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  • Writer's pictureRed Line Producer

Episode 52. The Future of Space Warfare

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Space has become the latest battlefield to undergo wide-ranging militarisation, with everything from Nuclear Weapons to Kamikaze Satellites being deployed into orbit. What was once just a two-horse race between the US and the USSR has now burst open, and the position of space dominance may be up for grabs; with serious geopolitical consequences here on Earth.



Bleddyn Bowen

  • Professor of International Relations at the Universtity of Leicester

  • Author of War In Space: Strategy, Space Power, and Geopolitics

  • Worked for UK Defence Department, NATO, and with the US State Department

Alexey Muraviev

  • Associate Professor of National Security and Strategic Studies at Curtin University

  • Director of the Strategic Flashline Forum

  • Specialist in Orbital Weapons and the Russian Space Program

John B. Sheldon

  • Senior Advisor to the Space Policy Unit at the Policy Exchange Think Tank in London

  • Former Professor of Space and Cybersecurity at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

  • Worked with governments across the spectrum on space security


Part 1: The Next Pearl Harbour? (1:36)

  • The militarisation of space is as old as the space age itself. Bowen takes us through space's history as a theatre of warfare, from the two horse race beginning at the start of the cold war, to the open theatre of competition we find ourselves in today.

  • We look at what militarising space provides, from improving precision bombing, strengthening communications, enabling manual and autonomous drone navigation, and improving a variety of intelligence applications including national intelligence, nuclear proliferation monitoring and timely tactical information during warfare.

  • Every country is working to catch up to the successes and capabilities that the United States has built for itself in space. We overview the key actors, from Russia who fell behind near the end of the Cold War and has only improved its capacity in some theatres, to China who has rapidly secured its second place in number of space assets deployed, but is only in its first generation. Additionally, the EU is deploying their own GPS system called Galileo, and has limited military development.

  • Space Force is the United States' first new military service since 1947. We look at the 20 year history of attempts to create a space force, and what its creation means for the future militarisation of space. What does it say about US policy and the progress made by its rivals? And what consequences does it have for the structure of the US military and its acquisition process?

  • Finally we look at space tech, including lasers to move satellites or remove them from orbit, the problems with weapons deployment in space, and the ability to interfere with satellites' intelligence gathering.


Part 2: Nowhere Left To Hide (18:33)

  • Sputnik's launch in 1957 marked the changeover from space exploration to space militarisation. Muraviev helps us understand just how critical space capacity has become to the day-to-day operations of military forces since then. From guidance to navigation to early warning to interception, a good deal of modern military innovations are reliant on space support and space technology.

  • We look at the consequences of multiple GPS systems being developed to rival the United States' - The EU's Galileo, China's BeiDou, and Russia's GLONASS.

  • Muraviev takes us into the nitty gritty of how critical satellites and space systems are for a variety of modern military applications, comparing across missile types, guidance systems, and ground force operations.

  • With China's recent test of their anti-satellite missiles which is estimated to have created up to 25% of the space debris in orbit, we look at the specifics of how satellite operations may be offensively impacted and the consequences of anti-satellite missiles.

  • We look at types of space weapons and why there has been such limited testing of these capacities. This includes lasers, anti-satellite weapons kinetic weapons, space guns, and dropping things from space onto earth.

  • With so much debris up there and the number of debris continuing to increase, what are the real possibilities for cleaning it up? Do we have the technology to do so, and how much would it cost?

  • Finally we look at the lack of rules of engagement in space warfare. With no established patterns or outlines, what would happen if offensive action was taken, and how quickly might things escalate?


Part 3: Death From Above (46:16)

  • Having thoroughly covered the history and current day space warfare domain, with Sheldon we turn to the future.

  • Given the immense transition in space warfare taking place today across military and commercial grounds, Sheldon argues that space will become cemented as the fifth primary theatre of warfare, alongside land, sea, air, and cyberspace.

  • As new players like Iran, India, China, and the EU continue to expand their presence, norms and boundaries will be tested, and space will become increasingly congested.

  • Aside from some very limited agreements between the USSR and the US in the 1970s, there is little in the way of space precedent. Sheldon outlines how questions of sovereignty and freedom of movement/placement of satellites has not been tested in war time. While for now states do not challenge the rights of other countries to orbit satellites above them, would this remain the case in war? And what could be done to stop that orbit?

  • Following the commercialisation thread, Sheldon takes us through his thoughts on space resource extraction through means like asteroid mining. We also cover the consequences of developments like SpaceX's Starlink Constellations, and the importance of reusable rockets.

  • Sheldon analyses the obstacles to continued US dominance. While for now they are a colossus that far outstrips the spending, quality, and technological advancement of any other player, maintaining this lead requires constant attention and care, and could easily by undone by careless policy. Continuing their combined operations with Fiveyes and ensuring that their allies have strong secure access to US capabilities is key.


The Red Line's Space Warfare Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Space Warfare.


The War In Space

Bleddyn Bowen

Understanding Space Strategy: The Art of War In Space

John J. Klein

The Next 100 Years

George Friedman



For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:

This episode is dedicated to Patreon members Nicholas J Meyers, Daniel Geizler, and Brad Buss.


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