The U.S. military has tried for decades to put weapons in space. Russia and China are watching, and revving up.
Luxembourg made international news last week when the small European country announced its intentions to be a world leader in commercial asteroid mining. You know if Luxembourg is making big moves, the coming decades in outer space are going to be wild.
The expected boom in commercial space travel and resource extraction are going to be equal parts gold rush and space race, with all the potential for riches and conflict those entail.
For decades, the United States and Russia (including when it was part of the USSR) have tried to weaponize outer space. The Reagan-era “Star Wars” program to weaponize space became a symbol of a Pentagon completely untethered from reality or any meaningful budgetary constraints. But the first “space war” was Operation Desert Storm, when U.S. forces used GPS to rout Iraq’s army following the invasion of Kuwait.
It’s been 25 years since that war, and in recent years the race for space domination has markedly increased. Stratfor, a private intelligence firm that analyzes geopolitical trends, wrote in late 2015 that “the military exploitation of space will be a defining characteristic of the 21st century.”
International law does not prohibit placing conventional weapons in space, though it does prohibit the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space. The U.S. government denies that it has any explicitly offensive weapons platforms in space. When asked directly in a 60 Minutes interview last year if the U.S. has any weapons in space, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James was unequivocal: “No, we do not.”
Some experts aren’t convinced. “It’s hard to say exactly how many weapons are in orbit. That’s because many spacecraft are ‘dual use,’” David Axe writes at Reuters. “They have peaceful functions and potential military applications. With the proverbial flip of a switch, an inspection satellite, ostensibly configured for orbital repair work, could become a robotic assassin capable of taking out other satellites with lasers, explosives or mechanical claws.”
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