Use of ‘outer space’ (also referred as ‘space’) to fight wars is not a new idea. Rockets reaching high into the atmosphere was talked about since World War II. The investments made by the Nazi’s towards development of such rockets are well known. In the 1960s, the erstwhile USSR had an orbital weapon called a “killer satellite”. However, this weapon had some problems with its guidance system which led to failure of the entire project.
The Soviets also had an orbital weapon known as the FOBS (Fractional Orbit Bombardment System). The concept was to place a hydrogen bomb in low earth orbit (LEO) for quick launch against a ground target if need arose. The system was secretly tested from 1966 to 1970, and the Soviet government revealed that it had 18 FOBS launchers in their inventory at Tyaratam.
During the 1991 Gulf War, the US had demonstrated, among other things, what can happen when a nation that does not enjoy the benefits of space exploitation wages a war against one that has it.
Space was used for nuclear testing during the 1950s and early 1960s. Subsequently, atomic testing in space was banned by the Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963). However, underground testing continued till 1980 with France and China being the last to carry out such tests. Space was important for Ronald Regan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (which subsequently became famous as “Star Wars”) during the eighties. Today, space is an inseparable part of the US missile shield plan. This article attempts to address the issues related to space and security against the backdrop of Chinese ASAT test in January this year.
The politico-military events during the last two or three decades indicates that the world is witnessing a new paradigm of security. The end of the Cold War, environmental degradation, increasing menace of terrorism, and rise in fundamentalism have raised new threats to global security which are asymmetric in nature. At the same time, technology is playing a major role for the modernisation of the armed forces across the world. This has highlighted the revolution in military affairs (RMA) for the modern day defence discourse.
There is an increasing awareness that in the years to come the world will witness another transformation in the conduct of war; its scope will be decided by the emerging RMA, which is significantly governed by space technologies. At the same time space technologies, which essentially covers a wide spectrum of technologies ranging from asteroid mining to rocket science to satellite operations to navigation to telemetry to reentry to artificial intelligence is a specialized field and very few nations possess it. Naturally, those possessing it have an asymmetric advantage over others in these capabilities.
The Soviets also had an orbital weapon known as the FOBS. The concept was to place a hydrogen bomb in low earth orbit for quick launch against a ground target if need arose. The system was secretly tested from 1966 to 1970, and the Soviet government revealed that it had 18 FOBS launchers in their inventory at Tyaratam.
Remote Sensing, Aerial Photography, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Navigation, Broadcasting and Communication, and Scientific Experimentation are civilian uses of space technologies. However, the dual use nature of these technologies help nation-states to exploit them for military purposes. As well over the last few decades the ‘space haves’ have successfully used space technologies in military conflicts. The 1991 Gulf War, NATO intervention in Kosovo, the post 9/11 US involvement in Afghanistan and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq – have seen the use of Space Technologies with success. During these wars, the military use of space provided inputs for weather monitoring, communication, navigation and intelligence gathering.
Currently, most military operational requirements are driven by technology. Military leadership understand the importance of Command, Control, Communication, Computers and Intelligence, Reconnaissance, Surveillance (C4ISR) systems. These C4ISR strategies and policies are being developed and are based on various transformative principles that include space technology for purposes like telecommunications, military information networking, electronic intelligence gathering, photographic reconnaissance etc.