The kinetic kill vehicle heard ’round the world

U.S. Navy via Getty Images As the space debris settles from the U.S. operation to take out its own satellite, the policy repercussions are quite clear: We have entered a new space age. Here’s why, according to International Herald Tribune: [O]fficials and experts have made it clear that the United States, for better or worse, ...

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596057_080311_killvehicle2.jpg
PACIFIC OCEAN - FEBRUARY 20: In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, The USS Lake Erie (CG 70) launches a Standard Missile-3 at a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite as it travelled in space at more than 17,000 mph over the Pacific Ocean on February 20, 2008. The objective was to rupture the satellite's fuel tank to dissipate the approximately 1,000 pounds (453 kg) of hydrazine, a hazardous material which could pose a danger to people on earth, before it entered into earth's atmosphere. The USS Lake Erie is an Aegis guided missile cruiser. USS Decatur (DDG 73) and USS Russell (DDG 59) were also part of the task force. (Photo by U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

U.S. Navy via Getty Images

As the space debris settles from the U.S. operation to take out its own satellite, the policy repercussions are quite clear: We have entered a new space age. Here's why, according to International Herald Tribune:

[O]fficials and experts have made it clear that the United States, for better or worse, is committed to having the capacity to wage war in space. And that, it seems likely, will prompt others to keep pace... What makes people want to ban war in space is exactly what keeps the Pentagon's war planners busy preparing for it: The United States has become so dependent on space that it has become the country's Achilles' heel."

U.S. Navy via Getty Images

As the space debris settles from the U.S. operation to take out its own satellite, the policy repercussions are quite clear: We have entered a new space age. Here’s why, according to International Herald Tribune:

[O]fficials and experts have made it clear that the United States, for better or worse, is committed to having the capacity to wage war in space. And that, it seems likely, will prompt others to keep pace… What makes people want to ban war in space is exactly what keeps the Pentagon’s war planners busy preparing for it: The United States has become so dependent on space that it has become the country’s Achilles’ heel.”

This refers to the U.S. military’s heavy use of satellite capabilities. So, was the United States wrong in brushing aside recent calls for de-weaponization of space? Not according to Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Space weapons are not the problem, he argues, nor is it effective to ostensibly ban them as Russia and China have proposed:

The biggest deficiency in the Russian-Chinese draft treaty is that it focuses on the wrong threat: weapons in space. There aren’t any today, nor are there likely to be any in the immediate future. The threat to space assets is rather from weapons on earth — the land- and sea-based kinetic, directed-energy and electromagnetic attack systems. The treaty entirely ignores these.”

The United States’ technological capabilities and needs are contributing to a loss of innocence in how the country approaches space. U.S. space policy has become a nearly impossible balancing act of maintaining defensive capabilities without becoming a strategic menace. If Tellis’s argument — that a treaty cannot provide the sweeping restrictions and enforcement necessary to keep space peaceful — proves true, it implies an uncertain, worrisome future. The U.S. satellite shootdown may thus herald a bigger change than was anticipated. Could this have been “the kinetic kill vehicle heard ’round the world?”

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