An unchecked race to militarize space is underway that is “increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear war while shortening the time for sanity and diplomacy to come into play to halt crises,” an authority on space warfare says.
By 2025, the space capabilities of the leading space powers — the U.S., Russia, India and China — will be roughly equal “due to information sharing in a globalized economy,” says noted space researcher Matt Hoey in an exclusive interview. Hoey is an international military space technology forecaster who provides analysis on issues related to technology proliferation and arms control. He is also a former senior research associate at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies and has contributed to publications such as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the Space Review.
Through their military and commercial research facilities, the world’s military powers are pursuing development of a reusable, unmanned, hypersonic, space-strike delivery platform that “would permit rapid precision strikes worldwide in 120 minutes or less,” Hoey said.
The strike platform could loiter in near-space or in low earth orbit and assault terrestrial targets at incredible speed “with a nuclear or conventional payload and then return to any base in the world on demand,” he explained.
While “there will not be a dedicated ‘space war’ in our lifetimes or our children’s,” Hoey said, “we are likely to witness acts of space warfare being committed…in concert with other theaters of combat” on land, sea, air and cyber space.”
Hoey said his research analysis suggests, “Back and forth escalation regarding military space capabilities would fuel each nation’s respective space industries as would commercial space races driven by national pride.”
“If these systems are deployed in space we will be tipping the nuclear balance between nations that has ensured the peace for decades,” Hoey continued. “The military space race will serve the defense industry much like the cold war and this is already being witnessed in relation to missile defense systems.”
Hoey pointed out the arms control community “is still trying to put the nuclear genie from decades ago back in the bottle” and adds “once this new genie(space war) is out it is not going back in anytime soon, either.”
The five treaties governing space “are highly outdated,” Hoey said, notably the milestone “Outer Space Treaty” of 1967. Theoretically, the U.S. is also bound by The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 that declares our “activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.” Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), in introducing a bill to ban the weaponization of space, charged the Bush administration with breaking with that policy by “putting weapons in outer space to give the U.S. the power to control the world.” Kucinich charged “the Air Force is seeking permission to put both offensive and defensive weapons in space.”)
Hoey said the research community is expecting space warfare systems to come from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL). But instead of doing straight military R&D in-house, the Pentagon is funding civilian research that has dual-purpose use capabilities—civilian applications as well as military.
Because military space race technologies are the same as those needed to explore the heavens, service the international space station and defend against threats from near earth objects, the civilian-military partnerships “present the most challenging dilemma for the arms control community,” Hoey said. That’s because arms control proponents cannot object to their military applications without also opposing “technologies that benefit mankind.” And he warned this will continue to be the case as long as existing treaties fail to differentiate between commercial and military space technology.
Because their overlap is “overwhelming,” Hoey noted, in that “systems that destroy can also create and facilitate discoveries,” it behooves the international arms control community to act before our military and commercial industries become “inextricably integrated with military space systems and unable to extract themselves.”
Hoey said the defense community is actively scouting students still enrolled in high school who have demonstrated a talent in aerospace, cryptology, and computer security for military research, “in an attempt to compete with emerging science and technology rivals such as China and India.” This would place future generations who dream of discoveries on a fast track towards the defense industry, Hoey said, even if they land jobs in the private sector. As dual-usage progresses, far more space technology roads will lead to careers that contribute to the development space warfare-enabling technologies.
Companies engaged in nanotechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence are also being wooed by the military with fat checks, Hoey said. “These (space exploration and space warfare) systems are being developed through multi-tiered collaborations that include NASA, the Defense Department, universities, big defense contractors, and small space start- ups. “The work force consists of military scientists and engineers, students, scientists, and even foreign nationals” ultimately enabling technology proliferation globally.
For an arms control community that is focusing primarily on banning specific space weapons currently in development, nearing deployment, and in some cases already deployed, efforts should also be focused towards lobbying the international community to begin establishing rules of the road that differentiate between peaceful commercial space technologies and destructive military space applications before the lines between the two are irreversibly blurred, Hoey urged. By doing so, “next generation space warfare systems and space security threats can, as a result, be prevented long before they have a chance to further undermine peace in outer space and increase the probability of nuclear war,” he said.
Sherwood Ross is a veteran reporter and public relations consultant. He formerly worked for the City News Bureau of Chicago, the Chicago Daily News, and as a columnist for wire firstname.lastname@example.org