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Is the Space Wars era upon us?

Proliferation of military satellite applications breeds dependency which, in turn, leads to adversaries developing counterspace capabilities. With the Middle East pushing ahead with space ambitions, a flurry of space weapons seems inevitable. As the space arms race peaks, how long will it take before warfare in space begins?

A still from the Call of Duty: Space Warfare trailer
A still from the Call of Duty: Space Warfare trailer
By John B. Sheldon

The last time the world powers were so publicly concerned about the prospect of warfare in outer space was in the 1980s, when US President Ronald Reagan launched his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Popularly dubbed “Star Wars”, the SDI was a missile defense programme that involved a significant space-based capability. During this time, the media and policy journals were filled with speculation and concern about the extension of war between the United States and the Soviet Union into the heavens.

The Cold War has long since ended, and for several decades the prospect of warfare in space disappeared along with the ideological confrontation between capitalism and Marxism. However, in the last couple of years, the spectre of combat in outer space has returned — and with a vengeance. As China, Russia, and the United States revive their age-old geopolitical competition with each other, tensions are once again returning to outer space as the great powers develop weapons and counterspace capabilities, the technologies designed to deny adversaries access to space. Compounding this geopolitical competition in space is the fact that many of these counterspace capabilities are rapidly proliferating around the world, allowing a range of countries and even non-state organisations the potential ability to purposefully interfere with legitimate space operations.

As more and more countries in the Middle East acquire their own satellites for civil, commercial and security purposes, and as counterspace capabilities continue to proliferate, the prospect of warfare in outer space is no longer exclusive to the great powers.

 

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