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The Likelihood of Further US Space Militarization

The Likelihood of Further US Space Militarization

On September 18th, Northrop Grumman, a global security industry giant, announced that it had entered into agreements to purchase aviation and space producer Orbital ATK for $7.8 billion, taking on $1.4 billion worth of net debt. The deal received unanimous approval from both parties’ boards of directors and is planned to go into effect in early 2018.

Northrop’s planned acquisition of Orbital ATK represents the largest deal of this nature in the past two years, and puts pressure on other defense giants to also consolidate smaller companies that specialize in space capabilities. Industry-wide consolidations of this nature would streamline the development of new space weaponry that meets the Pentagon’s growing demand for advancements in space-based tech. Potential consolidations coupled with the $700 billion senate approved 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, and calls for rapid space-based modernization from congressional lawmakers and pentagon officials alike, signifies desire for a greater US presence in space.

There are several credible reasons to believe that the United States is seeking to not only increase, but also to weaponize its presence in space. First, growing Chinese space capabilities puts pressure on the United States to maintain a competitive edge in space. Though the United States remains decisively ahead in its capabilities, an annual report on China’s military developments from the Office of the Secretary of Defense indicates that “PLA strategists regard the ability to use space-based systems-and to deny them to adversaries-as central to enabling informatized warfare” and that “space operations will probably form an integral component of other PLA campaigns”. Earlier this year, Dean Cheng, a Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, wrote an article analyzing China’s third space white paper. Cheng noted that China was in the process of developing anti-satellite systems capable of targeting satellites in geosynchronous orbit. The belief that China’s growing ability to target the space systems of foreign countries has prompted an aggressive response from US defense officials. General John E. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command emphasized the importance of maintaining credible space-based deterrence to deter potential adversaries. He directly addressed the growing Chinese threat by stating that “in the not-too-distant future, (China) will be able to use the capability to threaten every spacecraft we have in space. We have to prevent that, and the best way to prevent war is to be prepared for war.”

Second, the United States is more dependent than ever on its space capabilities in comparison to other foreign powers, which necessitates effective defenses of said capabilities. According to a press release made by the Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, “space capabilities are central to our ability to project power anywhere on the globe. They contribute to every aspect of the joint multi-dimensional battle networks we assemble.” However, the United States’s conventional dependence on space capabilities far outweighs that of any other country. This is a well-known fact to China and Russia, both of which have put significant investments into the creation and innovation of technology capable of jamming satellite signals and disabling sensors. Utilization of this technology by a foreign country currently engaged in conflict with the United States would have a debilitating effect on the effectiveness of the United States’s conventional capabilities. The mere existence of operational technology of this nature could function as a deterrent against what the Pentagon might regard as a necessary entry into conflict. The subsequent response to the recognition of an asymmetric dependency is to increase the resiliency of United States space systems.

Given the Pentagon’s analysis of foreign threats and the rhetorical nature of Pentagon officials, it is likely that the United States will pursue a strategy of greater space militarization. The next installment in this series presents a justification as to why further US space militarization would be beneficial to preserving global stability and US military superiority.

- Grace Kuang