Seeking New World Vistas: The Militarization of Space


Militarization of Space, Strategic Defence Initiative, Strategic Defence Initiative

Roger Handberg’s endeavor Seeking New World Vistas: The Militarization of Space (London: Praeger, Publishers, 2000), 286, another effort to explore the military advantages of the outer space. Roger’s research embarks on the historical illustration of beginning of the space age, focus on United States efforts towards the militarization of the outer space. Subsequently, the study eventually highlights United States exertions to operationalize the outer space for military purposes in the form of Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) during President Ronald Reagan administration. The most illustrative part of the study concerning militarization of the outer space is United States accelerated efforts, after Operation Desert Storm to operationalize its space based assets, integrated with its land based command and control system, to fight the coming wars.

Now, eventually the readers would definitely ask a very imminent question while going through the introduction of the study. Why seek new world vistas? What has caused the urgency towards the militarization of the outer space? Since, the study only focuses on the United States adventure to seek new world vistas, which caused the intense militarization of the outer space during the height of the Cold War and thereafter the demise of its strategic competitor, what has really made it to continue to explore the outer space for the eventual operationalization and deployment of its space based asset. One has to ask the question why the United States continues to exploit the outer space for military purpose. It was made clear by Handberg that the political changing environment, the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), not only in United State but all around the world, and revolution in Art of War, has prompted United States to think beyond developing its conventional and nuclear forces and to contemplate a comprehensive military forces, which not only resides on the earth but also integrate with space in order to fight the future war. In fact, the roots of the debate do back to history, when the first feasibility report “Preliminary design of Satellite Vehicle” by RAND in 1946, suggesting the potential military advantage of the spacecraft orbiting around the earth. Since then enormous efforts with the three services in United States to build their own spacecraft in order to get benefit from the military advantages they provide from the outer space. Interestingly, the intensification of the militarization of the outer space right started when first ever man made space vehicle reached the contours of the outer space launched by Former Soviet Union in 1957. At that time, President Eisenhower faced the space wrath by the Soviets. Then come the beginning of the actual militarization of the outer space. President Eisenhower accelerated the strategic competition with their adversary in Outer Space. President laid the foundation stone towards United States space superiority. It was believed that the initial phase of the space race won by the Soviet Union; however, the rigorous Research and Development (R & D) in the subsequent years, and the segregation of military and peaceful space program during President Kennedy administration—the establishment of Secretive National Reconnaissance Office and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—paved United States ultimate space superiority at the end of the Cold War.

Handberg thoroughly investigated the strategic importance of the outer space for military purposes. According to Handberg, “Outer Space more or less acts as a pathway to hit the target on the earth.” It was obvious since the inception of the idea of building the space crafts hovering around the earth that they will eventually help ground forces while providing assured capability of intelligence gathering, reconnaissance and surveillance (IRS) of adversary’s forces ground formation. In fact, during the height of the Cold War thousands of satellites were launched by both the strategic competitors for IRS. Handberg explains that outer space acted as a region to provide support to the United States forces to conduct operation from the earth during the Cold War. In addition to this, the outer space was also regarded as a seperative medium for the United States military to conduct military operations. Interestingly, United States’ military built two different command centers—the United States Space Command and United States Strategic Command—in order to utilize the outer space at parallel level. The later command deals with the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Submarine Launch Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), which are the corner stone of the United State Nuclear deterrence capability. However, to work jointly, the United States Space Command provides essential guidance to the “Nation’s fighters towards target acquisition.”

To win the Space Race against the former Soviet Union was remained the top priority of the later administration after President Eisenhower and President Kennedy. The Utility of military space became obvious for the later administration since, the technology “grew more reliable, flexible, and responsive to changing military needs.” The greatest leap towards this technological revolution was taken during President Reagan’s time, the very inception of his idea of ‘Star Wars’ which acts as a prologue towards shaping the entire political and strategic global environment, which eventually led towards the end of the Cold War and also the beginning of the demise of former Soviet Union. Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) brought major transformation in United States’ policies right from Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) to Mutual Assured Survival (MAS). Reagan’ SDI aims to protect the mainland of United States by intercepting Soviet’s nuclear tipped ICBMs by building a three-tier protection defence shield in the outer space. The shield envisioned multiple space based weapons to intercept Soviet ICBMs at all its three phases of trajectory—the boost phase, mid-course, and the terminal phase, before hitting any target in United States. In this regards, Strategic Defence Initiative Organization (SDIO) was established to perpetuate the R & D to build the multiple defence shield in outer space. Initially, the very idea of SDI “shook the foundation of the old military space order;” however, it was plagued by the “unresolved technical issues,” which made it highly unfeasible for the direct deployment of its space based assets. Despite the fact that SDI’s opponents saw it a distant reality, the process of conquering the ultimate frontiers by United States in the end concreted its efforts to build sufficient space based efforts to maintain its space superiority even the end of the Cold War and the demise of the its former strategic competitor—the Soviet Union.

It is believed that United Kingdom ruled the world because of its super navy, which made it the largest imperial power of the world. Applying the same analogy on the United States, many political scholars including Handberg also believe that United States became superpower at the end of the Cold War, because of its might presence in the Outer Space. Although, Russian space based assets are less than equal to United States, but the declining Russian Space Power give rise to the United States’ space superiority. Operation Desert Strom called it the “reality check.”

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studied from National Defence University and is a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad. He tweets @ahmadkhan000

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