The militarization of outer space: an analytical vision

Outer space – as a field of war – is witnessing fierce international competition in light of the multitude of its military and civil uses. Accordingly, this study seeks to identify the dimensions of this strategic phenomenon affecting the international balance of power. The study also stands on its most prominent reasons, based on the theoretical assumptions of the new realism. The international space powers are also classified according to their capabilities, national efforts, and national space strategies. The study found a multiplicity of political, legal and conceptual problems that undermine international efforts aimed at controlling the militarization of space, which paves the way for its weaponization. With the rapid technological developments, outer space may become an arena for future battles between the major space powers, especially in light of the growing hostility between those powers that adopt the worst scenario. Therefore, the principles governing outer space were numerous to include: hegemony, control, safe haven, last resort, and so on.

Dr.. Raghda Al-Bahi 
Department of Political Science, Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University
Journal of Politics and Economics, Article 14 , Volume 17, Issue 16, October 2022, Page 446-480


The dependence of the international community on space technology has increased more than ever before, and then the militarization / weaponization of space has escalated increasingly, especially with its multiplicity of uses for both military and civilian purposes, which are uses that have resulted in calls for domination and control over it by its owner a new form of racing armament; If the United States of America – for example – puts weapons in space, other countries will tend to develop countermeasures to attack American satellites. by other countries is inevitable ( ). In general, given the privacy of the United States, and in light of its increasing reliance on space compared to other countries, the chances of space systems being exposed to potential attacks under the name “Space Pearl Harbor” are increasing accordingly.

According to the US Defense Space Strategy of 2020, China and Russia have weaponized space to limit the freedom of the US and its allies in it. This strategy argues that China has tested and possessed counter-space capabilities that threaten the national security of the United States and its allies. It and Russia have focused on space systems as a potential American weakness, so both seek to develop space weapons (such as: jamming, lasers, anti-satellite weapons, And so on), which means that American satellites are no longer in a safe haven in space on the one hand, and that American military superiority in space is no longer a given on the other hand ().

The militarization of space and efforts to weaponize it raise several political problems, foremost of which is how one country perceives the efforts of another country in terms of space uses, especially in light of its dual uses. For example, if the laser is used for defense purposes, it can be used as an offensive weapon par excellence against space or ground targets, and then the question becomes, how does the United States realize Russia’s deployment of a space weapon capable of targeting American territory or its space assets? Is this considered a “peaceful” use of space as long as it is not used for offensive purposes? Could the deployment of such systems lead to an arms race in space? It is these questions that drive countries to develop anti-satellite weapons, and they are also the source of the principle of space control that pushes various countries towards a heated arms race ().

Research problem:

Outer space is a global commons owned by all of humanity for peaceful purposes. However, military planners focus on the militarization and weaponization of space so that it goes beyond missiles that can traverse outer space, and satellites that can guide missiles after accurately determining their targets, to the possibility of permanently placing weapons outside the Earth’s atmosphere, which means multiple uses of outer space Between the peaceful purposes that benefit everyone on the one hand, and the military uses that demonstrate the transformation of outer space into a field of war on the other hand, so that the two uses coexist together in a paradox that makes the weaponization of space a source of peace on earth.

Research questions:

Based on the above, the main research question that the study seeks to answer becomes: Why did countries, especially the major powers, turn to the militarization of space? A number of research questions stem from this question, which can be addressed as follows:

1- What is meant by the militarization of space? What is the boundary between the militarization of space and its weaponization?

2- How did the peaceful and dual uses of space contribute to the escalation of the militarization of space?

3- How can countries be classified according to their space capabilities between great, medium and small countries?

4- Where did the arms race in space between the major space powers reach? What are the most prominent principles that govern its policies and strategies in space?

5- Why is it difficult to stop the militarization of space and control the arms race in it?

• the importance of studying:

The study derives its scientific importance by virtue of its interest in the concept of the militarization of space, along with a number of other pivotal concepts represented in: space weapons, space armament, space defense, and space for defense. The study also attempts to explain the phenomenon of militarization and weaponization of space through the theoretical arguments of the new realism. While the practical importance of the study is highlighted by virtue of its interest in the militarization of space as one of the global strategic shifts related to international competition in a way that affects the global balance of power and future arms races.

• conceptual framework:

The conceptual framework of the study revolves around the concepts of the militarization of space and the weaponization of space. In this regard, two main trends can be distinguished, as follows:

The first trend: sees the possibility of distinguishing between both concepts despite their often used interchangeably. Satellites that can be used for military purposes that may result in the disruption or destruction of space assets of other countries (). A prominent example of this is the GPS-Global Positioning System; The US Army developed this system for navigational purposes, although it was used in a number of military tasks such as: land, sea and air navigation, planning military missions, directing precision munitions, and so on. Such uses of satellites can be accommodated within the framework of the militarization of space and not its weaponization, because these systems are not considered weapons in themselves, but are used to strengthen the ground military systems.

In other words, the militarization of space refers to the deployment of space weapons, while the militarization of space refers to the development of military technology in Earth orbit and in deep space, including ballistic missiles and hypersonic gliders that pass through outer space and use them for the purposes of: communications, navigation intelligence gathering, and so on. In this sense, there is a real difference between the use of orbital systems to secure military communications and the actual deployment of weapon systems in orbit with the ability to destroy targets both in space and on Earth. Accordingly, it should be noted that weapons that are developing on Earth are not considered space weapons even if they pass through space such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, and that space systems that are used to gather intelligence or support communications and so on are not considered space weapons. Space weapons are used to directly exercise force against an opponent or to impede his ability to launch military operations in space.

The second trend: It is the trend adopted by the study, and considers that the weaponization of space refers to the placement of space devices with destructive capabilities in orbit, taking into account that, according to this trend, ground systems designed for space attacks or used against their background also constitute space weapons, although not exist in outer space. Also following this trend, weapons that travel through space in order to reach their targets (such as hypersonic technological vehicles) also contribute to the weaponization of space. Several elements of a missile defense system can also constitute space weapons, many of which have dual-use characteristics, allowing them to destroy space assets as well as ballistic missiles. As for the militarization of space, it refers to the use of space to support land, sea and air military operations, which includes the development of space assets while supporting ground infrastructure for military and intelligence uses (such as:

The concept of space weapons must be mentioned although it is difficult to define given the multiplicity of things that can be used as weapons in space; Satellites, for example, regardless of whether they are operational or not, can be put on a collision course to damage any seriously orbiting object. In addition, 95% of the satellites are used for both military and civilian purposes.

