Russia responds to creation of US space forces

From the military point of view, anti-satellite weapons negatively affect strategic stability, as the country which is the first to deploy them in space can control adversary access to the near-Earth orbits and impede the use of the main space communication, navigation and intelligence systems. All the agreements which deterred such developments are collapsing. The Military-Industrial Courier writes how Russia can respond.

Russia responds to creation of US space forces
Space laser weapon (Picture source: Videoblocks)

Washington follows the national security strategy adopted in December 2017 and acts from the position of force. President Donald Trump offered an initiative at a meeting of the National Space Council in the White House on June 18, 2018, to create the sixth arm of the armed forces - space forces. They want to ensure supremacy in space.

The United States began to form space forces yet in September 1983. They have to officially become a separate arm of troops in 2020. 35 years ago, President Ronald Reagan suggested creating a system that can intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reach the territory of the United States or its allies. Thus, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) appeared. It aimed at creating a multilayered missile defense with space-based elements. Each of them had to intercept reentry vehicles at various flight stages. The united US space command headquartered in Colorado Springs began to operate. It was in charge of military spacecraft deployed at the moment, including intelligence satellites and military flights by the Space Shuttle program.

The presidential instruction opened a way to large-scale research to create attack space weapons as missile defense elements: combat lasers, anti-satellite arms (including ASAT), kinetic and beam weapons. SDI envisaged that missile defense should comprise 50 monitoring and detection spacecraft, a hundred attack spacecraft which are orbital platforms to carry weapons on new technological principles. But the United States failed to implement the program mostly because of scientific and technological problems. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the SDI was no longer necessary. The project was officially terminated on May 13, 1993. But the idea did not originate in greenfield. The program would not be accepted had the United States not have a means of transportation in early 1980s capable of orbiting space missile defense elements. It was the Space Shuttle. Even the size of the cargo compartment was fit to grab the Soviet military Almaz station and return it to the Earth.

US military experts said the shuttles had also to engage in other important missions and orbit military satellites and regular service and inspect them, grab and withdraw adversary spacecraft, and carry nuclear weapons. But the shuttles had one major drawback. They had no crew rescue system.

The Soviet Union had to provide a worthy response to the SDI and did it. It designed a strategy of countermeasures dubbed as "asymmetric response". Scientists led by Academician Yevgeny Velikhov accomplished major work to formulate the concept and strategy of the response. They pulled together strategic, operational and tactical forces to provide a powerful retaliation in most unfavorable conditions which could emerge after massive preventive strikes at the Soviet Union.

SDI space components could be destroyed at the non-nuclear stage of a war by anti-satellite weapons, space mines and other means. Many ground-based key missile defense facilities could be destroyed as well. The Perimeter system (dubbed the Dead Hand in the West) had to be engaged. All remaining silo-based ICBM had to be automatically launched after the centralized command was ruined. The "asymmetric response" yielded political result. The United States refused to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, the financing of the SDI was cut, and the first administration of President Bill Clinton deleted it from military programs.

It is be admitted that modern achievements of the United States and Russia are modest. Russia uses Soviet-era manned space programs, while the United States researches distant space by upgraded automatic stations created in 1970s. It becomes more difficult for leading space powers to mobilize huge resources for ambitious projects. A deep crisis and industry problems are the reasons.

The United States is likely to withdraw from the 1967 Treaty on principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. It determines the legal framework of international space law, including a ban on the deployment of nuclear and other mass destruction weapons in the Earth orbit and on the Moon, other celestial bodies or space stations. But the treaty does not ban the deployment of conventional weapons.

Anti-satellite weapons are designed to destroy reconnaissance, navigational, communications and command spacecraft. They are divided into three main types: space, air and ground-based interceptor missiles (and satellites). The destruction of orbital space systems can considerably weaken the combat potential of the adversary.

There are all grounds to believe that kinetic space weapons will no longer determine the concept of future prospective anti-satellite weapons. The reason is a high risk to pollute the space with debris and rocket fragments which will make normal operation of spacecraft impossible regardless of their origin and designation. The age of kinetic, as well as nuclear anti-satellite defense is over.

The United States has been ahead of Russia in space activities of late. Close to 500 US spacecraft and some 150 Russian satellites are in orbit. The United States is working according to the policy to deter adversaries in space adopted on May 27, 2016. The ongoing research confirms the United States plans to operate on the space theater of warfare. Three countries can down satellites today - Russia, China and the USA. However, none of them has a full-fledged anti-satellite defense.

New space technologies appeared early in the second decade of the XXI century which are likely to be used in new-generation anti-satellite defense weapons. They will include various orbital bases and microsatellite carriers (small spacecraft of 100 kg). The microsatellites created on unified platforms will be equipped with ionic and nuclear engines to change the trajectory and orbit. They have to operate as inspectors, interceptors, and tugs.

The tactical engagement scenario is a flexible swarm of various small spacecraft united for various combat missions. Small inspector satellites will reconnoiter unknown spacecraft, determine their designation, and register technical parameters. Interceptors can carry laser, beam and other weapons, as well as EW means to blind onboard equipment. Nuclear-powered space tugs can stay in space for long and take military satellites off the orbit.

Dual-purpose spacecraft are developed to overhaul own satellites in orbit, fuel them, provide communications and transmit special information, collect space refuse and broken spacecraft. New military spacecraft have to be modular for repairs. For example, module 1 contains a receiver-transmitter, module 2 - command and telemetric software, 3 - payload, 4 - power plant, 5 - onboard computer, 6 - support equipment. The craft is covered from the top by module 7 with antennas and feeder. Module 8 is below with engines. The repair craft delivers a new module to the faulty satellite and replaces the broken one.

Time will come when any major military standoff on the ground will begin with attacks on adversary satellites. Therefore, space powers have to reliably protect their space force from the adversary. The spacecraft can be equipped with friend-or-foe identification to access faulty satellites. Communication, navigation and reconnaissance satellites should have active defense from an attack of anti-satellite weapons. The defenders can be maneuverable small interceptors docked to military spacecraft. If an adversary craft approaches or heat or electromagnetic impact is registered, the protection from outside threats switches on. Upon a command from the mission control center or the onboard computer one or two interceptors undock from the military satellite and maneuver to attack the adversary anti-satellite weapon. After the mission they return and dock again.

Prospective defenders will have an artificial intellect with time and operate in a swarm of microsatellites, each of which performs a specific mission but is a part of the common reason at the same time. The major competitive advantage of any country which considers itself a superpower and claims the role of a world leader is in space. Anti-satellite weapons will soon pose a major threat to unprotected space systems in any orbit, the Military-Industrial Courier writes.