Head of Air Force Space Command General John W. “Jay” Raymond believes that space is not the “benign domain” of popular belief.
In an interview with Bloomberg, General Raymond called Earth’s orbital space “congested, contested and competitive” and claimed that “all three of those trends are trending upward.” He sees a “full range of threats” to national security interests, global positioning systems, and communications satellites.
The sources of those threats are many and varied, from rivals like China or Russia to over 20,000 pieces of dangerous debris threatening active orbital platforms on a daily basis. At any given time, the world’s more than 1,400 satellites are in danger of being destroyed by nothing more than this space garbage. With the U.S. effectively serving as “the space traffic control of the world,” some 400,000 observations are made every day by Space Command. Now, the threat of the intentional destruction of these vital technological support systems is moving into the spotlight.
General Raymond asserted that “our goal is not to have conflict in space” and he wants “to deter that conflict from happening.” Still, he believes that “it’s a war-fighting domain, and we need to treat it as such.” He used China’s 2007 termination of one of its own satellites to illustrate the possibility of that danger. The Pentagon seems to support this claim, saying that China “continues to develop a variety of counter-space capabilities designed to limit or to prevent the use of space-based assets.”
Russia is making many similar moves to tighten security and prepare for the possibilities of extra-planetary warfare. According to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, “Russia believes that having the military capabilities to counter space operations will deter aggression by space-enabled adversaries and enable Russia to control escalation of conflict if deterrence fails,” justified by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as a countermeasure to U.S. ballistic missile defense systems.
According to General Raymond, it is an ever-expanding concern. Spaceflight is growing more and more accessible, drastically increasing traffic just outside of our atmosphere. In the interview, he noted that “as of today, 86 launches have occurred worldwide this year. In 2001 that number was in the low 50s.”
In July, the House Armed Services Committee voted in favor of creating a new branch of the military to provide “combat-ready space forces that enable the commanders of the combatant commands to fight and win wars.”
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