Following this trend, the weaponization of space is a sub-section of the militarization of space, and there is only a subtle difference between the two concepts. From space systems used for civilian purposes to satellites that support ground military operations to satellites as an integral part of ground-based weapon systems or the same weapons deployed in space; The weaponization of space involves the deployment of a full range of space weapons (including:

• Theoretical framework:

The new realism provides an explanation for the concept of space militarization, which can be accommodated within the framework of space security more broadly, and its most prominent assumptions are the chaos of the international system (meaning the absence of a global government that can force countries to make a specific decision, which pushes countries to adopt worst-case scenarios and self-reliance in light of the structural nature of international conflict, and even the adoption of proactive defensive measures to avoid possible aggressive action). In this context, offensive realism believes that the structural nature of the chaotic international system pushes states to enhance their capabilities to confront perceived threats that are manifested in the form of permanent and rooted suspicion towards other states, which translates itself into the form of increasing their offensive capabilities, leaving a security dilemma.

The security dilemma occurs as a result of one country increasing its own security in a way that detracts from the security of others, a feeling reinforced by the chaotic international environment. As a result of countries’ relentless pursuit of power to increase their security and ensure their hegemony on the one hand, and the accumulation of destructive offensive military capabilities, while other countries lack advanced capabilities to confront them on the other hand, security threats will intensify and then strategic competition, and conflicts between countries will flare up in light of the constant mistrust and continued suspicion of intentions of other countries ( ).

In application of the foregoing, it can be said that the militarization of space is a mirror reflecting the relentless pursuit of states to maximize their security, which is evident in a number of indicators, including: the volume of military spending on technology and anti-satellite weapons with continuous testing of them, and the belief that whoever controls low Earth orbit controls in near-earth space and that whoever controls the latter controls the earth, and the continued use of conventional munitions in space, and the intensification of military space uses, and so on.In this sense, the Chinese test of anti-satellite weapons in January 2007 (for China to drop one of its satellites for environmental uses and weather monitoring) can be seen as the third country – after the United States and Russia – that successfully tested anti-satellite weapons in the first test of an anti-satellite weapon. Industrialization since the 1980s (despite China’s claim that the test was not intended and was not an act of aggression) as an attempt to counter US military dominance in space, which reflects the hostile intentions with which each country interprets the behavior of other countries in space (), until the militarization of space has become Some countries – led by China – have a historical imperative.

It can also be said that the dynamics of the security dilemma (whether the chaotic structural environment, the accumulation of offensive power of space powers, or common hostile intentions) are mainly due to the absence of a legally binding regime that prohibits the militarization of space given the general weakness of the legal framework that regulates space activities, addresses the issue of weapons deployment or Military uses of space, because it only focuses on banning nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Efforts to control the arms race in space lack a mandatory character, given the conflicting visions that explain them on the one hand, and the technological progress of active space powers that could paralyze and stagnate any potential legal framework to regulate the militarization of space due to their enjoyment of veto power in the Security Council on the one hand. second. Space policies are still in the hands of the major space powers, with no binding frameworks discouraging them from militarizing it.

Countries’ fears and concerns about each other’s intentions have prompted them to interact in a murky environment that lacks certainty about the opponent’s behavior, which is largely evident in the interactions of Russia, the United States, and China. This led to the rejection of many proposed legal instruments to prohibit the militarization of space due to fear of uncertain results and consequences, such as the draft treaty “Preventing the Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space and the Threat or Use of Force against Objects in Outer Space” (Treaty on the Prevention of the Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space ) known as (PPWT) presented by China and Russia in 2008, which was rejected by the United States ( ) for fear of allowing both to build offensive capabilities that might threaten their national security by increasing their vulnerability in outer space due to the increasing reliance on space applications for terrestrial uses, especially for military purposes.

Fear and uncertainty are also evident in the US response to China’s development of satellites. The House Armed Services Committee has shown its fear of China’s intentions and motives, arguing that outlawing the militarization of space is out of the question, and even calling for an increase in the budget for more advanced space programs that can destroy adversaries’ satellites.

As anti-satellite weapons, ballistic missile defense tools, and dual-purpose satellites point to the steady development of offensive capabilities not criminalized by the legal space framework; The adopted treaties constituted the basic lines for the militarization of space, leaving several gaps in terms of types of weapons and space capabilities, which allowed room for abuse of ambiguity and the development of more advanced offensive space capabilities. The steady development of space programs falls under the concept of cumulative power, which will in turn push other countries to develop their space programs and capabilities, with a focus on offensive capabilities that can target the opponent’s space capabilities ().

It is concluded from the foregoing that the history of space militarization has witnessed tremendous changes that began with the practices of restraint during the Cold War, and ended with the development of new technological space capabilities with offensive capabilities that are not prohibited by law, and that the militarization of space is a realistic reflection of a classic security dilemma between the major powers. The weaponization of space is based on three assumptions: inevitability, weakness, and control. The higher the level of reliance on space assets for military purposes, the higher the vulnerabilities. Moreover, countries that have the ability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) or put satellites into space will also be able to launch anti-satellite attack, which means that the proliferation of anti-satellite weapons will become a major international problem comparable to nuclear proliferation. .

First: the escalation of militarization… an analytical vision:

During the Cold War era, and with the steady progress in the militarization of space, the United States of America and the Soviet Union avoided the weaponization of space through a number of international agreements and treaties. Satellites that have become easy targets for space weapons on the one hand, and the fact that the global strategic situation has revealed the fact that a number of countries are developing their dual-use space capabilities at an accelerating pace, which necessarily affected the international balance of power, especially since a large number of space-faring countries believe that wars The future will necessarily go to him on the other hand ().

