Avoiding weaponization of Space
Space has always been a militarized domain. In recent years, military role of space has expanded across a full spectrum of relevant activities, perhaps, most importantly in positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) services; satellite communication; Space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as targeting. In simple words, the modern militaries would be drastically weakened in the absence of support from space technologies.
It is therefore, no surprise that most major powers including China, Russia, USA and India have either crossed or are poised to cross the rubicon to dramatically expand counter-space capability and develop new generation of advanced anti-Satellite Capabilities. Further, China, Russia and USA also have ground-based counterspace systems, such as uplink and downlink jamming, or as in the case of China, laser dazzling. Moreover, there is potential of cyber-attack on satellites or ground stations controlling them.
This clearly shows that most of the major actors are moving towards a future where they assume that space would be a war fighting domain. This is expected to give rise to rapid Space Weaponization and sharpening of risk of conflict and instability. This is especially true since there is a potential for a ‘grey zone’ action in orbit prior to a conflict.
Outer Space Treaty 1968 and its shortcomings
- It forms the foundation of international space law and is an attempt towards preventing the weaponization of space. It says that weapon of mass destruction (e.g. Nuclear Weapons) can’t be deployed in space.
- But, it doesn’t cover the non-nuclear space weapons. Also, the definition of non-nuclear space weapons is becoming a major hurdle as capabilities like cyber-attack; jamming of signals to disable space capabilities etc. are not specific to space.
- Finally, it doesn’t provide a mechanism to deal with violations and inconsistencies.
Recent UN Efforts:
- The UN General Assembly Resolution 75/36 on responsible behaviour in space represent the latest effort towards constraining a rush to weaponization of space. Though the resolution is non-binding, it tries to establish norms of responsible behaviour to allow further diplomatic progress that could make it legally more difficult to pursue space weapons. It sets a foundation that may eventually see banning of ASATs in future. But, here also major concerns emerge as to what constitutes ASAT capabilities. This is because Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) may be used as ASATs. This was demonstrated by USA in Operational Blue Frost in 2008.
Updated and Enhanced Space laws: violation should quickly deliver diplomatic, economic and political consequence for a state which is violating the norms.
Regulatory reforms in international bodies such as COPUOUS
Enhanced Space Domain Awareness: An elaborate internationally trusted space domain awareness network should be created to verify parties remain compliant to international law and there is reduced risk of grey zone actions in space.
Enhanced deterrence by denial through space resilience. This resilience can be brought by augmentation of satellites disaggregation of critical space support functions across larger numbers of small satellites, and the ability for rapid reconstitution of space capabilities – together with an inherent defensive retaliatory capabilities.
- Discuss the key applications of Space technology in the Defence sector. Suggest some measures to curtail the weaponization of space [15 marks, 250 words]