The real danger from space weapons
April-July 2016
By: Stratfor

The militarization of space started long ago, but true weaponization 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 global positioning satellites and worldwide communications.

Although space weapons have not yet been effectively deployed, the threat that they could be – and the widespread use of nonweaponized satellites for military purposes – has led countries to rush to create antisatellite weapon technology as a deterrent. The problem is that this antisatellite 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 antisatellite weapons are used, the more debris from destroyed satellites is created. This debris is continually and indiscriminately harmful to commercial and military satellites alike, and the situation is only getting worse.

ASAT technology first became apparent during the Cold War, but during the last decade it has become an area of intense competition for the world's most capable militaries. And as these militaries develop and refine the associated technologies, ASAT capability will become cheaper and more accessible to smaller ones. More nations will inevitably join the reinvigorated space race, as Iran and North Korea already have. The problem is that satellites ultimately mean more space debris, which poses an indiscriminate threat. Yet there is little alternative. Larger militaries want the assurance that they can counter any attempt to weaponize and militarize space, and international endeavors have largely failed to provide those assurances through diplomatic means.

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