The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-132 crew member on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. (Photo Courtesy of NASA)
The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-132 crew member on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. (Photo Courtesy of NASA)
By David Kiefaber / November 12, 2017 10:00 am

While the world just marked the 50th anniversary of the Outer Space Treaty, where nearly every nation agreed to the demilitarization of space, the lines between what constitutes mere satellite information and space-based warfare grow ever murkier each day.

Operation Desert Storm in 1991 is considered the first official use of strategic space information in wartime, and demonstrated the effectiveness of satellites and GPS systems in combat. Since then, this kind of information has strictly been used to aid operations in the atmospheric air and on the ground. But rising tensions between the US and both Syria and North Korea have led to concerns that attacks on US satellites are possible.

In response to these concerns, some Congressional leaders have suggested legislation to add a Space Corps to our military. But, as Air Force Space Command’s General John Raymond told Popular Mechanics, there is already a plan in place to protect US interests in outer space.

The importance of satellite information to the American military cannot be understated. “Every weapon we’re employing in Iraq and Syria is a precision weapon,” Raymond said, “and the vast majority are GPS-enabled ones … there’s not a sailor, soldier, or marine that operates in their domain that isn’t using space capabilities to conduct their mission.”

He also acknowledged that America’s reliance on satellites makes them a target, and that maintaining free operation in space is a military priority. “Space is foundational to our way of war,” he said, “and it’s foundational to our way of life.”

To that end, the U.S. plays a very active role in tracking objects in orbit, and even helps other countries prevent satellite collisions. Raymond describes his organization’s four geosynchronous awareness program satellites as “the neighborhood watch for space,” and said that they collaborate with the National Reconnaissance Office to establish a complete picture of orbit. “It’s not in anybody’s best interest to have large debris fields,” Raymond said.

As to whether or not more overtly weaponized (or as the military likes to say, “kinetic”) operations are being planned for space—which would be a direct violation of the 1967 treaty—Raymond’s offered up a non-response: “I’m not going to talk about that.”