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In other words, it can be said that with the accelerating technological developments, outer space may become an arena for future battles, because it represents the absolute high ground that fulfills the traditional desire of military leaders to “see the other side of the hill.” Regardless of the possibility of a space war erupting or not, space remains of great strategic importance that contributed to its militarization. Since the end of the 1960s, satellites have had civilian, military, intelligence, and commercial applications. And for its possible role in launching intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, there were many international agreements aimed at preventing the weaponization of space, but they did not succeed in avoiding the increasing global spread of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In the early 1980s, the Strategic Defense Initiative (known as the Star Wars program) was founded on the possibility of placing a large number of satellites into orbit that would detect enemy missile launches and then shoot them down as part of a comprehensive defense concept as a last resort in the form of a protective shield against Missile attacks that may carry nuclear warheads. Missile defense was based in one of its forms on destroying enemy missiles in their locations before launching them using space satellites or in the stage of strengthening them, as their speed declines with the difficulty of concealing them.

As for the early 1990s, the second Gulf War 1990-1991 demonstrated the ability of space to be an effective combat factor that provides improved information technology, and this was evident when the United States relied on satellites for military reconnaissance, communications, target designation, weapons and fire guidance, and command and control of battlefields) The importance of space capabilities shifted from purely strategic to tactical importance during that war after signal intelligence (i.e., the interception of hostile signals), telecommunications, navigational positioning, and many other new technical developments allowed the United States for the first time to provide near-immediate support. For its ground forces and the precision targeting of munitions.In that war, approximately 3% of the munitions dropped by US forces were precision-guided using satellites and the Global Positioning System.It is worth noting that this percentage increased in the Kosovo war in 1999 to 33% and in the Afghanistan war in 2001 to 60%.

Of course, other countries have noticed the effectiveness of these pioneering weapons and intelligence systems based on space applications. Russia and China began developing anti-satellite programs in the 1990s, which fueled the militarization of space and exaggerated its security dilemma. There is no doubt about the increasing strategic importance of satellites and other orbital systems that resulted from the rapid development of space technologies, which included defensive (to eliminate threats) and offensive (to secure military advantages and deterrence) armament systems. The development of space technologies and programs is no longer confined to major countries (such as: the United States of America, Russia, Japan, and China) or international organizations (such as: NATO and the European Space Agency). Space technologies have grown and their peaceful uses have multiplied for the purposes of space tourism (led by the “SpaceX” company) and for the purposes of communication, weather monitoring and navigation, in addition to the military uses that were accompanied by the growth of investments in defense systems that secure satellites (). Almost every country in the world has become a consumer of space services, and space weapons have evolved from intercontinental ballistic missiles to defensive systems designed to stop them within the framework of missile defense.

There is no doubt that the outbreak of a space war would undermine the trust and cooperation necessary to promote the peaceful uses of space. Despite this fact, the projects of militarization and weaponization of outer space are increasing with the aim of military domination of outer space, which stems from the lack of confidence in the ability of the current missile defense systems to impede an intercontinental missile armed with a nuclear warhead on the one hand, and the importance of developing satellites in space. In order to address anti-satellite weapons on the other hand, and to enhance the capabilities of countries in the event that they launch or fight a land, sea or air war, given the ability of satellites to photograph the earth and determine locations with extreme accuracy and support navigation, communication and weather systems from a third hand. Accordingly, satellites still need protection, which reinforces the need to develop advanced weapons as much as the satellites themselves.

The increasing reliance on space has exacerbated tensions between world powers, and strengthened the trend towards the militarization of space. During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union moved to effective restraint. Therefore, the two countries have adopted several bilateral agreements and engaged in several negotiations to ban the deployment of aggressive capabilities in space. However, the legal system adopted to regulate space activities is still unable to address recent technological developments. The increase of active countries in this field, in addition to the spread of dual-purpose satellites, has also led to the transformation of space orbit into an arena in which an arms race has raged between major space players with the aim of preserving their national interests and ensuring their survival, which explains the hesitant approach of the major space powers towards forming an effective legal system. And an updater that can address the different dimensions of the militarization of space ().

In general, and based on the theoretical arguments of the new realism, it can be said that the weaponization of space has become a security threat, especially since the unilateral measures taken by countries to weaponize it increase uncertainty within the international system, and exacerbate environmental threats resulting from experiments on anti-satellite weapons that led to the formation of large amounts of space debris. There are more than 500,000 pieces of debris already in space, posing great risks to the future of space and the current infrastructure in it, as well as future satellites, spacecraft and exploratory missions. In general, space debris is natural (such as an asteroid) or man-made (such as that from the destruction of ancient satellites).

Although the chances of a collision are low, there are approximately 300,000 pieces of debris large enough to destroy satellites on impact. The threats resulting from the collision of space debris include the failure of the global positioning system based on satellites, the disruption of emergency services, the paralysis of global banking systems and electric power networks, for example, so the international community has directed its attention to programs to reduce and clean debris despite the difficulty of tracking it and the exacerbation of its numbers in the future with Increase human activities.

To paraphrase the above, it can be said that space will play a decisive role in future military operations in a way that affects the international balance of power, as the militarization of space heralds the beginning of a new era of fierce competition between the major powers, especially since many governments despite their agreement in principle On the peaceful uses of outer space, the various treaties and agreements in place to promote this did not preclude the fact that outer space has become a competitive field, especially with its close association with the doctrines of “safe haven” and “last resort” that emerged in response to fears of military uses of space.

There is no doubt about the importance of telecommunications and positioning satellites, for example, in peacetime, but they are easy targets in wartime. As such, military services must rely on assets that are risk-resistant and easy to deploy in the event of an imminent military attack. This principle was based on the difficulty of moving satellites or changing their tracks easily on the one hand, and their increasing importance by virtue of being a source of intelligence data needed for military services, which makes them potential targets on the other hand. However, this principle has faced several criticisms that questioned the vulnerability of assets deployed in outer space because the Russian anti-satellite system hardly poses a serious threat to American satellites located at high altitudes, not to mention the high cost of anti-satellite technology, which means that it is necessary to reap benefits outweighing costs incurred.

With the weakness of the “survival” principle, a new approach emerged that justifies the militarization of space based on the principle of High-Ground, which means the need to control outer space to maintain military superiority on land, sea and air, and in order to achieve this, it must be developed and used Technologies capable of using defensive ballistic missiles directly from space because they will defend civilian and military satellites against enemy strikes.This technology can intercept hostile attacks before they leave the earth’s atmosphere on their way to outer space.

