Military experts warn of a possible war in space

The space commanders said China and Russia have shown a willingness to start such an event.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Space commanders on Monday warned of a possible war in space with devastating and debilitating consequences on Earth, according to a report by The Guardian

The comments were made by senior military leaders attending the U.S. and Canada at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference on space as the new frontier in “commerce, industry, competition and war.” 

Countering imminent threats

The leaders emphasized that thus far China and Russia have demonstrated that they’re capable and perhaps willing to start such a war and highlighted the importance of working with allies, including Australia, to counter these threats.

According to The Guardian, Lt Gen Nina Armagno, staff director of the U.S .Space Force, said Russia’s destruction of a satellite last year that had reached the end of its life cycle and was of no further use to them was a “stunning display”.

“We’re interpreting that … as a message and demonstration of capability,” she said.

Brigadier general Michael Adamson, commander at 3 Canadian Space Division further commented: “No way … holy crap, this is a topsy turvy world, you can’t do that.”

“Same with us,” Armagno said, adding that China was openly showcasing its power in space. 

If satellites are attacked then that can result in the failure on Earth of GPS systems, banking systems, power grids, first responders’ communications, military operations and more.

“I don’t want to be dramatic,” Armagno said. “What does war in space look like? We probably won’t see it with our naked eye but we will definitely feel the consequences from the moment it begins.”

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Disempowering communication networks

Attacks on satellites could disempower communication networks in two ways: through a direct attack or through debris created by a destroyed satellite. Armagno explained that the U.S. was still tracking 600 pieces of debris from China’s 2007 “demonstration” where the nation took out one of its very own satellites.

It doesn’t take much to damage spacecraft such as the International Space Station and many more U.S. satellites. Even the smallest of space debris can achieve that. 

Armagno said the U.S. and its allies, including Australia, needed to collaborate to make space more resilient to any future foreign attacks by engineering nimbler, smaller satellites that can bypass debris and perhaps even attacks.

“It’s important for societies to understand the relevance of space,” Armagno said, according to The Guardian.

“It’s not space for the sake of space, it really is for likeminded countries to ensure that space is free for spacefaring nations. We all share those values.”

Air commodore Nicholas Hogan, the Australian Defence Space Command’s space capability director general, added to that sentiment saying: “That’s why we (Australia, the U.S. and Canada) work together,” he said.

He further called anti-satellite technology a “wicked” issue.

“If somebody had done something in a terrestrial domain, air, land or sea that had a lasting impact of more than a decade, no one would have stood for that,” he said.

“But in space, there’s no laws, there’s no rules, there’s no norms … and this is the area in which we find ourselves. (It’s) one of those wicked problems.”

This article has been corrected from its first version.