Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

War in space: U.S. officials debating rules for a conflict in orbit

Posted by M. C. on March 14, 2023

The new approach has “balanced that tension very well between let’s make sure we have what we need for national security access to space and, as best we can, help to foster and take advantage of growth in the commercial market,” Thompson said.

The one thing we can count on is a universe size opportunity for the right people to pocket your taxes while making no one but themselves safer.


Christian Davenport, The Washington Post

Ukraine’s use of commercial satellites to help repel the Russian invasion has bolstered the U.S. Space Force’s interest in exploiting the capabilities of the private sector to develop new technologies for fighting a war in space.

But the possible reliance on private companies, and the revolution in technology that has made satellites smaller and more powerful, is forcing the Defense Department to wrestle with difficult questions about what to do if those privately owned satellites are targeted by an adversary.

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White House and Pentagon officials have been trying to determine what the policy should be since a top Russian official said in October that Russia could target the growing fleet of commercial satellites if they are used to help Ukraine.

Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department for nonproliferation and arms, called the growth of privately operated satellites “an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer-space technologies and has become apparent during the latest developments in Ukraine.”

He warned that “quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation.”

In response, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated earlier comments from her counterpart at the Pentagon that “any attack on U.S. infrastructure will be met with a response, as you’ve heard from my colleague, in a time and manner of our choosing.”

But what that response will be is unknown, as officials from a number of agencies try to lay out a policy framework on how to react if a commercial company is targeted.

In a recent interview, Gen. David Thompson, the Space Force’s vice chief of operations, said that while expanding the partnership with the commercial space industry is one of his top priorities, it has also led to a host of unanswered questions.

“The Ukraine conflict has brought it to the forefront,” he said. “First, commercial companies are thinking very clearly and carefully about, can we be involved? Should we be involved? What are the implications of being involved? … And on our side, it’s exactly the same thing. Should we depend on commercial services? Where can we depend on commercial services?”

The Pentagon has long relied on the private sector, he said. But the proliferation of small satellites has created a more resilient system that has provided real-time imagery of the Ukraine battlefield from space, allowing nations to track troop movements, assess damage and share intelligence. Communication systems, such as SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, has kept the internet up and running at a time when Ukraine’s infrastructure has been decimated.

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