Although primarily the realm of science fiction for decades, space war has become a reality, military experts say. As spacefaring nations jockey for position above the Earth, advances in technology are also enabling them to potentially gain a military advantage over rival countries. A future space war between powers like Russia, China, and the United States could potentially see the deployment of strategic killer and kamikaze satellites, not to mention drones of varying capabilities.
CNN reported this week that the United States has found itself in a new arms race, one that will see warfare waged on the final frontier. As the network reveals in its latest special report, “War In Space: The Next Battlefield,” Russia and China are already at work placing satellites with military capabilities in orbit. And since laser technology exists that has been proven effective against naval and aerial objects, there is reason to expect that satellites and drones armed with such weapons will become commonplace should a war break out between nations with assets circling the planet.
Among the space weapons already known to the U.S. are kamikaze and kidnapper satellites. The potential use of these weaponized satellites, which can be disguised as regular communications or information-gathering orbital crafts, made themselves known to the U.S. military in just the past couple of years. The Air Force detected what looked like a piece of space debris activate near a satellite they were monitoring in May, 2014. Calling it a red flag, the Air Force made note that a craft that could get near a satellite without being detected was worrisome in that it could disable or destroy its target with relative ease.
The sneaky satellite that was able to get near the American satellite was a Russian Kosmos 2499 craft, one the U.S. has dubbed a “kamikaze” vehicle for its ability to maneuver so closely and potentially eliminate a target. And it isn’t alone. The Russians have also launched a spy satellite called “Luch” that has shown similar capabilities as the Kosmos 2499.
“This is something that is on the new frontier of space that we’re seeing from our adversaries,” U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Andrew Engle told CNN. “It’s highly technical, highly skilled, and it’s something that we’re definitely, obviously, watching closely.”
Civilian satellite tracker Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI) detected the second type of advanced satellite, one with a “kidnapper” function. China had launched the Shiyan in 2013, but it had not been of special note until a smaller satellite it had been keeping pace with suddenly disappeared. Even though it reappeared (and the sequence was repeated a few times), AGI experts quickly reasoned that the Shiyan was equipped with a robotic arm that was repeatedly grabbing and releasing the smaller satellite. The state-run Xinhua News Agency later reported that the Chinese government admitted to the satellite’s robotic arm but maintained that it was “mainly used in space debris observation.”
However, U.S. military experts were quick to see its potential in more hostile situations.
As for the U.S. and its space warfare capabilities, it is often hinted at that the first space drone, the X37B, has more than just experimental potential. Space.com pointed that conspiracy theorists often speculate that the X37B is some sort of space weapon, probably having something to do with capturing adversarial satellites. However, the Air Force, which operates the craft that looks like a miniature shuttle, denies it has any real military value other than as a platform for experiments, citing its detectability (via radar) and poor maneuverability make it less than an ideal space weapon.
But weaponized drones in space? Given its durability and reusability, such a possibility exists.
Another of the potential weapons experts see as being employed in a space war are lasers. These have been proven actionable against drones and aircraft and even small naval vessels. In fact, the U.S. Navy deployed a laser system called LaWS (Laser Weapons System) the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf to be used against maritime threats but, as CNN revealed, multiple nations have been and are testing lasers that can reach into space.
“These directed energy weapons could be used from the ground or deployed on space assets to temporarily blind or permanently damage satellites.”
Of course, it is obvious that the military capabilities of many of the potential weapons are in the deniable category for each of the respective nations that deploy them. However, that those capabilities, no matter how deniable, have the potential to be used militarily is readily observable by potential adversaries and allies. And, as CNN has aptly revealed, space war isn’t relegated to just the province of science fiction anymore.
[Featured Image by Andrey VP/Shutterstock]