Wednesday, August 12, 2015

When it comes to war in space, U.S. has the edge

When it comes to war in space, U.S. has the edge: Quietly and without most people noticing, the world’s leading space powers — the United States, China and Russia — have been deploying new and more sophisticated weaponry in space.

Earth’s orbit is looking more and more like the planet’s surface — heavily armed and primed for war. A growing number of “inspection” satellites lurk in orbit, possibly awaiting commands to sneak up on and disable or destroy other satellites. Down on the surface, more and more warships and ground installations pack powerful rockets that, with accurate guidance, could reach into orbit to destroy enemy spacecraft.

A war in orbit could wreck the delicate satellite constellations that the world relies on for navigation, communication, scientific research and military surveillance. Widespread orbital destruction could send humanity through a technological time warp. “You go back to World War Two,” Air Force General John Hyten, in charge of U.S. Space Command, told 60 Minutes. “You go back to the Industrial Age.”

It’s hard to say exactly how many weapons are in orbit. That’s because many spacecraft are “dual use.” They have peaceful functions and potential military applications. With the proverbial flip of a switch, an inspection satellite, ostensibly configured for orbital repair work, could become a robotic assassin capable of taking out other satellites with lasers, explosives or mechanical claws. Until the moment it attacks, however, the assassin spacecraft might appear to be harmless. And its dual use gives its operators political cover. The United States possesses more space weaponry than any other country, yet denies that any of its satellites warrant the term.