Tuesday, March 13, 2018

War in Space

Military conflict in space is not exactly a new idea.

Writers have covered the subject since...well, probably since the most incipient stages of science fiction. I've covered the notion here on ESE in various forms, from the serious to the fanciful. But now we're being told that the idea is no longer so speculative.

Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfien recently predicted that there will be open war in space in "a matter of years." As such, the United States needs to make sure it's ahead of its most likely adversaries, China and Russia. This means the need for new technology and of course, more money. It was even proposed last November that the U.S. Department of Defense should add a sixth branch of the armed forces. Based on the Marine Corps, this new branch would be called The United States Space Corps.

The Air Force was none to happy about that. After all, it would mean funds that normally going to them would instead be given to this new entity. No thanks, USAF said. We'll handle this in-house.

What exactly are they expecting to handle, though? Well, it is logical to presume that should there be conflict between America and powerful nations such as China and Russia, the opening skirmishes would take place in orbit. Our militaries are utterly dependent on satellites for everything from intelligence to navigation and communication. The first move by an adversary would be to "blind" its opponent by taking out as many satellites as they can. This may be achieved through technological means such as jamming or even generating an EMP wave. There is, of course, also the brute force method of just blasting them.

There are a number of ways that might happen. Ten years ago, China tested a satellite killing missile that forced many in the military to sit up and take notice. The Russians have long worked on the idea of "killer satellites" that would move to the circumferential edge of another satellite's orbit and then detonate. China may have developed a slightly less violent, not to mention technically fascinating, approach. They appear to have a satellite with a robotic arm that can grab on to other orbiting objects and "kidnap" them. For our part, the U.S. has been experimenting with lasers. Ostensibly the point has been to develop lasers that can incinerate all the junk we have cluttering our immediate orbit, but such a beam could easily be weaponized to eliminate satellites.

Also, let us not forget the X-37B, a sort of "drone space shuttle". It's long been rumored that fighter craft capable of entering space would be "the next big thing" in air defense and I thought that the X-37B might at last be a step in that direction. Doesn't seem to be, but just let this military aviation/science fiction geek keep dreaming, huh?

Speaking of fiction and depictions of it-might-actually-happen war in space, might I recommend Payne Harrison's Storming Intrepid? Not exactly high literature, but Harrison takes the technothriller places that Tom Clancy never did. Of particular note is the idea of the Kestrel spaceplane.

Then again if you want really entertaining fiction, just poke around at conspiracy websites and they'll tell you these new military plans are all to defend us against aliens.

Oh boy is that great.

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