As Asian societies step up and out into space, American thinking, actions, and leadership stand to profoundly affect the security and stability of their ventures. Today, there is renewed interest in the idea of creating an American space force — a dedicated military service for warfare. According to recent comments, America may soon develop its own space warfare capabilities, as space is becoming a “war-fighting domain.”
The U.S. National Security Strategy in December 2017 identified unfettered access to space, as well as freedom in space operations, as vital to American interests. Harmful interference or an attack on critical components of its space architecture would, America made clear, be deliberately met with a cross-domain response at some point, place, and manner of its choosing. The same themes were echoed in the America First National Space Strategy, announced by the White House in March 2018.
Setting aside difficult issues of determining attribution and attack, here is the more important point from the perspective of Asian space realities to come: What the United States does and says still resonates deeply in Asia, home to some of the most ambitious military space powers around. It matters in the region that the unclassified 2019 request for the U.S. national security space budget is $12.4 billion, with the bulk of it going to the Air Force.
The kind of thinking and rhetoric we see coming out of the U.S. is only going to further spur the space militarization of both U.S. rivals and allies in the region. This is a complex issue of course, and one that is still in the process of unfolding. It is also one on which open information is not always available, or is simply uneven across countries. But here is what we know, and can say: Even though American thinking on a space force has yet to translate into reality, the idea of some sort of dedicated space units has already gained traction in Asia where governments and militaries have been taking steps forward.
In 2015, looking around at some of the dominant powers outside of the United States, I drew attention to the growing appetite for dedicated military units in outer space. In China, the idea of a celestial military was at play. In the country’s first white paper on military strategy, there was a tangible focus on operations based on information technology as part of the defense architecture.
In its “active defense” military strategy, China was very clear about the importance of outer space, identifying it as a critical security domain, along with the oceans, cyberspace, and nuclear force. Outer space was also singled out as a command post along with cyberspace.
In Japan, as the country began to orient its national space strategy on the basis of a new Basic Space Law in 2008, there is evidence to suggest that the defense policymakers already thought of outer space as the fourth domain, after land, sea, and air. The Japanese route to a dedicated military space unit has come under the guise of its emphasis on counteracting space debris. Space debris provides a convenient cover for Japan’s military space ambitions, as it allows for the testing and development of dual-use counterspace capabilities in plain sight … (read more)