21 June 2018 – Vancouver, CA
by Stewart Webb
US President Donald Trump announced the creation of a new branch for the American military – a “Space Force”. According to Trump, a Space Force is integral for the survivability of the US armed forces. In his words: “It’s so important for our military — so important — and people don’t talk about it.” The announcement of the creation of the Space Force lasted only 2 minutes out of the 9 minutes and 26 seconds of his space-related announcement.
It is true that Trump revitalized the National Space Council and put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of it. That council has order the creation of an air traffic control system for space – which is understandable because of the amount of junk orbiting our planet. President Trump also announced this initiative in his press conference. However, it was a jumbled announcement with Trump discussing how billionaires have fixations with rockets and how they will try and support new space initiatives by renting real estate for launch pads or renting the launch pads…Trump did not provide details. Trump did not also provide details on what threats the Space Force would deter or what the Space Force would even be.
President Trump insists that the US will be the protector of space. He does ignore the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. This treaty does stipulate that space should be neutral and not militarized. Although the United States has removed itself from the UN Human Rights Council, it is unlikely that the US military will condone the militarization of space and go against that treaty.
The question, of course, is: “what threats will the US be facing in space?” It is doubtful that Russia is attempting to create an intergalactic space force to stymie American influence in our solar system or abroad. It is also unlikely that a “Moonraker” scenario will occur when an influential billionaire obsessed with space will plot to unleash a nerve toxin on the global population to rid it from overpopulation and recreate the Earth with a carefully selected sample of men and women to populate the Earth. I only bring this up because apparently the US trained military personnel to operate in space with laser. Although, this may be a conspiracy theory: what if this is part of the plot? What if President Trump were to “rent out launch space” for another billionaire and then create a Space Force that would be inept from combating such a threat? If this is not a conspiracy theory yet, it should be.
The True Threat
Unfortunately, the true threat is boring in comparison. The US military is reliant on satellite communication, from GPS to real-time communications to drone operators and everything in between. It is not just communications between a US general in Afghanistan, but also between drone pilots and their drones. But it could also cripple the Global Positioning System (GPS) and would affect fighter pilots, warships, and even the average soldiers on the ground. The military concept is C5ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), which encapsulates a military’s ability to command, control, communicate, gather intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and its ability to utilize computers, and combat systems. Essentially, C5ISR is how a modern military works and how reliant it is on digital technology. In the First Gulf War and the NATO air campaign over Yugoslavia, it was only known as C3. The ability for a general to “command, control and communicate” with his troops. Cutting C3, then, meant,cutting off the ability for any military to provide command or direction to its troops. Cutting C5ISR now means cutting off the ability for the enemy to communicate, attack or defend. No GPS to call in support or knowledge where they are, no real-time communication or UAVs.
It is not a new threat. Back in 2007, China test launched its anti- satellite (ASAT) missile against one of its aging weather satellites. China has been developing its Dong Ning-2 ASAT missile and has been testing it over the past decade. The Soviet Union and the United States have tested comparable weapons before; the US had in the 1980s, but none were actually deployable.
Last year, three Russian satellites were sent into a low Earth orbit and are theorized to be satellite killers themselves. The launch of the Chinese SY-7 in 2013 also had experts wondering if it were a satellite killing satellite. And again, last year, China tested another ground-based satellite killer missile. In addition to this, it is not just America’s potential enemies that are investing in this technology – India has so as well.
The satellite threat is not only based missile technology, but also cyber. It was reported, this week, that three computers originating from China have been attempting to hack some computers that control satellites. The hackers would not even have to redirect communications or anything, but just limit the satellites’ bandwidth to cause havoc. Not only that, but it would also give access to communications. It took the United States years to encrypt its video feed from its Predator drones. It has been publicized that Iraqi insurgents were able to capture the live feed from a Predator drone in 2009 using a $26 software. Also in 2002, a British engineer, who scans satellite signals as a hobby, stumbled across a live NATO video feed from a US drone. If that is how unprotected those live video feeds were, imagine the venerability of the US military satellite system if one were to gain access through a cyber means.
What would the Space Force look like?
The plethora of ASAT missiles being developed and the vulnerability of the US military, if these satellites were neutralized, would suggest that there will be an anti-ballistic missile system component. The US would have to figure out a way to protect its satellites from the ground as military equipment in space is strictly forbidden. However, now that Chinese hackers are also attempting to neutralize the satellite network through cyber means – it would suggest that a cyber component would also have to be implemented.
At the same point, what would be the point to only have a defensive, or preventative, option. Foreseeably, the US Space Force would design offensive countermeasures in order to subvert other nations’ satellite reliance for military communications. As outlined previously, C5ISR is essential for a modern military and the United States cannot afford for that critical infrastructure to be neutralized. Although, the United States also cannot afford for that critical infrastructure to remain intact if they wage war against a modernized, conventional military. The US Space Force will not just be a series of ASAT missiles or anti-ASAT countermeasures, but will also encompass a cyber component – if not
So regrettably, the US may not be entering an arms race that will create a military force that is stationed on space stations or starships. Nor, at the moment, will the United States be building a Death Star. But the creation of the “Space Force” might actually be the game changer when it comes to cyber offensive and defensive measures. In fact, if one thinks about it – the Space Force might just be the Cyberspace Force.
Feature Photo – “Dark Helmet Cosplay at San Diego Comic-Con – 2012” -Wikimedia Commons, 2018
Inset Photo – “Soviet Space Marine at Igromir, 2012” – Sergey Galyonkin, Flickr, 2018
DefenceReport’s Analysis is a multi-format blog that is based on opinions, insights and dedicated research from DefRep editorial staff and writers. The analysis expressed here are the author’s own and are separate from DefRep reports, which are based on independent and objective reporting.
Stewart is the editor for DefenceReport. Stewart holds a MScEcon in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and holds a BA in Political Science from Acadia University. His specialties include South Asian and Canadian defence issues. He has made frequent appearances on CTV National News, and other Canadian media outlets both radio and TV. Stewart can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org