Is space the final frontier of warfare? Siddharth Trivedi explores whether the offensive capabilities of space infrastructure will be needed one day.
The Star Wars franchise is close to the hearts of many around the world for depicting adventurous stories of love and loss throughout a fictional galaxy. The iconic series has continued to wow audiences since the release of A New Hope (1977) in its portrayal of epic space battles, featuring dogfights between the futuristic X-Wing and the sleek TIE Fighters.
With the highly anticipated upcoming release of the seventh chapter in the epic saga, The Force Awakens promises similarly breathtaking, intense space battles. But this makes one wonder: did the Death Star only exist “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, or is it coming very soon near Earth? Are space battles in our near future?
Why not go to war?
In fiction, there are many reasons as to why space battles take place. In Star Wars, battles over key planets like Endor, were instrumental in overthrowing a galactic dictatorship, whilst Ender’s Game explores a defensive war against invading aliens.
But what about in reality? Whilst an alien invasion may not be a likely threat, the depletion of resources is. Allegedly, many current wars are centred on securing resources like food and oil. And what is currently the most valuable resource? Information. Information warfare is an upcoming field and is widely predicted to be the main cause of future wars in space.
Roughly 1300 satellites orbit the Earth, responsible for communication, GPS and planetary surveillance. The majority of the information gathered by satellites is used in modern warfare, providing important intel for strategic advantage in various military operations. The use of spy satellites has been common for many years now, with the US currently superior in terms of the sheer number of satellites.
The majority of the information gathered by satellites is used in modern warfare
Clearly satellites are of high importance, not only to a country’s safety, but also to the global communications infrastructure.
During the Cold War, the USSR and US invested heavily in boosting their offensive capabilities in space, only for both to independently drop their programs. The likelihood that a conflict could cripple the entire civilisation’s space-based infrastructure, resulting in a “Judgement Day”, was far too great.
Technology as it stands
Over the next five years, the US will be spending $5 billion on offensive and defensive capabilities in space. Though technology is far from X-wing standard, the US is investing heavily into Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites and X-37B robotic space planes. Whilst their current objectives are to monitor all space-based infrastructure, they can easily be reprogramed with offensive capabilities.
Satellites can be downed in many ways: missiles can be used to destroy them completely, lasers can permanently disable sensors, orbits can be manually destabilised, and transmissions can be hijacked using radio waves.
Recently, the US Navy has developed the cheap and efficient Laser Weapons System (LaWS) that can shoot down drones and boats within a mile. The chance of enhancing LaWS to space does not appear to be a tall task. So maybe we will see some space battles, Star Wars style!
Watching Star Wars, and the extraordinary depiction of fictional space battles, may not be too far away from today’s reality with the existence of LaWS and the imminent threat of information war. Though, in exchange for the pretty visuals, do be prepared to leave all forms of modern communication behind!