Military & Aerospace

Trends in Space Weaponisation
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Issue Vol 25.3 Jul-Sep2010 | Date : 06 Oct , 2010

Further they feel that since future military threats will primarily come in aerospace sector it is essential to combine information, firepower, and mobility. Some of them also believe that in future wars, space will be used to “carry out war between space platforms and to attack strategic surface and air targets.” For them the investment in lasers and other forms of directed energy and electromagnetic technologies is important. The ASAT technologies could include: satellite jamming technology, kinetic energy weapons, space planes that can transit and fight “up or down” in the upper atmosphere or space, and high-power laser microwave weapon systems weapons. The military strategists are also arguing for doctrinal changes. They feel that it is essential to have “space supremacy” as an integral part of battle domination along with other forms of supremacy over the battlefield17.

China appears to be working on a two pronged strategy in space arena. On one hand they have undertaken an ASAT test but simultaneously they are also pushing for disarmament agenda, at least overtly. Russia and China have proposed a new international treaty to ban the use of weapons in outer space. The new draft treaty was presented at the disarmament conference in Geneva during Feb 200818. However, the US has long opposed being bound by such an agreement. This draft has many loopholes. It talks only about weapons in space-but the problem could be from weapons fired from the earth like the missile launch by China for its 2007 ASAT. Putting this draft at the UN level is probably an attempt by Beijing to draw international attention away from its own growing counterspace programme. Russia has helped them in this regard because this allows them to put the US missile defence plans under pressure.

For states like US and China, lack of any arms control regime for space weapons could be said to be advantageous. The United Nations Outer Space Treaty (OST, 1967) contains an undertaking not to place in orbit any nuclear or any other weapons of mass destruction. However, it is felt that the provisions made in this treaty are not sufficient to account for the existence of any space weapons. China and the US are taking advantage of the serious limitations of this treaty. Presently, at the UN level there is no agreement on how to define space weapon because at times anything and everything could be defined as a space weapon.

China’s recent ASAT success comes from firing a piece of metal (KKV) that had no ammunition in it. Any piece of intentionally put debris in the space could act as a space weapon. It is also difficult to verify the intentions of any space faring nations in terms of its actual weaponisation programme. More so there are issues related to verification of such acts in case of establishment of any protocol because mostly it would be impossible to verify any claims made by the states towards space weaponisation. Besides the verification process would be very costly. In view of this few experts even argue that no arms control is better than bad arms control.

It is now obvious that powers like US and China are not interested in evolving a viable and robust space disarmament regime. A forecast published by the Military Space Transparency Project (MSTP)19 projects that second arms race can erupt in the space arena. This forecast highlights that by 2025 world may witness the acts of space warfare. It is felt that there is a relationship between critical dual-use technologies that may assist in the development of both peaceful commercial and destructive military applications.

Technological advances in technologies such as directed energy systems, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, improvised Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Launch Services will help states to develop satellite weapons20. Because of nature of existing and futuristic information networks space warfare technologies could proliferate easily.

At the backdrop of above it could be argued that space warfare is likely to become a reality for the future. It would present both the military and the diplomacy with a new tool to play power politics. It is expected that the first country to put weapons in space may have an advantage in this field. States are likely to draw lessons from the nuclear arms race philosophy in yesteryears which started with a view to maintain a monopoly of this type of weapon. Space weapons may even emerge as an alternative to existing nuclear deterrence mechanism within few years.

At the beginning of this 21st century the world is witnessing the existence of unified battlefield constituting of the five theaters of combat, namely, land, sea, air, cyber and space. It is expected that major portion of the latter half of the 21st century security makeup would be dominated by space.


  1. Stephen Clark, “Atlas rocket delivers Air Force spaceplane to orbit”,
  2. 3723/1/11.html
  3. /2010/0420/Air-Force-to-launch-X-37-space-plane-Precursor-to-war-in-orbit
  4. The debris starts melting once they enter the earth’s atmosphere.
  5. The three fourth of world constitutes of water and a ship based system offers more flexibility of satellite targeting.
  6. Z.M. Khalizad, The US and Rising China, Rand Corp., Santa Monica, 1999, p. 81.
  7. Dean Cheng, “Space and Chinese Views of Future Warfare,” 2001 CAPS-RAND PLA Conference.
  8. “China’s Intelligence and Internal Security Forces,” Jane’s Information Group, Alexandria, USA, October 1999, p. 74.
  9. Bob Preston et al, Space Weapons Earth Wars, Rand, 2002, pp.23-24.
  10. Michael Goldfarb, “The Rods from God”, Jun8, 2005,
  11. Ian Easton, “The Great Game in Space”, Project 2049 Institute,
  12. Francis Harris, “Beijing secretly fires lasers to disable US satellites”, 26 Sep 2006,
  13. National Affairs: Who should control space?, Time, Feb 17, 1958.
  14. Major Howard D. Belote, USAF, “The Weaponization of Space It Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum”, Aerospace Power Journal, Spring 2000, p.49.
  15. “Rumsfeld Space Commission”,
  16. “Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS)”,
  17. Larry M. Wortzel, “Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Space Warfare” Emerging US–China Military Competition: A Project of the American Enterprise Institute, pp.2-7.Also, refer Astropolitics ,Volume 6, Issue 2, May 2008 , pp. 112–137.
  20. Matthew Hoey, Global Space Warfare Technologies: “Influences, Trends, and the Road Ahead”, 
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Gp Capt Ajey Lele (Retd.)

is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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