Thursday, January 25, 2007

There are already weapons in space

The relatively recent Chinese test of a satellite-killing rocket has the world rather disturbed.

The reasons for this are clear on a few fronts:

  1. It's been a long standing international agreement to keep space weapons-free.
  2. So much of our modern communications infrastructure depends on satellites. The ability to knock these satellites out poses a very strong threat.
Being the Starfleet Academy dork that I am, I'm a fan of leaving our petty territorial self interested small mindedness behind us when we're off our home planet. We're on a peaceful mission of exploration. But I reserve the right to reconsider if we invent photon torpedoes. Those are kind of cool. And we don't want aliens thinking we're pussies.

But the reality is that there are already weapons in space. While there aren't any objects recognizable as guns or bombs or missiles, there are tools used to direct guns, bombs and missiles: Communications and GPS satellites.

Much of affluent, Western nations' ability to project conventional military power stems from access to this superior communications infrastructure. It gives these nations' forces superior organizational and targeting abilities in a conventional war. If the Iraqi military could have taken down this infrastructure, they would have. Lacking cruise missiles themselves, taking out the brains of our smart bombs rebalances the technological asymmetry a bit. And while I may be off on which weapons systems rely on which communications technology, the fact remains that our military needs those satellites to wage technologically enhanced war.

China's new capability is disturbing. The right Machiavellian course of action is not to whine at them to take apart, bury and never use the technology they've spent so much time and energy creating. That's idealistic idiocy. The Chinese can now officially take out satellites. The right strategic thinking will take that capacity as a given, and formulate the best response. I suppose we could just send up the space shuttle with some astronauts and a sledge hammer and pay all the Chinese satellites a "maintenance visit". And then we'd all be blind.

Posturing around the "Hey, no weapons in space" line is feeble. Their weapon isn't actually in space, anyway. It just goes to space to take out other weapons, already in space. I hope it serves as further incentive to keep relations civil between the two nations. But let's not pretend that space isn't already militarized. GPS is a weapon. We've got weapons in space.