Space will be a battleground in future wars – and China and Russia are already developing weapons that could work in zero gravity, claims UK Defence Secretary
- UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace spoke about future warfare and technology
- He said weapons capable of destroying satellites were a risk to infrastructure
- Wallace argued that the UK needs to be ready to defend itself from these attacks
- He said cyberwarfare was also a serious issue and the country was under threat of ‘constant competition’ from a range of enemies wearing ‘many masks’
Britain needs to be prepared to defend itself in space, as future wars will be fought above the Earth using zero-gravity weapons, says the UK Defence Secretary.
In a speech on air and space power in the ‘age of constant competition’ Ben Wallace said China and Russia were already developing space-based weapons.
Satellites, that provide communication, intelligence, surveillance and navigation services will be a key battleground and need defending in future, he explained.
Beyond space, Wallace said the country should also be prepared for ‘constant competition’ from outside forces including possible ‘high-level cyber strikes’.
‘Today we’re facing coronavirus, tomorrow it could be a cyber strike. It’s clear the binary distinctions between peace and war have disappeared,’ he said.
Satellites, that provide communication, intelligence, surveillance and navigation services will be a key battleground and need defending in future,
A number of weapon types exist that can be used either from Earth-to-space, space-to-Earth or even within space itself, according to defence specialists.
This could be as simple as one satellite physically intercepting another satellite in order to disrupt or destroy it in a way that would impact national infrastructure.
Existing weapons are also a risk, with the Pentagon admitting it is concerned China or Russia could detonate a nuclear weapon in space.
This would generate an electromagnetic pulse that could fry the electronics of spacecraft and take out satellites without any warning.
‘China and Russia present the greatest strategic threat due to their development, testing and deployment of counterspace capabilities,’ the US government has said.
In a speech on air and space power in the ‘age of constant competition’ Ben Wallace said China and Russia were already developing space-based weapons
‘China and Russia each have weaponized space as a means to reduce US and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space.’
The biggest issue when it comes to space warfare is the risk of debris, as even the smallest piece of a destroyed satellite could cause serious and unexpected harm to other objects – and even humans – in orbit around the Earth.
It isn’t just nations gaining access to advanced technology, and Mr Wallace explained that cyberwarfare is as much of an issue as space warfare.
‘Our adversaries now wear many masks,’ Wallace said in his speech.
‘They know we’re dependent on IT. They know that Information Advantage is key. They know globalisation makes us more vulnerable,’ he explained.
‘So there’s a danger our competitors will use proxies and new technologies to outflank us’, adding we can’t sit back and let these states outmanoeuvre us anymore.
Wallace said in future we have to be prepared to make the ‘tough choices necessary to unmask and counter our opponents in the interests of promoting our national peace, purpose, and prosperity.’
It is no longer possible to pick and choose isolated battles, he said, adding we can’t think about ‘fighting the last war but instead prepare for constant competition.
‘That means asking ourselves what the air and space environment of 2030, 2040 or even 2050 will look like. How will we operate? How will we fight?’
In future he said the ‘battle space’ could be in actual space, with sub-surface, surface, air and space all playing a part in protecting Britain’s interests.
In 2007, Beijing successfully tested a surface-to-air missile strike against a satellite, according to the Pentagon and in 2017 Russia launched an ‘inspection satellite’.
The US Space Force also has a weapon capable of disrupting and knocking out enemy satellite transmissions.
Beyond space, Wallace said the country should also be prepared for ‘constant competition’ from outside forces including possible ‘high-level cyber strikes’
The Space Force said that it deliberately chose a non-kinetic anti-satellite weapon in order to avoid physically destroying enemy assets in space, which would create floating debris that could threaten friendly systems in orbit.
Wallace gave the example of Russian activity in the Ukraine where they used electronic warfare to jam enemy communications as a reason the UK needs to be prepared for a changing landscape.
This included using their own technology against them to locate and target troops by getting them to follow false GPS signals.
‘Russia and China are developing offensive weapons in space a major cause for concern,’ he said.
The US Space Force has a weapon capable of disrupting and knocking out enemy satellite transmissions without physically destroying them
‘Satellites don’t just provide our global communications, critical intelligence, and surveillance and navigation but underpin our critical national infrastructure from mobile phones, to cashpoints, to the stock market.’
He said there will need to be dramatic changes to the way the UK armed forces are structured, including a shift from Industrial Age to Information Age capabilities.
This involves investing in cyber, space, electronic warfare, AI, robotics and autonomy – coupled with their integration with the best of what already exists.
‘I have a vision of UK defence, where we’re able to join the dots between space, air, surface and sub-surface, so that the sum of the parts means much more than the value of the individual parts, and where we can do this in real time at the time and place of our choosing,’ Wallace said in his speech.
There will likely be cooperation with allied nations in space and cyberwarfare protections.
The United States’ closest intelligence allies, the ‘Five Eyes’ group (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the US), have been cooperating since 2014 within the Combined Space Operations initiative. France and Germany joined them in February.
SPACE WARS: NATIONS CONSIDER RULES TO GOVERN THE USE OF MILITARY WEAPONS IN SPACE
A group of more than 40 international experts are conducting a multi-year research project that will culminate in a Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space.
MILAMOS Project is to ensure space activities are conducted in accordance with the rule of law.
This will involve a consideration of the existing international rules on outer space.
It will also involve integration with international humanitarian law and the rules prohibiting the use of force.
The drafting of the rules will involve many meetings, heated discussions and compromises.
It is envisaged that at the end of the project the applicable rules will be agreed on the basis of consensus.
The MILAMOS Project is not an effort to condone warfare in outer space.
On the contrary, it seeks to prevent armed conflict and minimise the devastating impact that space technology and military operations may have on the long-term and peaceful use of outer space.
The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967, was agreed through the United Nations, and today it remains as the ‘constitution’ of outer space.
The space treaty states that celestial territory is not subject to ‘national appropriation’ – in other words, no country can lay claim to them.
In the fifty years the treaty has existed, it has yet to be violated.
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