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US military prepares for the next frontier: Space war

Published: November 28, 2016
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Source: CNN

ince man first explored space, it has been a largely peaceful environment. But now US adversaries are deploying weapons beyond Earth's atmosphere, leading the US military to prepare for the frightening prospect of war in space.

"As humans go out there, there has always been conflict. Conflict in the Wild West as we move in the West ... conflict twice in Europe for its horrible world wars," Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, told CNN. "So, every time humans actually physically move into that, there's conflict, and in that case, we'll have to be prepared for that."

Today, the US depends on space more than any other nation. Without satellites, televisions would go blank, mobile networks silent, and the Internet would slow and then stop.

Dependent on time stamps from GPS satellites, everything from stock markets to bank transactions to traffic lights and railroad switches would freeze. Airline pilots would lose contact with the ground, unsure of their position and without weather data to steer around storms.

World leaders couldn't communicate across continents. In the US military, pilots would lose contact with armed drones over the Middle East. Smart bombs would become dumb. Missiles would sit immobile in their silos. The US could lose early warning of nuclear attacks for parts of the Earth.

"There's incentive to take that away from us," said Peter Singer, who advises the Defense Department on space threats and authored "Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War," which runs through a scenario of space war. "And that means if there was conflict on Planet Earth, it would almost inherently start with some kind of conflict in space."

America's chief adversaries in space are familiar ones: Russia and China are extending above the atmosphere the competition and conflict already boiling down here on Earth -- from Syria to Ukraine to the South China Sea to cyberspace.

China and Russia are taking aim at America in space with a dizzying array of weapons seemingly borrowed from science fiction. Russia has deployed what could be multiple kamikaze satellites such as "Kosmos 2499" -- designed to sidle up to American satellites and then, if ordered, disable or destroy them. China has launched the "Shiyan" -- equipped with a grappling arm that could snatch US satellites right out of orbit.

"We would absolutely be shocked if the US military were not on a war footing now based on what we see," said Paul Graziani, CEO of the civilian satellite tracker AGI.

These are not experimental weapons of the future, but weapons of today, already operating from Near Earth Orbit, just 100 miles up and home of the International Space Station, to Medium Earth Orbit at 12,500 miles, where the GPS satellites fly, all the way up to 22,000 miles in Geostationary Orbit, home of the nation's most sensitive military communications and nuclear early-warning satellites.

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