For a long time, the concept of ‘star wars’ has ceased to be solely literary fiction. It is a real issue pertaining to the reality that states are taking steps to increase their military capabilities in all dimensions of armed struggle . Current policies and strategies of various countries indicate that space conflicts are a real threat, affecting not only extraterrestrial space itself, but also the Earth’s surface.
Since the first space race , which lasted from 1957 to 1975, space began to be within the interests of two, major countries – the US and the USSR. Nowadays, the current rivalry with a broader scope (more competing states) can be called the ‘second space race’, which refers to the continuation of activities carried out by states in extraterrestrial space. Within the framework of the ventures carried out in the military sphere, it is noticeable that there is a clear competition occurring between countries that are striving to increase their military capabilities in space and achieve capabilities that allow them to at least actively defend their national interests. Space is considered by these entities as a convenient environment in which it is possible for armed forces to conduct operations and, as a result, achieve military superiority. Progressive tendencies are identified with the long process of militarization of space. During the first space race, it was mainly explored to study the natural conditions therein, while now it is being explored for the purpose of conducting operations of a military nature in it.
The increase in the activity of states in space focusing on its militarization , and weaponization , has been noticed in recent years by NATO. As a result, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has undertaken analytical activities focused on identifying hitherto unknown sources of military threats to security , which may be generated by ventures in space . In turn, during the NATO summit on July 11–12, 2023 in Vilnius, in the wake of the armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization officially announced the improvement of nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities of member states as a complement to space capability measures and a defensive element of strategic deterrence .
This issue was raised during an interview with an expert.
What has prompted the interest in space militarily these days?
The main reason for considering contemporary military use of space, was an event taking place on November 20, 2019 in Brussels. As previously announced by the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg, foreign ministers at a meeting – Session of the North Atlantic Council of member states decided that space would constitute a new area of military operations – the fifth domain of combat. This event was considered a breakthrough and the official creation of military capabilities by the individual countries of the Alliance. This fact was the first official announcement of the changes, which were repeatedly debated and approved at the NATO summit in London on December 3–4, 2019. Since then, the next phases of development of this domain, which are called militarization and weaponization of space, have begun.
What do these terms mean?
Currently, two terms are used and distinguished – militarization and weaponization of space (Cosmos) in an ambivalent manner. For militarization – as a term with a broader meaning – is considered the performance of tasks in space aimed at supporting military operations – the placement of elements of military equipment. Armament, on the other hand, is considered to be the operational deployment of weapons in space and on Earth that are capable of destroying or disrupting elements of an adversary’s space systems. Both of these concepts are also considered in chronological terms. Militarization is considered the first stage, followed by the second, contemporary stage – weaponization.
So what can be used to fight in space and which weapons are most effective?
Space combat assets are strictly defined and classified. Space weapons are considered kinetic and non–kinetic means of warfare, with which it is possible to affect space assets deployed in both the space segment and the supporting ground and user segments. Currently, four types of ‘space weapons’ are distinguished, namely kinetic, non–kinetic, electronic and cyber weapons. The characteristics that differentiate these types of weapons are the effects achieved (destruction), the level of technological sophistication, as well as the activation of resources necessary for their deployment and use. From the difference in their characteristics also comes the method of use, the method of detecting the target, as well as the durability of the effects they produce. Today, the targets under attack may be elements of satellite systems – individual satellites – deployed in space, or elements of the ground infrastructure of satellite systems, the so–called satellite ground infrastructure. It is difficult to unequivocally estimate which of the means of space warfare developed and used today is the most effective. Certainly, in recent times, the use of electronic weapons has been very popular, the action of which focuses on flaunting the components responsible for communication, through which satellites transmit and receive data. Two techniques stand out among this type of warfare: jamming and spoofing. Jamming involves generating a signal directed toward the device being jammed. This type of electronic attack uses a radio–frequency signal transmitted in the same frequency band within the field of view of the antenna (or other device) being targeted. Unlike kinetic attacks, electronic weapons cause reversible effects, meaning that they flare at the target during the jammer’s interaction, and when the jammer is on, communication takes place properly. In addition, high mobility and low mass of jammer devices can be demonstrated as attributes of these weapons. Spoofing, on the other hand, involves the transmission of false signals of a satellite navigation system, which aims to lead to the determination, by the receiver of these signals, of incorrect information about its position, speed and current time. The effect of a spoofing attack directed at a satellite, for example, is to take control of it and, in some cases, change its trajectory by miscalculating its coordinates and physically destroying it.
Which countries are currently leading the way in ‘conquering Space’?
