Technology has changed the face of Earth. The world we are living in today is a whole different world. We are living in a world where distance does not matter anymore. You communicate far across the seas, oceans, deserts, skies, mountains, and forests in minimal seconds. You can watch things like international news, entertainment, sports happening live thousands of miles away from you in a glimpse of time. You can instantly deliver your messages, voices, pictures, videos, and a huge amount of data to any location throughout the globe. You can follow the global events and access the universe of information with just a single click.
Satellite technology has changed the living way of the human. The advancement has brought unpredictable changes and new prospects in the defense side as well. The evolution of satellite technology is a lot beyond explanation. Thousands of satellites orbit around the Earth for different purposes, varying from GPS, communication, navigation, Earth observation, environmental check, tech development, and defense. Now, advanced countries are stepping to launch satellite constellations with a web of thousands of satellites launching and operating for different purposes. Today, seemingly, there are countless applications and advantages of space technology. But in modern era, satellites keep highly important as highly destructive warheads and possess a special place for national security.
Satellite technology has come a long way!
When humans launched the first artificial satellite into space, they crossed the threshold and realized that they could conquer space. Sputnik-I was launched as the first human-made satellite, which became the gateway to enormous possibilities discovered in space beyond planet Earth. This first human-made satellite was followed by unimaginable technology to facilitate human beings on Earth from Space. Today’s satellites have revolutionized the living of humankind on Earth. It transformed the communication, navigation, networking, technology prospects in every area. Rocket science emerged as the key for defense any country with the supremacy to infiltrate your enemy with every possible means that was never imagined before.
The first satellite just sent a beep signal back to Earth; the satellites followed were influenced by numerous significant scientific advancements. The development of solar cells powered the satellites, the invention of transistor miniaturized electronic components, development of sensors evolved its capability, and every new invention paved the path of satellites to be equipped with the advanced technology with smaller size and lesser weight. The satellites were launched for defense purposes, and the information/data obtained from them remained highly confidential. They captured pictures of highly secretive areas and ground stations for spying. It was used for communication purposes and Earth observation for environmental effects, but that was never the reality.
Space: The final frontier for Defense and National security
With the dawn of the Space age, the countries started the race to gain the space dominancy, deepening and broadening reliance on space systems for national security & defense. The realm of space exploration turned into the fight of achieving space supremacy and control while evolving their defensive & attacking capabilities. The pace of technological revolution and advancement in spaceborne capabilities overtook the space law & strategic policies creating opportunities for potential adversaries.
The destruction could be lethal if made with the help of these satellites. Your modern warfare weapons are highly dependent on satellite technology. The ballistic missiles, fighting aircraft, submarines, nuclear warheads, and battle tanks are equipped with modern technology that relies on space systems. The possibility of losing secure communication, accurate positioning, precise timing, ability to navigate, and effective intelligence or surveillance of any time could affect the national security highly at risk. These highly advanced space systems are the decision-makers of this era, owning the entire command & control to aiming & delivering offensive capabilities to any country holding a grasp on space technology.
You have seen so many movies where the world is in massive threat, such as extremist groups owning advanced technology plans for global terrorism. The whole genocide is planned through releasing sky fall nuclear missiles, launching satellite laser attacks, or destroying global communication. The idea is not new; there are much secret research and development to make all these possibilities a reality. Russia is working on a project on Skyfall nuclear missiles that are said to own certain capabilities as claimed by US intelligence officials.
The Soviet Union installed a “Fractional Orbital Bombardment System” in 1963, which could hold a nuclear warhead in low Earth orbit and fall to hit any Earth point. Though the World superpowers agreed on prohibiting weapons of mass destruction from being placed in space under the space treaty, it was phased out in 1983. But, it is still very unclear what weaponization of space defines because it is impossible to deny that certain countries already owned space weapons. This explains that space treaty or space law would define space weapon to mean whatever fits best for their self-interests. So, the space strategy for defense and national interest has already been implemented with effective satellite technology.
Applications for Strategic advantage in Space
There are many weaponization applications of satellite technologies present today. Japan has been the only country to execute “orbital bombardment” in history for scientific research purposes in 2020. The Japanese Hayabusa robotic space probe delivers an impactor from space to the “Asteroid 162173 Ryugu” surface with an explosive device to gather debris and dust after the explosion. It brought valuable samples back to Earth after successful mission completion. This means the technology is there, it is just a matter of time when the treaty falls, and a new war begins. The US Space Force Head acknowledged owning directed energy space systems to maintain US space dominancy and safeguard national security. China and Russia also have the directed energy technology to usurp the satellite system of any other country.
This refers to laser weapons or on-orbit weaponry systems that would cause any on the ground or in air destruction. Ground-based jammers, laser systems, rocketry systems, and kinetic weapons can blind and destroy enemies’ satellite sensors and space systems. France also gave an open statement that they would be possibly equipping their satellite system with weapons like laser or plasma guns for defensive purposes. On June 11, 2019, the Indian government announced to development of a space warfare weaponry system as part of their space strategy to enhance their capabilities for space combat and future space wars. The advance satellite-based laser systems could be able to hit ICBMS, aircraft, and even attack missions. They have several tactical advantages because of the response time and the amount of destruction it can cause, adding on its other multiple applications from detecting, surveillance, and jamming enemy weapons/networks.
Setting sails into the vast ocean of technology has led us to a new global era but along with countless possible threats to the space system ranging from hostile actions to technology risks. Knowledge has no boundaries, and nor are its applications. It moves without being conscious, and you never know when it becomes the calm ocean or a hurricane eventually destroying everything. The man’s writ to conquer everything has never brought any good, but it always caused the unhealed destruction to nature and humanity itself. Space is the new frontier, with several countries advancing towards establishing/evolving their space-based systems to meet the defense and national security interests. Though, the space strategy of one country could be a viable threat for any other country.
The technology eases our lives if used for the good sake or could cause a huge catastrophe if the writ of power continues. The human urge for power has an infinite boundary, and it leads to inhuman acts that eventually collapse everything built in a glimpse. Satellite technology has changed the world we live in today, but what role will it play in space strategy for nations? That’s a mystery, with some possible outcomes foreseen long before even they were invented. There is more to witness in the future because it is just the beginning of the space era where the future is full of surprising and mystical elements.
Hassaan Bin Zaki is a Space Science graduate, a passionate public speaker and an enthusiastic creative content writer. He is the Founding President of the Society of Astronomy and Space Technology (SAST). He is also the Project Lead of Rah-e-Qamar Pvt. Ltd. for Karachi Chapter which is a space-based private company. He holds a vision to evolve his country in making breakthroughs in the field of Space Science and Technology and to unleash the true potential of his country in front of the world in each and every field.