggression by convincing potential adversaries there’s just no benefit to the attack, we have to maintain a space posture that communicates the same strategic message,” Richard said on during a presentation he gave at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference in Washington, D.C., on March 22.
“I submit [that] the best way to prevent war is to be prepared for war, and we’re going to make sure that everyone knows we’re going to be prepared to fight and win wars in all domains, to include space.”
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) April 2, 2017
Of course, Richard’s concern with the military significance of low Earth orbit is nothing new. In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan launched America’s initial “Star Wars” initiative, naming after the already iconic science fiction film series.
“Since the dawn of the atomic age, we’ve sought to reduce the risk of war by maintaining a strong deterrent and by seeking genuine arms control,” Reagan said in his speech announcing the program.
“‘Deterrence’ means simply this: making sure any adversary who thinks about attacking the United States, or our allies, or our vital interests, concludes that the risks to him outweigh any potential gains. Once he understands that, he won’t attack. We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression.”
Reagan was primarily concerned with creating a system that could better detect and perhaps even intercept Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. As the Cold War thawed, the threat of full-scale nuclear war diminished and the Russian military became less of a threat after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emphasis on the Star Wars program diminished as well.
In Richard’s view, things have changed again.
“Major power competition is back on the table in a way that we have not seen in the world for perhaps 15 or 20 years,” Richard said in his presentation. “That applies in all domains.”
Recent developments in both Chinese and Russian missile and space capabilities are certainly among Richard’s concerns, as are the rapidly developing private space industry that sees more and more companies like SpaceX launching satellites, rockets, and space craft into orbit.
— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) April 1, 2017
Space will not just be a place of potential conflict over geopolitical conflicts, it could also be the site of new international market rivalries and competition. While this presents amazing opportunities for the space and tech industries, it also creates increasing tensions between the political powers invested the futures of these markets.
“While we’re not at war in space, I don’t think we can say we’re exactly at peace, either,” Richard said.
No one is suggesting there will be any sort of actual conflict between rival nations in space anytime soon — no one really has the capabilities or interest in that at the moment — deterrence will become an issue once again, just as we saw during the Cold War.
“Our goal ultimately is to promote secure access to space so it can be explored for generations to come,” Richard said.
“While we view space as just another domain — like land, air, sea and cyber — it is still something special. It is still a domain that people look up to and dream. And it’s USSTRATCOM’s job to help keep it that way.”
Hopefully, we won’t be seeing anything like an Earth-born Star Wars anytime soon, but the possibility of a Space Cold War might be another story.
[Featured Image by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images]