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The USA's Space Force

13 August 2018

Ronald Regan started it all with his "Star Wars" initiative.

Now, decades later, Donald Trump has revived the concept of a officially militarising space for the purposes of national defense (and the other thing).

While there might be those (including myself) who believe the neutrality of space should be sacrosanct, the reality is that it has been used for military purposes since WW2 so that's a battle we've already lost.

The German V2 ballistic missiles soared far above the earth's atmosphere, arcing to some 88Km above the planet when launched for maximum range, and over 200Km when launched for maximum altitude.

Since then we've made huge use of space for defensive and offensive purposes.

Intelligence gathering by way of military satellites is probably the number-one use of space for non-commercial, non-civilian purposes.

After a US U2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet Russia back in 1960 it soon became apparent that space was the only safe way to surveil and spy on your enemies (and your friends) from above. This saw a huge amount of resource being dedicated to the creation of spy satellites for the military and even today a "not insignificant" amount of the USA's defense budget is poured into "top secret" technologies such as the X-37

However, there is a huge difference between the passive use of space-borne military technology and creating military outposts in orbit or beyond.

ICBMs simply transit through space on their journey to whatever target is unfortunate enough to be their goal and spy satellites only have the power of looking at the earth below -- but there are far nastier ways to leverage a position hundreds of Km above the planet.

Although Regan's Star Wars initiative was largely defensive, it's almost certain that the intent was to extend it to deliver an offensive capability as well.

While they're on the ground, ICBMs are vulnerable to attack which would mean, in the event of a nuclear conflict, both sides would almost certainly unleash their entire arsenals as quickly as possible, so as to avoid losing them before they could be deployed.

If the missiles and their warheads were moved into orbit rather than sunk in deep silos, several benefits would be gained.

Firstly, the flight-time to target could be significantly reduced -- since they'd be half way there even before the launch button was pressed.

Secondly, any launch would be harder to detect -- since only minimal amounts of energy would be required to de-orbit the warheads towards their targets when compared to the firing of a rocket powerful enough to hurl multiple nuclear warheads half way around the world. A covert launch makes a first-strike far more effective and attractive from a military perspective.

Another "active" militarisation of space would be the stationing of anti-satellite weapons in orbit. These are weapons designed to "take out" enemy surveillance birds, effectively blinding them and rendering their forces far less capable.

China has allegedly already tested such devices, and in doing so has contributed significantly to the "space junk" problem by "blowing up" stuff in orbit.

It's hard to tell whether Trump's "Space Force" will simply be the legitimisation of things that have already been done. I would be very surprised if the USA doesn't already have a snot-load of active military technology floating around above our heads -- it's just doing so without telling anyone. Nobody knows for sure what the X-37 has carried into space during its missions for the US Air Force but you can be pretty sure that its cargo bay has been stuffed full of potentially nasty tech on at least a few occasions.

The sad thing about the USA's Space Force initiative is that it will force Russia and China to follow suit (if they haven't already).

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is only effective when all parties have parity from the point of view of their destructive capabilities. As soon as one side gets an upper hand, the risk of conflict increases enormously.

The side with more capability is tempted to exercise its advantage while it can and the side without that advantage is tempted to use the only strength it might have, which would be the element of first-strike surprise.

And the worst thing of all is the knowledge that all these billions of dollars that have been and will be poured into the militarisation of space, won't do diddly-squat if we're faced with a rogue asteroid which threatens to create an extinction-level event down here.

Good to see the superpowers getting their priorities right -- NOT.

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