Russia, China: Trying to Prevent War in Outer Space

Russia, China: Trying to Prevent War in Outer Space

Russia and China have accused the United States of damaging global and regional stability with its ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans. Both countries have similar positions on the issue, which was raised at the 7th Xiangshan Forum co-hosted by the Chinese Association for Military Science and the China Institute for International Strategic Studies. The event took place on October 10-12 bringing together some 350 foreign officials and experts from 64 countries.

Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir of Russian General Staff said the US deployment of anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia-Pacific is aimed at curbing Russia's and China's retaliatory strategic nuclear strike capabilities to tip the balance in US favor. The general noted Russia and China are forced to respond to these threats and preserve the strategic balance of power.

He added that in addition to undermining Russian and Chinese nuclear deterrence, the US system poses a potential threat to any nation pursuing space exploration. «Anti-satellite capability is one of the reasons why the US rejects any treaties on banning weapons in space», Poznikhir emphasized, adding that «the actions of the US do not give credibility to their statements that Russian and Chinese missiles and satellites are not considered targets for their antimissile systems».

«The US did not provide legally-binding guarantees that the missile defense system they are deploying in Europe would not be aimed against Russia. But at the same time it poses a real and direct threat to the Russian security», Maj. Gen. Cai Jun, the vice head of the Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department's warfare bureau, said in a speech at the Forum. According to him, «China and Russia have similar positions about strategic antiballistic missile systems and oppose attempts by any nation or group of nations to create such systems unilaterally at the expense of strategic international security». In particular, the official noted that the planned deployment of US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea plan is not conducive to settling the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and will seriously damage the national security interests of countries including China and Russia.

The Russian and Chinese leaders are right to raise the issue and bring it into the focus of public attention. They are also right to emphasize that the BMD is an element of space warfare. Today, the militarization of space poses a great danger to humanity.

Weapons of mass destruction are banned from space under the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty. But the Treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit.

A number of technological developments and tests over the past decade show that the race toward space weaponization is accelerating and the time of Star Wars being fought on the ground and in orbit may be much closer than expected.

The attempts to develop the capability to strike space objects were abandoned by Russia and the US in the 1980s. The US withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty in 2002 not only paved the way for deployment of intercept missile systems, but also undermined the consensus on the strictly peaceful use of space.

In 2008, the United States demonstrated its capability to strike space objects firing sea-based missiles for the first time. The US Navy succeeded in its effort to shoot down an inoperable spy satellite roughly 150 nautical miles above the earth over the Pacific Ocean as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph. A US Navy cruiser based in Pearl Harbor fired the Standard-3 missile to carry out the mission.

In 2010, the Air Force launched its first X-37B space plane.

A quarter-size, robotic version of the Space Shuttle, the aircraft boosts into low orbit — around 250 miles high — atop a rocket but lands back on Earth like an airplane. The two X-37Bs take turns spending a year or more in orbit. They could also attack, grab and de-orbit other spacecraft. The X-37B is also part of Prompt Global Strike  the Pentagon's effort to develop the capability to strike anywhere in the world with a conventional warhead in less than an hour.

The Pentagon has added $5 billion to its space programs budget in 2016, pushing the total to about $27 billion. 

The Operationally Responsive Space Office is working on its program to create small satellites and associated launch systems to be built and deployed quickly and cheaply.

It is funding the development of the Spaceborne Payload Assist Rocket-Kauai (SPARK) launch system, designed to send miniaturized satellites into low-Earth and sun-synchronous orbits. In its efforts to rapidly launch swarms of miniaturized satellites on the cheap, the US military is also looking to leverage the private sector.

The small satellite revolution promises the speedy replacement of disabled satellites in the event of attack - theoretically securing the US military’s use of space constellations in support of operations during a conflict.

It has been reported that the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is to reboot the concept of Airborne Laser by building a laser-armed aircraft that can shoot down ballistic missiles at the time they are the most vulnerable – just after launch – without having to come close and risk being shot down itself.

According to the plans, a high-altitude, long-endurance drone armed with a more compact electrically powered laser - a «low-power laser demonstrator» - will fly by 2021. The experiments include Reaper and Phantom Eye aerial vehicles. According to Missile Defense Agency, in a successful 2010 test an air borne laser shot down a ballistic missile «tens of kilometers» away using about a megawatt of power. A mid-air refueling both keeps the drone flying and «reloads» its ability to generate power for the laser.

The combination of unmanned endurance and unlimited shots means a single drone could stay on station for days, instead of needing multiple manned aircraft to come and go in rotation. An electrical laser can dial its power up and down for different targets at different ranges. The laser would protect the drone carrying it and might shoot down at a distance, without having to wait to be attacked. The MDA will conduct experiments and review alternatives until 2018-2019.

The reusable recovery of a SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has fundamentally changed the military balance of power and, perhaps inadvertently, launched the era of space militarization. In its remarks on the December test of the Falcon 9, Stratfor Global Intelligence (SGI) stated that «The Battle to Militarize Space Has Begun».

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 precision intact rocket landing after an orbital flight is the breakthrough technology that will facilitate the militarization of space by radically bending down the cost curve for launching and providing maintenance to space-based weapons and manned bases. According to the prestigious think tank, «as existing technologies proliferate and new developments provide greater access to space, Cold War frameworks for the peaceful sharing of Earth’s near orbit will erode».

In 2014, the United States opposed a new draft treaty submitted to the United Nations by China and Russia seeking legally binding curbs on weapons in space amid concerns about the possibility of secret space arms race.

In December 2015, the UN General Assembly approved a Russian-led resolution - known as the «no first placement» initiative - calling for nations to refrain from being the first to deploy weapons into outer space. The proposed document was drafted by Russia in 2014 as an apparent bid to place further restrictions on the militarization of space — already prohibited broadly by the Outer Space Treaty. 129 nations, including China voted to adopt the measure. The only government objecting to the substance of our initiative was the United States. Europe abstained.

According to Russian officials. The United States rejects the idea of holding talks with Russia on the problem.

The looming space arms race is an acute international security problem that needs to be tackled in a constructive way. The uncontrolled capability to strike space-based objects will certainly spark an arms race as nations will seek the ways to prevent such a scenario. The placement of weapons in outer space would negatively affect international stability because they are global in scope and capable of covert and surprise attacks on any target on the planet at any time.

At present there is no legal protection against the looming space militarization. Russia, China and other like-minded states have consistently advocated for an international agreement and have come up with the initiatives to be rejected by the United States without any serious discussions. Rejecting the proposals, Washington has never put forward any initiative of its own. This approach is demonstrated regarding other arms control and non-proliferation issues.

With the arms control process in doldrums, this problem acquires special significance. The US presidential candidates have never brought up the issue of space arms race. Actually, they pay little attention to arms control problems concentrating more on personal attacks and exchanging barbs.

That’s what Russia and China are calling for. The ball is in the US court: either madness starts with leading world powers engaged in unpredictable arms race in space, or the pertinent actors sit down at the round table to seriously discuss the issue of great global importance and mutual concern.