As the United States military machine becomes increasingly dependent upon constellations of satellites for its command, control and communications, potential adversaries such as China and Russia have become experimenting with methods to destroy or disable the satellites. Now U.S. strategists are sounding the alarm about anti-satellite weapons, or ASATs, reports GeekWire.
“We built [the command and control satellites] as if we were in a benign domain.” said Lt. Gen. John Shaw, commander of the U.S. Space Force’s Space Operations Command. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that space is becoming “a contested domain.”
Adding complexity to the strategic thinking about space is a potential phenomenon sometimes referred to as the Kessler syndrome. Donald J. Kessler wrote in 1979 how the density of objects in Low EarthOrbit could get high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade — creating debris that struck other objects, thus creating more debris. The movie “Gravity” was based on a scenario in which the Russians shot down a defunct satellite, creating a cloud of debris moving at 20,000 to 50,000 miles per hour. Apparently, military thinkers give such a scenario credence.
“If nations start arming with ASATs as a way to deter other nations from attacking their orbital assets, they risk creating a new form of mutually assured destruction,” said Brad Townsend, a space strategy advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
One answer is to create a treaty banning the use of space weapons. But Russia and China have views very different from those of the United States about what such a treaty would look like. They have far more to gain strategically than the United States from the use of ASATs, which would neutralize the enormous U.S. lead in satellite-based command-and-control infrastructure.