However, a new doctrine for the militarization of space emerged represented in the principle of “control” presented by a study issued by the “Air Force Research Institute” () by the writer “Lupton David” to argue that the space force should be similar to the naval and air force, and even defend For strategic facilities, and to deny the hostile capabilities of space exploration, so that the space force coexists with other fields in order to defend the state’s assets in peacetime, and employs it as an offensive capability in the face of the opponent in wartime. While the principle of “control” considered that placing a laser weapon in space was illogical because it would motivate other countries to do the same, the principle of “high ground” argued that moving the theater of war into space could mitigate potential destruction on the surface of the earth. The first principle holds that ensuring control of space in peacetime will outweigh the importance of preparing defensive weapons in anticipation of war, that vehicles capable of operating in both the atmosphere and outer space will be necessary to achieve military supremacy in the latter, and that the possibilities of “space Pearl Harbor” still exist. So the Department of Defense has developed guidelines to help create a “responsible space combatant command” with the goal of demonstrating American dominance in outer space and ensuring the safety of satellites and other orbital devices ().

The congressional approval in late 2019 of the creation of the Space Force (as the sixth branch of the US armed forces) shows the influence of the principle of control. “It’s politically sensitive, but it will happen,” said Joseph Ashe (former US Air Force General). Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t popular…but we’ll definitely be fighting in space. We will fight from space, we will fight in space.” In the same context, Michael Schmidt (professor of public international law and expert in space warfare at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom) said that it is likely that the conflict will move to space ().

The prevailing belief in the inevitability of arming space stems in part from the conviction that future wars will devolve into space wars that will not necessarily differ from land, sea and air after they have all witnessed military wars on the one hand, and the need to pursue space capabilities so that countries have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats and defense. Against possible attacks on its national interests commensurate with the degree of its dependence on space assets on the other hand, and the inevitability of engaging in the weaponization of space lest restraint be understood as a possible weakness on the third hand.

Second: Space Uses:

Peaceful uses of space include, as mentioned above: communications (cell phones, radio, banking), transportation (global positioning system and air traffic control), and the environment (environmental management, weather monitoring, climate prediction, and natural disaster monitoring). Space has also been used for military purposes for decades, albeit limited to the deployment of non-offensive military systems such as communications, navigation, photography and surveillance satellites. However, several countries have developed a comprehensive military space architecture to facilitate military activities on Earth; Space has become a military field, and countries are looking to use it to enhance their military capabilities and security. This is evidenced by the second Gulf War, which was described as the “first space war” due to the strategic use of tactical intelligence, meteorological and geodetic data, and satellite communications (). The following can be seen on the most prominent uses of space, as follows:

A- Dual Uses:

These uses revolve around reconnaissance, communications, navigation, weather forecasting and geodetic studies (). It is estimated that of all the satellites launched by major powers, more than half are for military purposes. In general, the most prominent of these uses can be found in the following points:

 Poll: It is the most common use; Reconnaissance satellites can be equipped with sensors to collect information so that they can monitor the opponent’s communications, listen to his radio, telex, and radar transmissions, and even record their content. After returning to friendly airspace, the satellites relay the recorded transmissions to ground stations. A recent example of this is the launch of the US National Reconnaissance Office (the intelligence agency responsible for launching and maintaining satellites, which owns about 50 information-gathering satellites) of the satellite known as “N. arr. or. The. 85” in April 2022 under the name of American National Security ().

 Surveillance: Infrared reconnaissance satellites can be equipped to discover what is under the ground or what the opponent seeks to hide by camouflage. More importantly, the satellites can warn of a possible ballistic missile attack within seconds of their launch by monitoring their exhaust emissions. One of the most famous types of observation satellites is known as Capella 2, which was launched by Capella Space ( ) in 2020, especially since it can take very clear pictures of any spot in the world, day or night, regardless of the weather with extreme accuracy. Without the concrete walls preventing that.

 Communications: Satellite-based communications provide secure links between ground forces, ships, and aircraft on the one hand, and tactical command and strategic planners back home on the other. These communications enable armies to simultaneously communicate between different units and stations that are thousands of miles apart. To enhance their flexibility, militaries rely on mobile ground stations. All in all, two-thirds of US military communications depend on satellites. The United States also has a defense satellite communications system under the name (DSCS), which is as close as possible to a constellation of satellites belonging to the US Space Force, and its primary objective is to provide the country with military communications and support various military users around the world ().

 Navigation: With the help of satellites for navigational purposes, the navigator can obtain a fixed location in three dimensions within 10 meters, as well as determine the speed within 6 centimeters per second, which enables mobile weapons systems (such as: intercontinental nuclear missiles, cruise missiles, etc.). It) from hitting its targets with pinpoint accuracy. The United States is working on developing the (Navstar Global) positioning system with advanced characteristics characterized by high accuracy and comprehensive and permanent coverage that guarantees continuity of operation even when some satellites are not used while pairing it with other navigation systems ().

 Meteorology: Meteorological satellites can be used to find out the launch dates of reconnaissance satellites until they find the area to be sensed so that it is clear of clouds. Therefore, its importance is increasing in military bombing missions, for example, as many military operations depend on meteorology, including targeting intercontinental ballistic missiles whose carrier trajectories are affected by the prevailing weather conditions on their way to their desired targets. Weather satellites may be used in advanced stages to control the weather and use it for hostile purposes.

 Geodetic studies: Satellites that study the shape of the earth, the irregular gravitational field, and the precise locations of different points on the surface of the earth can help in the accurate calculation of missile and aircraft trajectories.

In general, the more countries rely on satellites, the greater the need to protect and secure them. The greater the reliance on space as a force multiplier, the greater the odds of targeting satellites. For example, 80% of long-range US military aircraft depend on satellites, which is why the United States must protect them (). In this context, it is worth distinguishing between the concepts of space defense and defense of space. The first refers to the aforementioned space capabilities that act as an enabler during military conflict, while the second refers to the need to protect the space capabilities of states through all active and passive measures taken to protect space capabilities from attack or from unintended dangers such as solar wind or space debris. Defensive efforts to counter these threats include measures to deceive, degrade, and destroy enemy targeting systems, physically protect space assets, as well as distribute and diversify the platforms, orbits, and systems used ().

