An Increase in Space Militarization in 2020

An Increase in Space Militarization in 2020

As in the 1960s, our society is witnessing a revitalization of an international space race. There has lately been a renewed interest in interplanetary exploration with talks of establishing a station on the Earth’s moon and eventually making our way to Mars.

The race looks different than it did half a century ago – not just in technology but also in its longterm goals and the way that missions are funded and strategized. Since the 2000s, there’s been an upsurge in monetary backing and spacecraft engineering on the part of private corporations. The market has evolved, but so have the objectives of those seeking to make their mark on our solar system – and beyond.

National Geographic has covered a range of developments in the area of space exploration. The August 2017 edition of the print magazine, The Space Issue, makes mention of a new mentality forming among space entrepreneurs. Namely, some are seeking a future profit with stakes in the robotic mining of precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum found on bodies like asteroids.

But there’s another, more judicial reason for some to invest in the space race – military superiority.

In the sci-fi feature The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), an extraterrestrial comes to our planet threatening it – but explains the basis of his foreboding message. That is, there is a fear that human weaponry would expand beyond the borders of its own globe, endangering other sentient societies.

It is conjectured that the film influenced President Ronald Reagan to proclaim, when speaking at the UN in 1987, that he wondered how the world would respond if confronted with an extraterrestrial opponent. Ironically, the film’s message victimizes the invaders and frowns upon nuclear warfare. Moreover, the fictional alien’s concerns are beginning to come to life.

Historically, U.S. space exploration was propelled by individuals with military backgrounds. Famed figures like Dr. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, former U.S. Senator John Glenn, Col. Susan Helms, and others served in the armed forces prior to their stints as astronauts. Similarly, early space exploration projects in Russia hired former military personnel. Yuri Gagarin, the first human being in space, had been a fighter pilot and part of the Russian Air Force before becoming a cosmonaut.

However, as of December 2019, the U.S. military has added a new branch dedicated especially to space endeavors: the United States Space Force, a division first suggested by President Donald Trump in March 2018. (In May 2020, the Netflix series Space Force from The Office‘s Steve Carell premiered, based on the premise of this sixth military branch.) This marks a bold move on the part of the American government, initiating a global interest in the militarization of our solar system.

While it’s true that other nationalities have been working on ongoing military moves toward space, the past six months have seen successful project launches from a slew of countries. So far, 2020 has served as ground zero for sending defense-oriented satellites into space and for opening up a new industry for intercontinental missiles. This movement spans across the world – with significant strides being made in the Asiatic continent.

In late 2019, less than two weeks prior to the official establishment of the U.S. Space Force, the Indian Space Research Organisation executed a successful launch of a PSLV rocket carrying a variety of satellites. Perhaps the most important cargo it contained was the defense satellite RISAT-2BR1. It’s designed to enhance India’s surveillance and is able to photograph geographical locales during day and night. Optimistically, one reporter alluded to the hope that the RISAT-2BR1 would catch terrorist activity and reduce attacks such as those seen in Mumbai in 2008.

Satellites are quite helpful in spying and reconnoitering. The world’s militaries know this and are tapping into this technology.

More recently, Israel has invested in similar surveillance measures. The Defense Ministry’s Space Department collaborated with Israel Aerospace Industries in sending the Ofek-16 spy satellite into orbit in early July. The Ministry of Defense perceives it as key to observing its provinces under the looming climate of security threats.

In addition to reconnaissance, some military-operated satellites are dedicated to communications. Back in March, the U.S. launched the AEHF-6 satellite, which will open up a line for efficiently relaying information between federal leaders and military personnel. Yet, beyond communications, there is still another facet to the global militarization of space, one not merely defensive but potentially offensive.

Iran’s military power continues to build, while the nerves of other world powers were put on end in April with the launch of Iran’s inaugural military satellite Noor. The months leading up to the achievement were marked with a number of similar attempts that all fell through. But the success of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Noor put an end to previous failures.

The result, as Reuters reported, was an irritated and unsettled response from U.S. military officials, who stated Iran has now proved it has the ability to launch long-range ballistic weapons upon U.S. allies in the vicinity. China, likewise, has precipitated the same sort of concern from the U.S. in the past decade.

It is reported that China has launched more than a hundred satellites into space, as of 2016, the majority of which are operated by firms with affiliation to both public and military activity. And in early 2019, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency made public a report concerning developments of Chinese and Russian anti-satellite projects. These endeavors could eventually aim at striking and destroying existing surveillance satellites.

The ongoing dilemma of militant, electronic eyes in the sky and its weaponized repercussions have a dynamism akin to the fear that plunged us into the Cold War. The possibility of being on the verge of  nuclear onslaught, perhaps positioned from somewhere outside our atmosphere, is a grim one. As time marches on, the warning of The Day the Earth Stood Still perhaps grows all the more pertinent.

The tensions generated particularly by potential threats such as Iran as well as the global investment in the militarization of space suggest a renewed focus on army transactions dealing with satellite and rocket technologies. The increasing attention and energy being put into these efforts can have long-term effects on the economy and military procedures.

Note: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the Political Chronicler.

John Tuttle

John Tuttle is a journalist who has had work published by The Hill, Tablet Magazine, Policy Network, and Inside Over.

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