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     Volume 9 Issue 43| November 05, 2010 |


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Heavens at Stake

Obaidur Rahman

With the pass of each military conflict, the way the battles are fought is changing dramatically, and somewhat drastically. Traditionally, when it comes to modern warfare, people usually think in terms of land based light or heavy weaponry, massive naval combat vessels, the sneaky yet fatal skills of fighter jets and the brutal atrocities of bomber planes. But there is a whole new battle frontier out there that few know about, where nations after nations are stockpiling their martial interests with lethal accuracy. Mankind's military ambitions have diabolically infiltrated all establishments of nature and lately the noxious new frontier for combat has taken the global military elites to a whole new height: Outer space!

By definition, militarisation of space can be understood in terms of deliberately placing weapons in outer space, which is outside our earthly atmosphere. The kind of weaponry that is specially manufactured to attack targets on Earth from space, engage in space-to-space warfare and disable long-range missiles travelling through space. Indeed very much like science fiction that has ironically prophesised such deadly tactics.

Even though the concept of this 4th military arena (the other three being land, sea and air) is somewhat new, the basic concept that propelled military strategists to pursue such high-flying step has been around for thousands of years. Having the high grounds for military advantage have always been there throughout the ages in every conventional military campaign. That is why fortifications were built on high points, with specially designed walls for archers to rain down lethal volleys; ancient navy vessels were equipped with crow's nest that greatly aided the old admirals on long-range reconnaissance and hot air balloons were aired by Napoleon during the civil war in America and World Wars I and II to monitor enemy troop movements.

Aircrafts literally revolutionised warfare tactics during the twentieth century, however, the “ultimate command of the air” seems to be crucially dependent on who is exercises absolute authority over outer space. Former US president Lyndon B Johnson said in 1961, “Control of space means control of the world”. It all started in 1957, when the former USSR launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, spark the militarisation of space.

What started as a strategy to observe each other's military capabilities and a way to enhance the effectiveness of terrestrial war-fighting abilities by cold-war rivals has now turned into a race to launch weapons and covert-satellites not only to control the realm of space but for absolute and decisive military advantage. Satellites these days, are presumably launched for “peaceful purposes”, however, able military nations all over the world routinely apply the power of this high altitude outpost for command and control, communication, monitoring, early warning and navigation with the aid of the Global Positioning System, often with devastating consequences.

It has always been argued that, any satellite that is being launched into outer space should be used for the utmost benefit of mankind in general-- weather monitoring, search and rescue efforts, natural disaster detection or even managing space debris and advanced research in cosmology for the welfare of human health. But contrary to that, many such advanced technologies are systemically controlled or developed to do exactly the opposite.

History certainly vouches for this. Launched around 1971, the Soviet Almaz secret military space station was equipped with rapid-fire cannon to counter hostile interceptions by their cold-war rival, USA. In 1983, the then US president Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defence Initiative, the objective of which was to destroy enemy Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles. The project was nicknamed “Star Wars”, mostly because it included ambitious concepts like ejecting small rockets from satellites towards targets, satellites in planetary orbit carrying powerful lasers or particle beams. Back in the volatile days of WWII, Nazi Germany secretly planned to develop an orbital weapon called the Sun Gun, a 100-metre-wide concave mirror to reflect sunlight onto any concentrated point on Earth.

During the cold-war era, the then Soviet Union deployed a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System from 1968 to 1983 and under this system, a nuclear warhead was planned to be placed in low Earth orbit and later de-orbited to hit any location on Earth's surface. It is in fact, the Cold War between the two mighty nations that sparked the race for ultimate space domination. Let's not forget how tensed the time was for the world as throughout the cold war, the former USSR conducted around 715 nuclear tests whereas USA 1,015-1,030 which equates to one nuclear test every three weeks during the era of tensions between these two nations.

Since the launch of the first satellite in space, both nations theorised, designed and often tested a wide variety of futuristic weaponry (through the means of Ballistic and Electronic warfare, Direct-Energy weapons and Kinetic bombardment) for warfare in outer space. Sadly, the list continues. Only few incidents of actual space warfare have occurred in the history of mankind though (and thankfully) they were all part of some training missions. Most notable are, in the mid 1980s, a US F-15 successfully shot down the P78-1, a US communication satellite, in 2007 China, destroyed one of its aging satellites FY-1C using a Kinetic Kill Vehicle (a projectile which does not contain an explosive charge) and in its response in 2008, United States shot down its malfunctioning satellite USA 193 using a Standard Missile 3.

Noting mankind's ambition to rule the outer space, an agreement on human space exploration titled “The Outer Space Treaty” was agreed upon in the UN's General Assembly in 1967. The treaty included several key principles. Most notably are: “The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind”, and “States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner”.

Fortunately, there isn't any WMD in outer space (at least not yet), however, piling up of secret surveillance and other military purpose satellites in the outer space continues. This not just due to martial interest but a great deal of political and economic interests is at play here as well. It must be understood that with the way global-politics is functioning these days, it seems military business is going to be the business of the future. Very unfortunately though, strengthening military facets, for whatever reason may that be, seems to be the priority.

2007, the global military expenditure was an astounding $1.339 trillion whereas the entire budget of UN for that particular year was only 1.8 percent of that staggering amount. In 2008, United State's (US) military budget was $607 billion, in 2009, the number graduated into $710 billion and it is expected that within the fiscal year of 2010, the amount is likely to mount somewhere between $880 billion to $1.03 trillion! But it's not just the US; the other 4 members of the UN's Security Council are also big players of the game as well. And the objective of such colossal spending is very simple, to establish the utmost martial superiority on land, air, sea and now, our very own, earthly outer space.

Many fear that militarisation of space will greatly jeopardize strategic balance and stability, undermine both international and national security and disrupt existing arms control agreement between nations, especially, ones that involve nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Already, United States withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 and the development of missile defence systems have resurfaced the olden tensions with Russia once again. Given all the genuine concerns of the world such as poverty and climate change, it certainly is disheartening to see global leaders prioritising on military hardware which solely increases earnings of the weapon manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and TRW Inc.

Life is a gift, the ultimate one, and not just human lives but all that this planet is enriched with. Every living second is a blessing. It is simply tragic to see that more money is spent on killing fellow human beings than to enhance the process of saving human lives.



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