Preparing for a future in which space is a battlefront is becoming increasingly important to the Pentagon, as it rolls out a new effort designed to build anti-satellite weapons. This in turn would protect the satellites connected with the United States' national security. A defense official referred to the program as "long overdue," and given the reported rise of advanced space efforts like those from China, it may indeed be a timely rollout.
The Deputy Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, announced the plans to step up the United States' space capabilities in remarks to the National Press Club on Tuesday. Carter told the club, "We have established, really, for the first time, an integrated effort to bring together our space programs, all of them, with those folks who understand best the anti-satellite threat, and also how we can operate, if we have to, without spacecraft." Carter further elaborated that the 2014 budget has already prepared for such an initiative, and that there are also investments involved in "deny(ing) the use of space against our forces in a conflict."
Past that, Carter didn't provide much in the way of details, just offering up the idea that space would be protected for United States operations, and that the military would have a way to operate without satellites, should that prove necessary. Given how much use satellites see in the current line of military operations, it's not surprising that the military would be eager to protect these assets. Satellites provide communications services--including warnings regarding possible missile launches--as well as conducting surveillance activities and offering navigation functions.
The new set of plans emerged following the release of a Department of Defense report--a report spanning fully 83 pages--discussing how China was taking a series of steps in modernizing its own military, with two of the biggest frontiers China was investigating being cyberspace and outer space. In 2012 alone, China had conducted fully 18 space launches and stepped up several satellite programs ranging from communications to meteorology to reconnaissance and surveillance and beyond. This expansion is only expected to carry on under China's new leadership.
For its part, China responded that it is opposed to "any form of arms race," be it satellite-based or otherwise. However back in 2007, reportedly, China staged a test in which a missile destroyed a Chinese weather satellite 537 miles above the Earth's surface, causing some to take these remarks with a grain of salt.
It's always a prudent idea to be prepared for attacks by anyone on anything that one can consider to be an asset. We protect our houses with locks and fences. We protect our cars with alarms and door locks. We protect our banks, our businesses, our computers, and everything else, so why not our satellites? It's hardly overreacting to consider a policy of defending that which belongs to you, but indeed, as the Chinese said, an "arms race" may not be the most prudent response.
Still, reasonable protections can be put into place, without needing to launch an "arms race" in response. Putting together those prudent and reasonable protections is a smart idea, and one that will likely make everyone better off in the end.