The catalog of countries is also strictly defined. If we take, as criteria, the above types of ‘space weapons’ as well as their development, it can be concluded that currently such a catalog includes: United States of America, Russian Federation, People’s Republic of China (PRC), Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), India. The order listed is also not coincidental and indicates in turn the countries from the highest space power to having the lowest space capabilities. However, it should be noted that post–2019 activities have acquired a large dynamic of development of military capabilities, which may lead to small changes in the defined catalog of state actors. Interestingly, the development of the indicated means of warfare by individual states is different. The United States of America, as a small number of actors, is developing ASAT technology, having a wealth of experience already drawn from the 1980s, where a test successfully destroyed a target – a satellite orbiting at an altitude of 555 km. The Russian Federation, in turn, has electronic weapons on operational alert, the effectiveness of which was proven during the armed conflict during the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and in the recent hostilities in Syria. These means of warfare allow destructive impact on satellite systems (especially communications satellites) orbiting in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The People’s Republic of China is rapidly developing laser and microwave weapons. It is estimated that these measures that China has achieved significant laser weapon capabilities capable of destroying optical components of satellites and blinding them. Evidence for such a thesis is provided by recorded incidents of blinding US satellites as they pass their trajectory through Chinese territory. Another development area is characterized by North Korea. This country has a high capability to conduct cyber operations against elements of space infrastructure. These activities are carried out by some 6,000 hackers working for the Korean government, which controls the execution of their tasks. In addition, they are usually conducted from a location other than Korean territory, the purpose of which is to make it difficult to inquire into responsibility for the harmful cyber activities conducted. One of the most spectacular cyberattacks includes an act against India’s largest nuclear power plant, Kudankulam, carried out in early September 2019. In its aftermath, the state’s critical infrastructure was breached, without taking control or causing physical damage.
What factors will define the further development of this combat domain?
At present, it is important to note several areas that will affect the further development of Space in military terms. There will certainly be an increase in the number of state and non–state centers in space. The number of actors using space is projected to increase. Currently, only 13 of the world’s 70 government agencies have the capacity to launch satellites or astronauts to perform missions on the International Space Station. So it is estimated that such space activities will take on a multinational and multisectoral character, also involving non–state centers. Another area is the commercialization of Space – that is, the possibility for non–state organizations – often private companies – to use space. Some of them, such as Space–X, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, have started various types of space programs. However, it is estimated that the next five years will be a period of preliminary research and testing, verifying the potential of these organizations. Satellite navigation the emergence of new local and global satellite navigation systems and their integration into larger systems is also to be expected. The current trend is to build and expand (upgrade) existing satellite navigation systems. One example is the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system, which is expected to have greater accuracy and coverage, particularly at higher latitudes. The integration of global systems such as GPS, GLONASS with local systems, e.g. BeiDou, will allow new capabilities, such as positioning in confined spaces, and greater resistance to interference. Currently and in the near future, the development of regional (local) satellite navigation systems is expected. In addition to such advantages as increased accuracy and their immunity to interference, it can be conceded that their greatest advantage (especially in military applications) is their lack of dependence on global systems provided by foreign government entities. Another factor whose development should be considered as a function of time is dominance in space. The dynamics of development in this area will most likely result in the crowding of Space. Naturally, this will force competition between states for access, use and control of this area. Placing various types of technologies in it, such as anti–satellite technologies, will increase the level of tensions between states. Very relevant today is the increase in the global level of cyber threat. This implies an increase in cyber threats and a demand for increased levels of cyber security. In addition, a decrease in the number of ransomware attacks is to be expected, in favor of an increasing number of cyber attacks targeting the critical infrastructure of states, including space infrastructure and its assets. Emerging new cyber threats should be taken into account. On the structural aspect at the national level, one of them may be the application of information technology to the provision of government services (electronic governance/e–governance) – the exchange of information, communication transactions, as well as the integration of various independent systems in different relationships, such as government–to–business (G2B), government–to–government (G2G) and others.
Dr. Radosław Bielawski
Graduate of the Jarosław Dąbrowski Military University of Technology in Warsaw and doctoral studies carried out at the Warsaw University of Technology. He is currently an academic lecturer at the Department of Power and Aeronautical Engineering, Warsaw University of Technology. In 2023, he received a postdoctoral degree in social sciences in the scientific discipline – security sciences. The expert’s current research interests are: militarization and weaponization of space, potentiometry and potentiometry, aviation and aerospace, and cyber security.
 The dimensions of armed struggle are: land, sea, airspace, cyberspace, space.
 The space race was based on planning and performing research in space, learning about the conditions in space, developing situational awareness and placing artificial satellites in orbits around the earth. This allowed the development of the first global navigation, telecommunications and observation systems. The term ‘space race’ is analogous to the term ‘arms race’.
 Militarization of space – passive activities, which are not the pursuit of active military attack, that result in the placement of satellites in orbit around the Earth for reconnaissance, secure communications, surveillance and observation of the space domain, vide: The militarization and weaponization of space: Towards a European space deterrent [in:] Space Policy, vol. 24(2), p. 61.
 Weaponization of space – the process of deploying armaments in the space domain, which can then become the theater of military operations of the armed forces, through the use of weapons aimed at destroying targets in orbit around the Earth or on the Earth’s surface, vide: R. Bielawski, Potęgometric dimension of militarization of space, Publishing House of the Military University of Technology, Warsaw 2022, pp. 17–18; K. Myszona–Kostrzewa, E. Mreńca, P. B. Zientarski, Legal Aspects of Space Activities, Senate Information Centre Editing and Printing Department, Warsaw 2019, p. 27.
 Vide: A. Radomska, Contemporary Military Threats in Space Domain [in:] Bellona Quarterly, No. 3(706)/2021, pp. 63–74.
 Space24, Space an operational domain of NATO. Approval of the North Atlantic Council, online – https://www.space24.pl/kosmos-domena-operacyjna-nato-aprobata-rady-polnocnoatlantyckiej [accessed: 19.10.2023].
 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Vilnius Summit Communiqué, online – https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_217320.htm?selectedLocale=en [accessed: 19.10.2023].
Photo: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, 60 Years of Marshall Space Flight Center, online – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasamarshall/ [accessed: 3.11.2023].
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