B- Purely military uses:

The military uses in their nature – given their multiplicity and evolving nature – reflect the degree to which the militarization of outer space has reached, bearing in mind that even though satellites have already become part of war operations to direct ground forces and provide detailed intelligence on potential targets and so on, they do not undertake single combat operations. The most prominent space weapons are anti-satellite weapons and ballistic missiles (that is, weapons that can intercept missiles midway through space). While anti-satellite weapons or systems can be deployed from the ground or carried by a satellite and directed against satellites ().

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Broadly speaking, space weapons can be divided into Earth-to-space (or space-to-Earth) and space-to-space weapons. It can also be divided into another subdivision into kinetic and non-kinetic weapons with temporary or permanent effects ( ), as follows:

 Kinetic Earth-space weapons: These include direct ascent weapons and orbital anti-satellite weapons with a warhead or projectile that hits the target spacecraft directly or explodes near it. China, Russia, India and the United States have tested these weapons. Kinetic weapons generally have permanent effects on a satellite, and create space debris.

 Non-kinetic surface-to-space weapons: These include jamming devices, lasers, and cyberattacks, and their effects can be temporary or permanent; Interfering with a satellite’s ability to communicate is temporary, while a laser can have effects that are either temporary (such as blinding the satellite) or permanent (such as damaging satellite sensors). Several countries have tested and deployed this type of weapon, including China, Russia, the United States, Iran and North Korea.

 Kinetic space-to-space weapons: These include co-orbital antisatellite weapons that create debris that may directly hit a target satellite (damage or push it out of orbit) or even explode near it. Space missile defense interceptors, if deployed, could target ballistic missiles in transit, but would also have capabilities inherent in antisatellite weapons.

 Non-kinetic space-to-space weapons: These include joint orbital jammers and laser beams with temporary or permanent effects. There are spacecraft that are used to closely track and examine targeted satellites ().

In all, the data indicates that there are 3,372 satellites in space; Of these, 77% (2,612 satellites) are in LEO, 16.6% (562 satellites) are in geostationary orbit, and 4% (139 satellites) are in MEO. In general, the proportion of military or dual-use satellites is 15.5%, or about 516 satellites (). In general, space weapons are superior to land, sea and air weapons for several reasons, including: The ability to confront an adversary with similar weapons, the ability to track, target and attack objects in orbit, improve the ability to target desired targets with lasers and microwaves, and attack targets deep within the strategic enemy without the same risks as aircraft and cruise missiles that the adversary can shoot down , projecting power globally, responding to global events within a few hours unlike ships or planes that may take days, and the difficulty of tracking and targeting satellites or orbital weapons so that space weapons remain relatively invulnerable to kinetic attacks by less developed countries. It should be said that the ICBM is the only weapon system with a global range and fast response time.

However, space weapons also have several drawbacks as they are vulnerable to non-kinetic attacks such as jamming or laser attacks. The movement of spacecraft in their orbits can also be predicted and tracked, reducing their ability to surprise an adversary. Although the technical and economic feasibility of space weapons has improved over the past two decades, it is likely that in the foreseeable future their overall development, deployment and support costs will increase relative to ground-based weapon systems. In addition, space capabilities have a close relationship with nuclear stability and the possibility of escalation between the major powers because they may change the calculations of decision-makers and undermine the effectiveness of the first strike. Targeting early warning satellites, strategic monitoring satellites, and communications satellites for nuclear command and control may lead to a nuclear first strike by the adversary, which could lead to a nuclear escalation ().

It is concluded from the foregoing that the vast majority of space technologies are characterized by their dual uses, which undermines the ability of states to distinguish between defensive and offensive uses on the one hand, and conventional and space weapons on the other. There is no doubt that offensive weapons capable of launching powerful attacks at extreme speed may receive attacks at the same speed, and a satellite may stop working without knowing the real reason that led to this, which creates room for anonymous attacks and baseless accusations.

Third: Classification of Space Powers:

Space powers can be divided into: major space powers, medium space powers, and emerging space powers. As the first has the independent capabilities necessary to develop and launch satellites and control all space orbits and manned space programs, while the second has the capabilities necessary to develop and launch advanced satellites and control them independently, but it does not have manned space programs, while the third is those countries that do not have the capabilities owned by the middle powers, and is still in its early stages of development. In general, the most prominent of these forces can be identified as follows:

A- The major space powers:

The following countries fall under this category:

1- The United States: It has developed an operational space system for cyber warfare (counter communications system), anti-satellite weapons and missile defense programs in a way that allows it to develop the joint orbital capacity of satellites in a relatively short period of time (). In connection with this, the administration of US President “Joe Biden” has allocated nearly $ 1.3 billion to the programs of the US Space Forces and the Space Development Agency with the aim of developing technology operated by the Space Force to fund military space, allocating a fee for an additional satellite for the Global Positioning System, and increasing spending on services Small launches and rocket discovery satellites, and that’s only in 2022. In this context, “Peter Garretson” (Space and Defense Consultant) said, “The multiple American threats are pushing the country towards increasing spending,” and added, “The recent Chinese offers of advanced space technology will not go unnoticed.”

The Secure World Foundation indicated in its report entitled “Global Anti-Space Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment” issued in 2022 that the United States has conducted multiple tests of tracking, targeting and interception techniques, and possesses the technological capabilities necessary to develop the joint orbital capacity of satellites, and possesses interceptor missiles. For mid-course missile defense, it has previously developed anti-satellite systems, possesses an anti-space electronic offensive operational system, and has started a program called (Meadowlands) to modernize anti-communication capabilities. Through the Navigation Warfare Program, the United States has the ability to jam civilian GNSS signals within a local area of ​​operations to prevent adversaries from using them.

