Space Force: Alarming arms race

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PRESIDENT Donald Trump believes that an advantage in the space weapons would have dividends for the United States Armed Forces.

On June 18, 2018, he reiterated to create a “space force” as a new branch of the US military. Indeed, his strategy to develop and deploy space weapons to keep the United States ahead in the space arms race prompt fears for the militarisation of the outer space. The proliferation begets proliferation. Indeed, the Americans space force will unleash lethal space arms race between the global and regional strategic competitors including India and Pakistan. Scientifically speaking, currently, many nations including Russia, China, India, etc. have a capacity to mess up a satellite by the satellite jammers, lasers and high-power microwave gun systems.
President Trump at the third meeting of the National Space Council, revived after a quarter of a century, stated: “Very importantly, I’m hereby directing the Department of Defence and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces.” He added: “That’s a big statement. We are going to have the air force and we are going to have the Space Force — separate but equal. It is going to be something so important.” Although the space-faring nations have not deployed space-weapons in the outer space, yet they have been using satellite technology in their advanced weapons systems aboard aircraft and warships to carry out precision-strike capabilities. It was speculated the US Air Force might be using the Boeing-built X-37B unmanned military space plane to test space weapons. A few analysts contemplated that this small robotic craft would be used as a missile-bed in the space to intercept the adversary’s ballistic missiles

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The Russians and Chinese had already sent micro-satellites into space which they can covertly manoeuvre close to the other nations commercial satellites. “Experts believe the small satellites could be used for a kamikaze-type mission to ram another satellite or to snoop on it for data collection or jamming to interfere with its capabilities.” On January 11, 2007, Chinese demonstrated their anti-satellite capability by shooting down one of its own ageing weather satellites with a missile. Many nations have been using outer space for military missions. But the world does not bear the unbridled militarisation of space. Therefore, a treaty prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) was proposed in the Conference on Disarmament to prevent an arms race in space in 1983. Washington, India and Israel vetoed it in 2005 to keep its advantageous position in the missile defence systems.
Pakistan cannot ignore the arms race in the outer space because India has also been developing, testing and operationalising ballistic missile defence systems. Its Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) program is aimed at producing two-tiered missile defensive systems that comprise the Prithivi Air Defence (PAD) system and Advanced Air Defence (AAD). The PAD provides long-range high-altitude ballistic missile interception during an incoming missile’s midcourse phase and the AAD offers short-range, low-altitude defence against missiles in the terminal phase of their trajectory. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability has been deterring India from military adventurism against it. However, the Indian’s have been struggling to shift the balance power in their favour to establish India’s hegemony in South Asia. Moreover, they have been contemplating and preparing to bleed Pakistan in a limited conventional war. Therefore, they have been investing immensely in their Cold Start doctrine and proactive military operation strategy and missile defence shield.

Realistically, in a nuclearised South Asia, it’s impossible for India to use its conventional military edge for pursuing its strategic objectives against Pakistan. Therefore, it has been advancing its missile defence programme. For the sake of technology and procurement of missile defence systems, India has signed agreements with space faring nations. For instance, in 2004 India and US signed agreement which boosted India’s space program including ballistic missiles. India has been purchasing advanced radar systems and missiles technologies from Israel. The Indians strategic pundits believe that BMD provides Indian Armed Forces freedom to conduct sub-conventional, short-range and swift military action against Pakistan. It may conduct surgical strikes or other preemptive or aggressive military action, short of full-scale war, without the fear of Pakistan’s response. To conclude, the arms race in space will destabilize regional and global strategic environment. Hence, it necessitates Pakistan to adopt qualitative and quantitative countermeasures to make its striking capability credible to redress Indian BMD and convectional military advantage.

Published in Melange intl. Magazine in August 2018.

About Dr. Zafar N Jaspal 13 Articles
The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad & Member Advisory Board at ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR).