22 March 2019

A different Strategic Defence Initiative

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Image source: Mediafax

The progresses in sciences and technologies from the past decades have led to remarkable developments in space capabilities, that have great beneficial effects for many of the current activities.

We are now in front of an intensification of space’s commercialization, fields like communication, financial transactions, navigation of meteorological phenomena monitorization staying among the fields whose success depends on the technology dislocated in space. At the same time, the space capabilities have become, for many of the military operations, essential platforms for actions like awareness, geolocation, navigation, identification or enemies’ actions track etc.

The information collected by military or commercial satellites have contributed, and are still contributing, to detecting the sensitive military actions developed by certain states, to tracking the tests of new fight armament and weapons and, not least, to tracking some unheralded military exercises or terrorist groups’ actions. Space’s militarization is not an ideal anymore. Many states have passed to getting the necessary technologies for the development of new space capabilities, which are true regional or global security threats. For the United States the development of some countries’ space capabilities, which are not part of the partner states group, is a high-class strategic threat.

Space’s security in DIA’s vision

Recently, the Defence Intelligence Agency has published a report called “Challenges to security in space”, aiming at understanding some important aspects related to space’s security.

As part of the intelligence community, DIA thought it is necessary to give explanations to an audience which is familiar to this field, especially from NASA’s approaches, an agency which is responsible, starting with 1958, with controlling the aeronautical and space activities, meanwhile the Defence Department is in charge with activities related to weapons and military operations’ development.

This specific report was published shortly after another one, which was offering details about China’s military objectives, strategies and intentions. The process of such materials comes from the success the agency had, back in 1981, with a report related to the complete and concrete image of the Soviet threat, the intention, now and then, being to inform, not only an uninformed audience, but the leaders, the national security community and the partner nations.

It seems to be a gesture that is in line with the transparency principles of the intelligence community, affirmed and supported in official speeches and strategic documents, dedicated to showing that “secretly” does not mean unexplainable or a lack of responsibility. It seems to be an attempt to switch the direction of the public debates and thinking from seeing the space as a peaceful environment dedicated to exploitation and exploration, wherein are possible some commercial application and scientific findings, to considering the proliferation of different types of activities, with military implications.

It is a difficult task actually, given that we are talking about a field wherein security and defence involves, maybe more than other areas, the exchange of information and actions’ coordination, a field wherein the demarcation line between civil and commercial, on one hand, and military, defence and security, on the other hand, is not that clear. This is the case, for example, of the Global Positioning System/GPS of the navigation satellites which, although it belongs to the Defence Department, allows also applications dedicated to agriculture, telephones and vehicles etc.

The intensification of space’s arm, a new strategic threat against US

After some years since issuing the National Aeronautics and Space Act, NASA’s foundation document, the moment chosen to offer the necessary explanations for a deep understanding is the one wherein disputes surrounding the intermediate nuclear forces Treaty are drawing the attention on the Cold War and the arms race, and China’s actions are referring to… Sputnik. A moment wherein the American president has an initiative related to space, aiming at founding a Space Force, which reminds us of a different initiative comparing to the American president’s one: the Strategic Defence Initiative.

What, from Defence Department’s intelligence community activities (unclassified), related to space’s security, but also enemies’ counterspace, draw the attention?

In all documents wherein it is approached space security’s issue, it is mentioned and supported space’s democratization idea, which, according to the 2019 National Intelligence Strategy, can significantly challenge US and the intelligence community. Briefly, space’s democratization can mean that enemies’ have increased their presence in the field, having plans to reach, or even overcome, US’s parity, on certain coordinates, which has consequences over the American military effectiveness and security in general.

If the United States and the former Soviet Union were those to have the supremacy in the past years, the space capacities have proliferated after eliminating the technological and cost borders, hence, in 2018, according to DIA’s report, on the orbit there were 1.800 active satellites, belonging to more than 50 states and multinational organizations. According to the same report, nine countries and one international organization are able to develop complex space programs: China, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea, United States of America and the European Space Agency.

This increase of different states’ presence in space, in the annual Evaluation of Threats, presented by the US intelligence community, on 9th of February, it is considered to be a threat against its national security, together with the enlargement of the global space and the cooperation intensification between the private and the public sector.

Many countries will have greater access to data and services related to space, but the continuous enlargement of the space industry will determine also the extension of some non-state actors’ capabilities, from the commercial area, in the private sector. The emergent technology will allow enemies to develop guns systems easier, and the antisatellite ones are particularly evaluated as major threat.

Russia and China’s space capabilities, the main challenges to US’s security in space

The actors assigned as main actors are Russia and China, states to enlarge, in the following years, recognition, communication and space navigation systems and, implicitly, military applications in the field.

According to the American report, Challenges to security in space, the Chinese and Russian military doctrines are suggesting that the space is seen an important element for the modern warfare, and the counterspace capabilities a way to reduce US and its allies’ military effectiveness. Both states have developed sophisticated space services, including surveillance and reconnaissance, having space launching vehicles and navigation satellite systems, which offers them the ability to conduct and control their forces globally and, also, to track the American and allied forces.

Together with Russia and China, Iran and North Korea, with the capabilities they have and the technologies they have access to, they are also a threat for the US, whose progresses in the field can determine these states to develop capabilities in and through space.

The whole picture gets complicated by the current gaps in the juridical system, that Russia and China seem to try to exploit.

The principles that are governing the space activities are questioned in a normative document, created 50 years ago, the treaty regarding the extra atmospheric space being the one prohibiting the positioning in space of any nuclear weaponry carries of any other type of mass destruction guns. If at a public and diplomatic level there are promoted the international agreements which are supporting space’s disarmament, Russia and China are, at the same time, concerned with the development of some armament categories which are not included in these provisions.

From the “calm panic” to “counterspace awareness”

 The way the US is facing challenges and the political options on space field’s security are included in the National Space Security Strategy. Trump’s Administration strategy, from 2018 (as the presentation available on White House’s site shows, the only public version) is focusing on the idea of a cooperation between the national security and the commercial and civil sectors.

It is also highlighted the idea of peace through force, the deliberated answer to any dangerous interference or attack over the critical elements of special architecture.

Hence, given that the enemies and competitors have transformed space into a battlefield, the United States will try to deter, combat and defeat the threats which are hostile to their national interest and allies’ also. When the Obama Administration has launched the 2010 National Space Policy and, soon after, the Strategic Strategy in 2011, there were voices saying that that was a major mitigation of the nationalist and aggressive rhetoric, a concession on the importance of combat capabilities, a strategic re-balance.

However, the ulterior events (China’s antisatellite test from 2007, the missile launch from Xichang center from 2013 etc.), encircled to a calm panic (Theresa Hitchens, Joan Johnson Freese) have led, in 2014, to a significant change, although not officially authorized. According to authorities, they had to confront the challenges. They needed what senator John McCain was calling counterspace awareness, leading to the Strategic Review of the space portfolio, made by the National Security Council.

Space has become a battlefield. It is a statement which reveals the change the American military thinking has made regarding its space activities.

The technological progress has opened the space for some new actors, from strong states to in-full-bloom countries, from multinationals to small companies, creating a space race wherein nation-states are not the only participants anymore. Space’s democratization is creating the political decision factors. Satellites and naval spaces seen, often, as double-usage technologies are also a challenge.

It is not the first time when the US must consider the challenges against its space capacities, but today it is more complicated than it was in the past years, and peace through force, again a difficult topic, is dealing with more complicated equations than the ones in the Cold War and with a reality wherein deterrence is a hard process.