2- Russia: Russia has modernized anti-satellite technologies, direct energy weapons, cyber warfare, surveillance and tracking, and missile defense technologies. In 2015, the Russian Aerospace Force was merged as a new branch of the Russian Aerospace Defense Force that combines space, air defense and missile defense under a single command that integrates cyber warfare, directed energy weapons, and ground and air laser systems to counter the “Prompt Global Strike” (PGS) doctrine (). Since 2014, Russia has been accused of waging cyberspace warfare and jamming navigation and communications satellites in neighboring regions. In July 2018, the Russian Air Force introduced the Peresvet high-energy laser weapon, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed as a new type of strategic weapon for destroying or disabling enemy satellites. Space has long been recognized by Russian military doctrine and other strategic documents as a domain of war.

Since 2010, Russia has also tested Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) technologies in both low-Earth orbit, which could result in a co-orbital capability for satellites. It is likely that Russia has already started a new orbital anti-satellite program under the name (Burevestnik) with the support of a monitoring and tracking program known as (Nivelir), and it is likely that these technologies will be used for non-aggressive purposes, including monitoring and examining foreign satellites, even if Russia has deployed two satellites. Sub-synthetics at high speeds, reflecting the weaponization of some LEO activities. In 2021, Russia has successfully demonstrated the capability of its anti-satellite weapons, and the integration of cyberwarfare into military operations is also paying close attention.

3- China: Unlike the United States and Russia, China’s military efforts in space are relatively new, albeit linked to an extensive civilian space program. It has conducted the largest number of space launches, and is now second only to the United States in terms of the number of operational satellites in orbit. Arguably, China’s military efforts in space revolve around developing its own military architecture that would enable military activities on Earth while developing a wide range of anti-space capabilities. And in 2015, China established a defensive space force as part of the People’s Liberation Army’s Strategic Support Force that also includes cyber warfare.

In January 2022, the Information Office of the People’s Republic of China published a white paper entitled “The Chinese Space Program: A Perspective for 2021,” in the forefront of which was the statement of Chinese President “Xi Jinping,” in which he said: “Exploring the vast universe, developing the space industry, and turning China into a power Satellite is our eternal dream. The space industry is one of the crucial elements of China’s comprehensive national strategy, and China adheres to the principle of exploring and using outer space for peaceful purposes. Since 2016, the space infrastructure has been steadily improving, and China has also completed and operated the (BeiDou) satellite navigation system, completed the Earth observation system with extreme accuracy, improved the service capacity of satellite communications and broadcasting, and concluded the last step of the three-step lunar exploration program. They are: orbit, earth, and return.

B- Mean space forces:

These powers refer, for example, to:

1- Europe: Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy have extensive military space infrastructure. The European Union has opposed the proposals of China and Russia to restrict the weaponization of space, claiming that they are not clear and inclusive. The European Commission has set an ambitious agenda for 2022 that revolves around four main priorities: strengthening European assets, especially the Galileo system for global navigation satellites, and anticipating future challenges while paying attention to the requirements of tomorrow, especially the space communication infrastructure and capabilities needed to manage traffic. space, stimulating European innovation through partnership between the space industry, research institutions and academia to design a long-term plan through technological road maps, and strengthening European resilience in space ().

The European Commission had previously proposed an EU Space Program in 2018 that would improve existing initiatives and allocate €16 billion for European space activities between 2021 and 2027. France has adopted a space defense strategy, and established a Space Command in 2019 with the aim of developing and launching future active defense capabilities in outer space while recognizing space as an operational military domain, bearing in mind that Britain’s exit from the European Union still raises questions about the limits of its future involvement in the affairs of France. European space. Operationally, the European Commission manages the European Union’s space programs and policies, in addition to the European Space Agency (ESA).

2- India: In March 2019, India became the fourth country with offensive military capabilities (after China, Russia and the United States) to successfully test anti-satellite missiles in low orbit ( ), and successfully intercept its own satellite that it launched earlier in the same year with great acclaim from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially in light of its efforts to develop directed energy weapons on the one hand, and its intention to continue developing space weapons so as not to be excluded from any future agreement restricting the weaponization of space, even if it continued its support for global and regional efforts to use space for peaceful purposes on the other hand. The goal of the Indian space program was to improve the country’s economic conditions by reducing dependence on foreign technology, but it was greatly affected by the growth of Chinese military power and the conflict with Pakistan (to scout the movement of enemy forces, eavesdrop on its communications, jamming and destroying its networks) ().

3- Japan: In 2008, Japan authorized military use of space as part of an ambitious space program, adopted a more active approach to space defense, reorganized its military space infrastructure to increase its independence in this field, launched communications and surveillance satellites, and established a new space threat monitoring headquarters , thus breaching a decades-old ban on the use of space assets for military purposes due to increasing pressure from the United States and growing concern from neighboring countries. It is worth noting that Japan, although it does not have a program to weaponize space, has the ability to destroy satellites through the American Aegis missile system deployed in its territory and the capabilities of the rendezvous and proximity systems that it is currently developing. In addition, the Japanese military’s progress in space in recent years indicates that it abandons its traditional defense standards and turns to a strategy with offensive characteristics ().

C- The emerging space powers:

These forces include, for example:

1- Pakistan: It has the most advanced space capabilities among the emerging space powers, and it has expressed its support for various international initiatives in the field of space, but has confirmed its unwillingness to bear the consequences of non-proliferation treaties or sanctions that may limit its efforts in it. China plays a prominent role in building and developing the Pakistan Space Center (which Pakistan announced in 2018 to lead local efforts to manufacture satellites), along with Pakistan’s satellites for communication purposes until 2025, especially in light of the agreement signed between the two countries in 2019 for space exploration. Which included strengthening its space activities and assets and studying plans to build a system dedicated to observing near-earth objects (NEO).

2- Israel: Israel possesses advanced space capabilities, and is able to independently develop, launch and operate advanced satellites (as evidenced by the “Ofouq” series of satellites). In May 2022, Israel developed a new strategic plan presented by the Israel Space Agency (which is affiliated with the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology) with the aim of developing the Israeli civilian space industry and doubling the number of Israeli space companies over the next decade, believing in the steady development witnessed by the space industry in the past few years, especially with The multiplicity of spaces open to entrepreneurs and private investors on the one hand, and the importance of the space industry as a multiplier force and a lever for economic growth on the other hand. The objectives of the plan were: to develop the civilian space industry in Israel as an engine for sustainable growth, to support scientific research in space, to develop human capital, and to strengthen Israel’s international position in the field of space (). In the field of space weapons, Israel has the technical ability to destroy satellites using the Arrow 3 missile interception system. On the diplomatic front, it is voting with the United States against Chinese and Russian initiatives to limit the weaponization of space.

