The United States is back in the space race. We finally have the leadership in the military that sees the need to protect the last frontier. Our satellite assets must be shielded and it’s time to use our advanced technological advantage to develop space weaponry, before our enemies can.
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was a proposed missile defense system intended to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear weapons by both intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The system, which was to combine ground-based units and orbital deployment platforms, was first publicly announced by President Ronald Reagan.
The U.S. must be prepared to deal with Chinese aggression in space, said U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. John Hyten.
The U.S. military is dependent on satellites that are vulnerable to Chinese weapons, according to Hyten. He previously served as the leader of Air Force Space Command from 2014 to 2016 and has held numerous space related assignments over his 36 year-long military career.
“In the not-too-distant future, China will be able to use that capability to threaten every spacecraft we have in space,” Hyten said in a Department of Defense press release. “We have to prevent that, and the best way to prevent war is to be prepared for war. So, the United States is going to do that, and we’re going to make sure that everybody knows we’re prepared for war.”
The U.S. military uses satellites for navigation, communications, weather monitoring, ground surveillance, spying and missile defense. The threat against satellites has been obscured in today’s asymmetric warfare against terror cells that lack the ability to target U.S. space assets.
Defense experts believe China poses the biggest potential threat to U.S. space assets. China successfully destroyed one of its own satellites in 2007, and likely tested a ground-based missile launch system to destroy orbiting objects in 2013.
Defense officials believe China and Russia are developing space weapons capable of knocking out U.S. satellites, a potentially catastrophic edge in war. Such technology could turn a simple accident in space into a war between the U.S. and China, or even Russia. The Pentagon is pushing to create rules of conduct for space, and worry more space debris could make it harder to operate military satellites.
“Despite world interest in avoiding militarization of space, potential adversaries have identified the use of space as an advantage for U.S. military forces, and are actively fielding systems to deny our use of space in a conflict,” Hyten wrote in a white paper published in July.
“Securing our right to use space is simply an extension of an age-old principle to guarantee use of global commons,” he wrote.
China’s space program has made big leaps in recent years. The country staged a spacewalk, landed a rover on the Moon, increased its cooperation with Europe, and launched a demo space station since its first manned space launch in 2003.
China launched five crewed flights since 2003 and launched its second space station into orbit last September. The country’s annual space budget is less than the U.S., but most of NASA’s cash is spent on environmental issues and other fields not directly related to space exploration.
China is also developing a space plane that’ll go from runway to orbit and back down again at hypersonic speeds. When it is completed, the hypersonic space plane will boost the Asian country to the forefront of the aerospace industry, eclipsing the capabilities of the now retired Space Shuttle and competing with the cutting-edge British Skylon.
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is mining the best talent and technology in the aerospace field to create the next generation hybrid plane and spacecraft. The space plane will use a combined cycle engine that allows it to take off from an airport landing strip and blast into orbit.
Engine technology being developed for a British space plane could also find its way into hypersonic aircraft built by the U.S. military. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is studying hypersonic vehicles that would use the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which the English company Reaction Engines Ltd. is working on to power the Skylon space plane.
SABRE burns hydrogen and oxygen. It acts like a jet engine in Earth’s thick lower atmosphere, taking in oxygen to combust with onboard liquid hydrogen. SABRE reaches an altitude of 16 miles at five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5, which is about 4000 miles per hour. That’s a little more than a mile a second.
The Chinese have an advantage in space plane development. That can be blamed entirely on eight years of military budget cuts by Barrack Obama. The former Soviet Union was wide open with space weaponry development.
The Soviet Almaz secret military space station program was equipped with a fixed 23mm autocannon to prevent hostile interception or boarding by hostile forces. The Soviet unmanned Polyus weapons platform was designed to be equipped with a megawatt carbon-dioxide laser and a self-defense cannon. You can bet those programs have not been abandoned.
One area where the U.S. has a distinct advantage is in laser weapons. The U.S. Navy is moving at warp speed to develop lasers with more lethality, precision and power sources to destroy attacking missiles, drones, aircraft, and other threats.
“We’re doing a lot more with lasers,” Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director, Surface Warfare Division, said earlier this month at the annual Surface Naval Association national symposium. The Navy plans to fire a 150-kw weapon off a test ship within a year, he said. “Then a year later, we’ll have that on a carrier or a destroyer or both.”
That’s quite a jump from the kw AN/SEQ-3(XN-1) Laser Weapon System (LaWS), which deployed in 2014 on the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce. The kind of power needed to power such a weapon won’t come with a simple flip of a switch.
The Air Force is currently developing space based laser weapon systems on orbital platforms. These systems would be able to hit targets in space, in sub-orbital flight, or on the ground.
You can bet President Trump and Secretary Mattis will employ and develop all available options for our military. We will be able to strike from land, sea, air, and now space. We’re in good hands.