SPACE WEAPONS concepts include a variety of satellite killers-projectiles, microwave- and laser-beam weapons, and orbital mines-as well as arms launched from space at surface targets, such as the heavy tungsten bunker busters nicknamed "rods from God." Image: Illustration by Kenn Brown
- Although the “high ground” of outer space seems to offer clear military advantages, nations have so far resisted placing weapons into Earth orbit. That strategic forbearance may be changing.
- The National Space Policy adopted by the U.S. in 2006 seemed to open the way to the further militarization of space. Soon afterward, China tested a ground-based antisatellite missile.
- But space weaponry could trigger a costly international arms race. Satellites and space weapons will remain vulnerable to attack no matter what defenses are mounted.
- And space warfare, or even “live” tests of the weapons, could create so much space debris that Earth orbit would become unnavigable to civilian satellites and crewed spacecraft.
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“Take the high ground and hold it!” has been standard combat doctrine for armies since ancient times. Now that people and their machines have entered outer space, it is no surprise that generals the world over regard Earth orbit as the key to modern warfare. But until recently, a norm had developed against the weaponization of space—even though there are no international treaties or laws explicitly prohibiting nonnuclear antisatellite systems or weapons placed in orbit. Nations mostly shunned such weapons, fearing the possibility of destabilizing the global balance of power with a costly arms race in space.
In war, do not launch an ascending attack head-on against the enemy who holds the high ground. Do not engage the enemy when he makes a descending attack from high ground. Lure him to level ground to do battle.
This article was originally published with the title Space Wars.