Space – The final frontier. Mankind’s fascination with anything seemingly unattainable conforms to his established repute. Slowly but steadily he has grown from spears and bows to guns and missiles to a point wherein Space is the only and next destination. Space warfare is already underway pioneered by the United States and Russia, albeit ancillary to conventional warfare. Satellites of various pedigree and derivations are being integrated to provide guidance to both troops and munitions, provide imagery data, amplify critical communication reach and do a plethora of other things. The increasingly significant part being accorded to Space thus merits concern.
Space and Space Warfare
On the face of it, Space is defined as the physical universe beyond earth’s atmosphere, consisting of hard vacuum, with a baseline temperature of 2.7kelvin. But a closer study would reveal the ambiguity in this theoretical definition for the limit of the earth’s atmosphere and the universe beyond is uncertain. The ambiguity rises as the limit is relative, whether it is for survival or propulsion of ducted engines or the lowest perigee of satellites in orbit. However, the Karman line, at an altitude of 100km above mean sea level, is conventionally accepted as the limit.
When the military confrontations between two hostile parties reach beyond this Karman line to infinity, it is termed Space Warfare. It can be direct offensive or defensive operations of war with Space exploited as a medium or just the presence of space assets in a blanket medium augmenting conventional warfare on Land, Water or Air. By and large, Space warfare is an extension of Aerial Warfare and thus it encompasses many mainstay principles and operations of the latter including control of airspace, damage rival space assets or attack ground or space based enemy concentrations or targets.
Space warfare but differs markedly in two ways. First is the remarkable change in aerodynamic laws governing aerial warfare which cease to exist. Thus, with the air in earth’s atmosphere giving way to vacuum and dark matter of space, the munitions and delivery vehicles need more than air-breathing internal mechanisms and components for propulsion and ballistics. Second is the Outer Space treaty of 1967 which bans the use, testing or storage of weapons of mass destruction outside the earth’s atmosphere although it does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit.
The aforementioned definitions and distinct features thus result in the characterisations of Military Space Operations. Space warfare, therefore, includes Control of Aerospace for freedom of military operations and denial of the same to adversaries, Space-based Navigation, Satellite Communications, Surveillance and Threat Warning, Command and Control, Information Operations, Non-Nuclear Missile Strikes and Defence.
These Military Space Operations, to make concrete, lead to the requirement of a motley collection of systems, which can be catalogued into the following categories based on utility:
Space Delivery Systems to launch or recover space assets.
Space Support Technology for communications, surveillance, navigation and reconnaissance.
Space and Counter-Space Defence Technology against missile strikes both space based or terrestrial, cyber hacks,etc.
Platforms or Space Assets for delivery of troops or weapons.
With the assemblage of space systems in place, we come about the governing concepts of Space Warfare:
Mobility in Space: The environment is not subject to the limitations of territorial boundaries, weather or the time of day, thereby augmenting observation, communication and transportation.
Integration of Information Systems: Through use of space assets overlaid over land, sea and air, the information systems are all connected and working in tandem under a blanket space info system, thus monumentally increasing battle awareness.
Illimitable Strike Capability: Refers to the increased capability of space assets to provide reconnaissance, navigation, communication, and command and control support and to the usage of space-based weapons systems to strike terrestrial and space-based targets.
While Space Warfare is still in constrained but steady stages of development worldwide, it can be anticipated that these concepts will be accomplished in near future to conduct all of the military space operations mentioned earlier followed by operations to disrupt and destroy space systems and further on to use of space forces to strike terrestrial and space based targets.