War in space will ‘look a lot like the Cold War’: report

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A new report by the US Air Force is revealing potential pitfalls and vulnerabilities in store as the Department of Defense prepares for the inevitability of space-based warfare.

Among the dire possibilities: deep-space escalations reminiscent of Cold War posturing and the need for “police stations in space.”

Produced by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the aim of the report, “A Primer on Cislunar Space,” is to provide military professionals a crash course on scientific and mathematical concepts related to surveillance and combat in outer space — particularly, the more than 200,000 miles between Earth and just beyond the moon, also known as the cislunar zone.

“Motion in cislunar space is highly chaotic,” the primer states, according to a June 24 report in The Drive, so that “even the slightest deviation in the object’s current position or velocity could cause very large differences in its future propagated position and velocity.”

The expanding scope of the world’s intergalactic defense efforts will require pilots to adjust their “intuition and sense of distance and time.”

The hurdle to understanding physics in space is made more complicated by the current impossibility of tracking and security in the cislunar zone’s darker reaches. As the report noted, “there is no single sensor location that can observe all cislunar space.” The latest in sensor technology couldn’t detect an object on the other side of the moon, for example, such as China’s Chang 5 satellite reportedly gathering intel there.

Col. Eric Felt, director of AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, and Kelly D. Hammett, director of its Directed Energy Directorate, posed those difficulties at the recent Defense One Tech Summit on June 22, Air Force Mag reported last week.

According to Col. Felt, a war in space would likely “look a lot like the Cold War,” he said, referring to a period in military history in which the US and Russia were embroiled in a game of nuclear chicken.

Like the Cold War, “We hope nobody’s actually exchanging destructive weapons with each other — and that we don’t just hope, but we take active actions to deter that from happening,” Felt explained.

“The nature of conflict in space is that … it is a lot easier to attack somebody else than to defend your own stuff. And we’ve seen that before,” he continued, referring to nuclear weapons.

Hammett also urged military professionals to consider the unique requirements of defending our corner of space.

“We’re saying we [the Space Force] need access to mobility and logistics — you know, gas stations in space, tugs in space, cargo transports in space,” said Hammett.

“We might have to put police stations in space,” he said.

Hammett continued by reiterating the need for scientific and technological development in these areas.

“If you look at the National Space Strategy that was signed by the Trump administration in December … it actually commits us — commits the Space Force and the Department of Defense — to … monitoring what’s going on out there,” Hammett said. “And if somebody is a bad actor in the international realm: to monitor, detect, and respond.”

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