Thursday, February 27, 2020

The 21st Century Space Race

The “Space Race” was, initially, a component of the Cold War that stretched out for decades between the United States and Russia. The infamous pseudo-conflict was defined by nuclear arms race and, more broadly, competition to develop superior technology. The technological advantage required to rapidly achieve spaceflight milestones was seen as necessary for national security and mixed with the symbolism and ideology of the time.

By the early 2000s, the era of the “Space Race” seemed antiquated; the Soviet Union had just collapsed, and the new Russian Federation struggled to regain economic viability. However, in the past decade, Russia has made enormous strides to develop their position in outer space. They notably decided to reinstate an official space force within the broader Aerospace Forces in 2015, a step the United States only took this past year.

Also known as Roscosmos, the modern Russian Space Force’s mission is to: monitor space objects, identify potential threats, prevent attacks from space, launch satellites, and control both military and civilian satellite operations. As such, its primary military purpose within the Aerospace Forces is one of reconnaissance. It is used to inform political leaders and military commanders about missile attacks, ballistic missile defense, and the activities of other in-orbit space vehicles.

For example, it operates the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLOSNASS), a space-based navigational system that provides an alternative for Russian operates to the US-owned Global Positioning System (GPS). Notably, however, Russia believes that the active militarization of space is a security threat; though they are advancing reconnaissance technology, they are also determined to prevent the active militarization of space. According to their 2010 military doctrine, Russia wants “an international treaty prohibiting the deployment of any types of weapons in outer space.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed last week that they do not have plans to solve problems in space using weapons.

The United States will now have to assess the reality of the threat that Russian activity in outer space poses before implementing their own policies. The Space Force as it currently exists will be more capable of doing so than those scattered initiatives previously relied upon.

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