The Real Danger From Space Weapons

Feb 22, 2016 | 10:00 GMT

Instead of racing to create weapons in space, countries are refining the technology needed to counter space-based platforms.

Weapons launched by the United States can take out one of its own derelict satellites -- or target those of a rival.

(U.S. Navy)

Forecast Highlights

  • Countries will continue to develop anti-satellite weapons to counter space-based military assets, including existing communications satellites and potential weapons.
  • However, as improved technology lowers costs and more countries deploy satellites and anti-satellite technology, space debris will become a bigger problem for all militaries with a stake in space.
  • Ultimately, with the U.S. military the most reliant on space-based technologies, the United States will have the most to lose from advances in other countries' anti-satellite systems. 

The militarization of space started long ago, but the true weaponization of space has yet to begin in earnest, at least publicly. Modern militaries depend on satellites for a number of vital functions. Orbital platforms act as a force multiplier for terrestrial operations and enable thermal image acquisition, weapons targeting through GPS and worldwide communications. Though space weapons have not yet been effectively deployed, the threat that they could be -- and the widespread use of non-weaponized satellites for military purposes -- has led countries to rush to create anti-satellite weapon technology as a deterrent. The problem is that this anti-satellite technology (widely referred to by the acronym ASAT) can also be used to target any satellites in orbit, particularly those used by the United States and its allies. The deployment of ASATs, though, comes at a price: The more anti-satellite weapons are used, the more debris from destroyed satellites...

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