3- Iran: On the technical level, Iran seeks to place a satellite in a fixed orbit (at an altitude of approximately 36,000 km from the Earth) by 2026, and seeks to send one of its astronauts into space by 2032. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards (who has a space program parallel to that of the Iranian state) in April 2020 launched the first military satellite (Noor-1), but it was not the first Iranian satellite in orbit; It preceded the launch of the Iranian satellite (Sina-1) in 2005 aboard a Russian missile, and the first domestically made Iranian satellite (Omid) was put into orbit by a domestic launcher in 2009. In contrast to the state-run space program with civilian and military goals Iran’s Revolutionary Guard program is little more than a cover for the development of long-range missile technology, although its existence has been kept secret for several years.

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Fourth: Raised Problems:

There is no doubt about the difficulty of disarming space weapons when military uses are inseparable from non-military uses, and therefore the best strategy may be to reduce risks by sharing information and considering the possibility of total rather than partial disarmament, and adopting a new international strategy for the gradual control of the weaponization of space with Bearing in mind that in order for states to be able to limit the militarization/armament of space, states must overcome the problem of unequal distribution of cooperation gains, with the need to distinguish between dual-use satellites given their widespread use and multiplicity of uses, which necessarily means that it is difficult to ban them and if their uses can be regulated. On the one hand, and space weapons that international efforts center around banning and controlling, on the other hand.Therefore, the future space arms control strategy should be based on differentiating between the two uses with the possibility of notifying the Secretary-General of the United Nations when launching any satellite and introducing a national verification system to prevent unilateral retaliation.

In other words, it is difficult to control the arms race in outer space in the aftermath of its intensification, especially since it requires global public opinion, strong political will of the countries concerned, mutual trust between negotiators, and verifiable controls and guarantees in order to contribute in turn to building that will and trust. The negotiation of any arms control agreement (like other disarmament agreements) cannot be allowed to drag out for fear of becoming obsolete in the face of ever-evolving space technology. Arms control measures must also be multidimensional and futuristic. Nor can the concerns of developing countries be ignored. Although they do not possess current space military capabilities, they are deeply concerned about arms control in space. It is not possible for those countries to meet their development needs if the bulk of their financial resources are directed to the military uses of space ().

Nor does the Outer Space Treaty ban all military space systems; Article 4 of it prohibits the presence of any weapons of mass destruction in space (), and states that “States parties to the treaty undertake not to place any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other type of weapons of mass destruction in orbit around the Earth, or to install such weapons on celestial bodies, or otherwise place such weapons in outer space.” The treaty also prohibits the establishment of military installations, weapons testing, and military exercises on celestial bodies, with the prohibition of establishing military bases, installations, and fortifications, testing any type of weapons, and conducting military maneuvers on celestial bodies. However, the treaty does not ban any weapons other than weapons of mass destruction such as conventional missiles and new weapons that can be developed and deployed in space. The treaty provides for specific provisions related to the militarization of space that do not necessarily preclude all forms of military presence in it.

In addition to this legal problem, the conceptual disagreement between states is evident in the United Nations conferences on disarmament in Geneva, for example. In 2008, Russia and China attempted to establish a specific definition of space weapon, and proposed a draft treaty that states: “Preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space or the threat or use of force against objects in outer space to prevent an arms race in outer space.” It is the text that does not prevent the development, testing, or deployment of anti-satellite weapons that China currently possesses in its anti-space arsenal. The United States has argued that the proposed text is insufficient to meet the challenges, describing it as a “diplomatic ploy by the two countries to gain a military advantage” ().

As a result of the above, outer space is witnessing a fierce arms race; If China successfully conducted military experiments to bomb its satellites in 2007, as mentioned in the aforementioned study, the next few years may witness attempts to target satellites of other countries with the continued development of long-range missile systems and anti-satellite systems, especially with the ease of tracking them due to their fixed paths that are easy to predict. And targeting them with conventional and nuclear weapons, which necessarily means the difficulty of securing and defending them, and countries may not necessarily distinguish between ballistic missiles that target their satellites and those that target their lands.

The most significant defensive measures include moving the satellite from its near-Earth orbit to a higher orbit, allowing more time to analyze the threat and consider other countermeasures. Satellites in space can be warned of the threat using radar and laser illumination sensors. Passive self-protection devices include: infrared jammers, weapon guidance systems jammers, radar energy absorbers, extreme heat and cyber jammers. While positive self-protection refers to the satellite’s ability to respond, and includes devices such as anti-radiation missiles, space weapons initially require extreme endurance in order to withstand years of inactivity in the hostile space environment ().

In addition to the difficulty of defending satellites, the difficulty of deterring potential attacks on them also increases for several reasons, including the difficulty of knowing the attacker when using computers to hack satellite signals and jam them until they explode due to their overloads, for example (), which creates an environment of uncertainty, suspicion and bad Appreciation and competition, especially since the country that publishes a military satellite is reluctant to disclose its orbital and radio frequencies for fear of possible tracking.

This uncertainty and suspicion is evident in the Russian-Chinese-American interactions, in particular, with the launch of the United States on April 23, 2010, an unmanned spacecraft (X-37B) that can remain in orbit for about nine months, and may become a potential launch platform for missiles, which raised concerns. China’s fears of the possibility of an arms race in space on the one hand, and the US Department of Defense’s tendency to develop anti-satellite space weapons that make the weaponization of space a possible option on the other hand, which prompts China and Russia to confront this strategic challenge by taking measures that discourage the United States from Developing space weapons and missile defenses or by attacking the US space system for fear of the difficulty of defeating the US military in a future conflict ().

In the opposite direction of the new realism, the ban on space weapons will not be achieved due to the dual uses of satellites, and the limitation of arms in space will not provide an equal distribution of gains among the major countries in space, as it does not necessarily lie in the equal distribution of total power between countries, but rather in the levels of development related technology. No equal gains can be made from banning space weapons between two countries if one is capable of developing such weapons over the other. And if the two countries possess the same technology, the matter will turn to preventive control of weapons, not a complete ban.

