WASHINGTON (December 10, 2019)—A congressional conference committee has agreed to include the creation of a space force in a must-pass defense bill in exchange for paid parental leave benefits for federal workers. What is missing from the debate over the horse trade, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), is the fact that a space force is a very bad idea.
Below is a statement by Laura Grego, a physicist and senior scientist in the Global Security Program at UCS.
“At best a space force is a distraction from what is necessary to ensure space security in the face of rapid technological and geopolitical changes. At worst, it would prompt a space arms race that would threaten U.S. military and civilian satellites, not protect them. Diplomacy, not bureaucratic reorganization is urgently needed.
“The Pentagon insists that keeping space predictable and safe is the core purpose of whatever reorganization they do. To be sure, that mission is important and stabilizing, but it doesn’t need a new military service. Creating a new military service focused on space will create bureaucratic incentives to hype the space weapons threat and build new weapons. Pentagon officials emphasize that Russia and China are developing anti-satellite technology, but they leave out the fact that the United States is far ahead in sophistication as well as capacity of such technology.
“In fact, having anti-satellite weapons will do very little to keep one’s own satellites safe from attack. And unconstrained space weapons development will lead to a competition that makes space more dangerous, costly and unpredictable to use.
“In the absence of any international agreements about protecting satellites and the outer space environment, more countries are developing weapons that can destroy satellites in orbit. Earlier this year, for example, India successfully tested its anti-satellite system, obliterating its own satellite. It proudly proclaimed that it had joined the ‘elite club of space powers.’
“Testing anti-satellite technology, much less engaging in an actual conflict in space, can have profound ripple effects. The destruction of a single large satellite in low Earth orbit could more than double the amount of dangerous debris in the orbits most often used for weather observations, earth imaging and space-based internet service.
“We all would be better off with international agreements that constrain conduct and particularly dangerous technologies in space. The international community has struggled to overcome ideological divisions to reach agreements, but the benefits of continuing to try are obvious. Despite the United States having the most investment in space—nearly half of all satellites—it has put very little time into diplomatic efforts to keep space safe.
“Keeping space safe is critical, not just for military purposes, but for the billions of civilians who rely on the nearly 2,000 satellites circling the planet, the vast majority of which are non-military, which provide critical communications and economic services.”