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How China and Russia are vying to disrupt US military edge in outer space

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The launch of a counter-space weapon into the Low Earth Orbit by Russia last week has turned the spotlight on a race that is developing in outer space between different countries. War is not just fought on Earth but has now expanded to cyberspace and outer space. This was demonstrated by Russia during its invasion of Ukraine. A cyber-attack crippled the defense forces in Kyiv and other European capitals that were dependent on a communication satellite.

What is at stake?

Warfare has moved beyond ground forces, air forces and naval forces to include the cyber domains and space warfare.
Satellites focusing on communication, earth observation and remote sensing satellites have been used in warfare and are presently being enhanced for better utilization. This helps in establishing secure communication between forces on the waterfront and the headquarters, monitors troop movement and also provides a platform for the launch of offensive weapons.

Counteroffensive capabilities

Countries with capabilities of counter-offensive capabilities are focusing on a few things to deter their rivals. They intend to disable communication satellites which cut off the abilities or stop internet services of a country. This is what happened before Russia attacked Ukraine. Its cyber attack on a modem of a communication satellite disabled Ukraine’s abilities and even went further as stalling wind turbines in Germany.

There are two elements in this offensive ability: one is non-kinetic such as using lasers, electronic jammers and others to disable a satellite of the rival while the other is kinetic. This includes using an anti-satellite weapon that has the potential to bring down an enemy satellite. In 2007, China effectively used this to bring down one of its satellites.

Space Race

The space race began in 1957 with the launch of the Sputnik satellite by Russia during the Cold War. This was followed by US counter tests. In the present circumstances, this space race has been influenced by the development of technology in cyberspace such as AI, and various geopolitical factors. While the US is far ahead of its rivals with over 5000 out of 7500 operational satellites orbiting space, China has 628 and Russia has fewer than 200 satellites. Russia is focusing on developing its electronic warfare abilities and China is focusing on countering the US on various fronts.

Treaties

While there are many treaties such as the Outer Space Treaty, countries have agreed not to use outer space for non-peaceful purposes. However, in recent times, there is a worrying tendency to focus on the development of nuclear space assets which may need the countries to renew their pledges, according to experts. Russia had recently vetoed a proposal by the US and Japan in the UN Security Council, focusing on not using nuclear weapons in space.

FAQ’s

1. What is 5th Generation warfare?
Non-kinetic military action is included in 5th-generation warfare. This includes the battle of narratives in the cyber domain and warfare waged in this sector aimed at defeating the morale of the enemy.

2. What is hybrid warfare in the present context?
It was a term used in 2006 for the first time by Colonel Hoffman of the US Marines. It involves multi-dimensional warfare waged against the opponents.

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