And the matter remains dependent on a number of sub-indicators, including: spending allocated to space weapons, and the degree of dependence of countries on their space assets, among other indicators. It is estimated that there are 958 operating satellites in orbit (of which 441 are American satellites, including 113 military – 99 Russian satellites, including 65 military – 67 Chinese satellites, of which 14 are military). This reflects the imbalance between the three countries in favor of the United States, in which the army relies more on satellite infrastructure, which resulted from strategic shifts in the past two decades, as a result of which satellite communications, navigation and reconnaissance became an integral part of modern warfare.


Outer space has become a theater for competition by major space powers, and its militarization has become a fait accompli that fuels future conflict possibilities at the expense of all mankind, especially in light of the growing hostility and the adoption of the worst scenario rather than peaceful coexistence between states in a direction contrary to what is stipulated in the Outer Space Treaty.

In general, the most important findings of the study can be found through the following points:

1. International efforts to control the space arms race are expected to revolve around: defining the nature of weapons to be banned to curb the chaotic nature of international interactions in space or advocating the prevention of offensive space military actions to better manage crises and potential risks or enhancing security by eliminating vulnerabilities related to critical space infrastructure, maintaining technological independence, advocating the establishment of an international arms control regime in space, introducing the idea of ​​“rules of the road,” or calling for a code of conduct for outer space activities to define responsible and irresponsible behavior in space. However, such rules would not prohibit the development of certain technologies and are therefore not sufficient to avoid a space arms race. Private companies that reap huge profits from the commercial uses of space applications may play a special role in advancing space cooperation to protect their influence and ability to influence.

2. There are many technologies that can be used to develop space weapons, and although these technologies are not fully developed, all the major space-faring countries have the ability to develop anti-satellite technology at least with the difference with the United States of America. The dual uses prevent an accurate definition of space weapons, and efforts to control the arms race, which must first determine what those weapons are, will not work.

3. As soon as a country is able to develop its space weapons, it is likely that other countries will follow suit so that the arms race in space takes place in vicious circles, especially with the difficulty of developing space weapons that deter other countries from attacking the space systems of a particular country, and the development of anti-satellite technology means That the space assets of other countries are at risk, and this may open the door to miscalculation and space war at worst.

4. The developments of modern warfare have made domination of space an issue of decisive power, and this was evident in particular when the United States of America established the Space Command in December 2019, when the US Congress authorized the establishment of a sixth military branch in a way that confirmed the direction of the United States of America strongly to militarize and arm space to protect her interests. Other countries have had opportunities to engage in the militarization of space so that Russia, China, India and the European Union have become important players in space, which means that the new space arms race is taking place between several poles driven by the escalation of the strategic importance of satellites that have become part of the vital infrastructure of many countries. Without obstacles that undermine the militarization of the orbit or curb the arms race.

5. The United States government ranked first in military developments, and China surpassed Russia despite the old Soviet experiences in this regard; Civil, military and peaceful commercial applications of space have multiplied, while the principle governing its military uses has shifted with the change of the international environment from a protective fence to a real haven to a field of war. Domination of space is seen as the natural progression of war; However, the arms race in space is a race in which none of the parties can guarantee victory, which may negatively affect global stability. At the present time, there are no known weapons in space, but the United States has shown its willingness to deploy weapons in space, which faces many technical difficulties and political obstacles.

6. The policy of the United States revolves around the constant search for arguments that allow it to deploy active offensive and defensive systems that exploit its advantages in space for as long as possible, and that it uses treaties only to prevent further armaments if a competitor appears nearby. As for the medium space powers, they have extensive civilian space infrastructures, including many dual-use satellites designed to support military operations. However, restraint is the dominant feature of their space programs in addition to supporting international initiatives to prevent the weaponization of space.

7. India, which does not have a history of offensive space activities, suffers from a common dilemma that many countries face in space, and that dilemma can be formulated in the question: Should countries act independently and aggressively in this field to protect their interests? Or is it putting its trust in international forums to try to rein in the current space arms race? It can be argued that India is not fully engaged in the militarization of space, but it is not completely isolated from it either. In order to preserve its security in the face of other adversaries, it tried to develop a military base in outer space, but it did not achieve high levels of militarization of space, although it was in the process of building a defensive system, not an offensive one.

8. The emerging space powers do not have the necessary capabilities to develop, launch and monitor satellites on their own, and include on the practical level all countries not included in the two previous groups, which in turn are divided into two sub-groups: one possesses the basic infrastructure and space agencies such as Pakistan, Brazil and Australia, and the other does not have Necessary infrastructure like most African countries. From a military perspective, some emerging space powers have space systems for security or dual uses, but lacking the necessary technological capabilities, they require the assistance of more advanced space players to launch and sometimes develop and operate their systems. Therefore, these countries do not have advanced military capabilities in space, so they are strongly involved in diplomatic efforts against its weaponization, either by expressing almost complete support for the initiatives of China and Russia to restrict the weaponization of space, or by actively participating in international initiatives.

9. Classical deterrence does not apply to space; There is one hegemonic power trying to develop anti-satellite weapons against dozens of countries with ground capabilities capable of attacking these satellites. In this environment, Cold War-style deterrence will not be sufficient. However, the development of weapons to be deployed or used in space is not likely to reduce the threat. On the contrary, there are many concerns that the United States will push the global pursuit of space weapons, rather than deter it. Even if the weaponization of space increases the United States’ ability to project power, other countries will seek to develop countermeasures.

10. The literature on the weaponization of space is divided into two main camps (for and against the weaponization of space), but in recent years a more complex discourse has emerged, offering a wide range of viewpoints to include idealists, internationalists, and nationalists on the one hand, and space racers, observers, and hegemons on the other. Each represents a different phase of the weaponization of space, with the idealists at one end and the hegemons of space at the other.

Finally, while the major space powers at the top of the technological hierarchy seek the most aggressive methods of weaponizing space in pursuit of supremacy (the United States and China) or strategic parity (Russia), the interests of the middle powers diverge between wanting to drive a new normative and security discourse (the European Union) and turning to a regional power (India) and maintaining national security by strengthening the alliance with the United States (Japan).

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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