The United States has entered a new âgreat powerâ contest with Russia and China, which is experiencing an even more extensive arms race. This involves cyber warfare, in addition to the realm of conventional and nuclear weapons.
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From the end of the 2000s, it reached another dimension: space. Global sphere which now includes even the cyber, nuclear and conventional fields, its dynamics and its nuances are much more delicate and destabilizing.
Conventional warfare uses space resources to monitor adversaries, guide missiles, jets, and communications. Even something as simple as a Global Positioning System (GPS) for military and civilian purposes is transmitted by satellites.
Nuclear warfare, on the other hand, uses the same satellites to monitor enemy missiles, track their launches, alert countries of an attack, and guide missiles.
Emerging threats to satellites
Cyber ââwarfare also has a direct impact on space, as almost all of the Internet and all communication goes through satellites. Thus, if a country attacks its adversary’s cyber networks, it would affect its satellites because the networks are linked to space assets.
Conversely, if the country attacks the adversary’s satellites, this will also affect its computer systems.
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Additionally, simple weapons like missiles that are used to shoot down jets and other incoming nuclear missiles can themselves (along with their radars) be reused to knock out enemy satellites.
On March 27, 2019 in India, the Anti-Satellite Test (ASAT) used a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) interceptor to eliminate its own satellite, a prime example of the overlap between BMD systems and space warfare.
This India’s ASAT effort itself was a distant result the abrogation by the United States of the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) of 1975 in December 2001 is another story. It sparked an arms race because of the acceleration it triggered in Russian, Chinese and ultimately Indian missile programs.
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The last movement of the United States
Given how deeply entangled space is in all other forms of weaponry and in civilian life, the The push of the US military declassifying a hitherto super-secret weapon to wreak havoc on enemy satellites and deter Russia and China, deserves a debate.
Speculation ranges from a land mobile laser to blind enemy satellites; radio frequency jammers on the satellites themselves to target enemy space assets, or; high power microwave systems to disrupt the electronics of other satellites.
Experts, however, are evaluating the possibility that this is a direct ascension system, where a missile launched from Earth hits a satellite in space, very low.
The last such test carried out by the United States was the Operation Burnt Frost the downing of a satellite on February 20, 2008, in which a standard missile (SM-3) launched from a US Navy Aegis destroyer destroyed a USA-193 reconnaissance satellite.
Something that had sparked massive outrage and space security / debris alarms, the United States had justified having lost the decaying satellite that would have leaked the highly toxic hydrazine fuel on board.
It also proved that a very advanced BMD ground-to-air system had limited ASAT capabilities. With the official unclassified memo from Defense Secretary Llyod Austin of July 7 pledge To avoid space debris, a direct ascension kinetic destruction weapon like this remains highly unlikely.
Is it a laser weapon?
One possibility could be a ground mobile laser weapon designed to blind or deactivate enemy satellites in low earth orbit (LEO). Altitude below 2000 kilometers from sea level falls into this category.
In 2002, the Bush administration announced the Counter-Surveillance Reconnaissance System (CSRS or “Scissors”), which was abruptly canceled in 2004. Although the Pentagon never officially disclosed what the device was , experts thought it was a laser to blind the optical systems of satellites. .
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Another guess is an on-board RF jammer – either carried by US satellites themselves or by handy “bodyguard” satellites that move around to protect vulnerable space assets.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) launched in 2003 and 2005 the maneuver satellites XSS-10 and XXS-11 respectively.
In 2014, the USAF tested a similar satellite called Automated Navigation and Guidance Experiment for Local Space (ANGELS) for Space Situational Awareness (SSA).
In 2019, AFRL also tested the EAGLE system, in which one of three small satellites performed an SSA, monitoring the nearby space environment. The United States also uses the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness (GSSAP) program, a constellation of SSA stationed in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO).
Most of the world’s communications satellites, including those of the US military, are in GEO.
The Pentagon says it is monitoring space debris and other enemy satellites. Experts are pretty sure that the GSSAP also carries some sort of on-board RF jammer or low power laser.
While lasers can burn through a satellite’s solar panels, there are technical barriers to its effectiveness. Even a small scale offensive laser system uses a lot of power, which on any satellite is limited.
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Finally, the DoD has long been interested in high-powered microwave weapons, which has resulted in a 1996 study titled âOperational Analysis for Air Force 2025: An Application of Value-Based Thinking to Future Air and Space Capabilitiesâ.
This provided for microsatellites carrying a miniature microwave weapon to detonate satellites or ballistic missiles in mid-flight.