The United States created the “Space Force” as a new independent branch of its armed forces in 2019. Following the US, France launched its Space Command in 2019, the UK in 2021, and Australia in 2022. Other countries are likely to follow a similar path in the coming years. Out of all the four nations, Australia is the nascent space power, and it launched its civilian space agency in 2018 only. The US, UK, France, and Australia respectively announced the intention of establishing Space Command is to protect their assets and interests in outer space from growing threats from adversaries, especially China and Russia.
Outer space has been militarized since the beginning of the space-age in human history. The Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 restricted the export of terrestrial arms races into Outer Space. However, Spacefaring nations, especially the US and Soviet Union/Russia, started using space assets and services for military activities, implying a skewed interpretation of international Outer space treaties. The US, Russia, China, and India developed terrestrial-based Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons to shoot down satellites in the lower earth orbits. Also, the demonstration of ASAT weapons by the four nations created thousands of debris in the earth’s orbits threatening the existence of thousands of satellites. Further, the US, China, and Russia also deployed dual-use capabilities in the orbits that can be used to destroy or deny the adversary of space capabilities for adversary militaries in terrestrial conflicts.
Outer space is not an isolated space, and it isn't used for military purposes alone. It is a shared space for all humanity without physical boundaries like the high seas. Any large-scale impacts on one’s satellites in earth’s orbits will have profound implications for lives on the planet as space-based services and assets have become critical to the function of the modern world with time. Currently, one cannot imagine daily lives and the world without space-based services. With numerous private and public launching hundreds of satellites with variables sizes, capacities, and capabilities every year, our planets near outer space have become too crowded. Experts estimate outer space becomes unsustainable and inaccessible if the current trend of satellite launches continues and the existing space debris compounded over the years isn’t cleared.
Outer Space has been a contested space for strategic military advantages, civilian services, and economic benefits among major global powers for several years. In recent years, the US has been critical of China and Russia’s exponential rise in space activities and passive-aggressive activities around its and other space assets. The US military urged the government to increase its offensive & defensive capabilities in outer space to protect its interests and assets. On top of the existing space debris, space accessibility, and sustainability issues, the US and its allies, official designation of Outer space as a warfighting domain increased the risk of a potential arms race in outer space. It’s a matter of time before space-faring nations develop and deploy offensive capabilities and modern weapons that aren’t restricted under the existing international space laws to protect and dominate the environment. The half-century-old international space treaties outperformed beyond expectations in restricting the weaponization of outer space, but they are evidently no longer effective in limiting the modern arms race. For the benefit of all humankind, the global community should pressure the space-faring nations to frame new international space treaties and laws to regulate activities in outer space and avoid an arms race.