The Quiet Space Race

Far over your head, the heavens are becoming a battlefield.

Last century, airpower revolutionized warfare. Germany was the first to understand this. Using a combination of tanks and planes, Berlin won battles in days that would before have taken years. War would never be the same again.

In the last few decades, the world has undergone a similar revolution a little higher up.

America and its allies have gained a huge edge over their rival powers using space technology. Satellites provide maps and photos of battlefields and targets. American pilots, captains, tank drivers and even foot soldiers are guided by Global Positioning System (gps) technology. gps guides smart bombs and cruise missiles not just to general areas, but to buildings and even individuals with deadly accuracy. It protects soldiers from friendly fire and provides instantaneous communication around the world. President Obama watched Osama Bin Laden get killed in real time.

American unmanned aerial vehicles are notorious for striking down terrorists from above. Predator drones alone have already logged over a million hours of flight time, using high-tech positioning to take off, destroy an enemy, and come home again without a pilot ever leaving the ground. These drones—serving as invisible eyes in the sky, accurate bombers and expert air support units—seem destined to be the future of America’s air power.

America has depended on space technology to give powerful eyes and ears to the world’s dominant military.

But, if you think about it, Germany lost World War ii. Is it possible that other countries could close the yawning gap in space superiority?

In 2007, China spurred talk of a new space race—or, more accurately, a space arms race—by demonstrating that it could shoot down a satellite. Since then, though, its plans have appeared less dramatic; the wording of the white paper it produced at the end of 2011, for example, emphasized peace.

Europe is also developing its own space technology, but it too cloaks its program in peaceful research and talk of monitoring global warming.

These powers do not want a new space race—at least not a noisy one. They would lose by a mile. America is already far out in front, and they don’t want it to pick up the pace. They want the American space program to keep standing still, or even stumble backward, while they catch up.

They are getting their wish.

China: A Regional Space Power

“If China’s space plans come to fruition—and its track record over the last decade puts the odds in its favor—it will possess one of the world’s most robust and diverse space systems, many with military applications,” Matt Durnin wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The technologies mentioned are only discussed in a civilian context, but several of these new capabilities have important consequences on the battlefield as well” (Dec. 30, 2011).

To take one example, China’s advances in its rockets mean it can push bigger and better reconnaissance satellites into orbit. And those satellites easily serve dual purposes. Lewis Page, a former Royal Navy officer and author on military matters, explained, “Sometimes this is for wholly scientific purposes, but generally such satellites can be very useful for espionage and military tasks—even if they are ostensibly scientific or commercial in nature, and are genuinely used as such much of the time” (Register, Dec. 30, 2011).

China’s satellite plans revolve around things like “radar satellites” for “environment and disaster monitoring,” but as Page pointed out, “People didn’t invent them for that. Back in Cold War times, in fact, the Soviets developed radar-ocean-reconnaissance birds for the purpose of locating and tracking U.S. warships at sea—and there can’t be much doubt that the modern-day Chinese military, frequently annoyed by U.S. carrier task forces lurking off its coast, would like to be able to do this too.”

America’s whole naval strategy is built around carrier strike groups, and the assumption that other nations, lacking comprehensive satellite surveillance, cannot find these groups while at sea.

This strategy could be in peril, though: China is building a competitor to gps. The Beidou satellite navigation system is already operational in China and its surrounding areas and aims to be operational globally by 2020.

In addition, China has kits that, according to Jane’s Defense Weekly, can be attached to ordinary bombs to turn them into smart bombs. This gives the Chinese a cheap alternative to America’s guided missiles. In theory, at least, China can match America’s precision-guided weapons in the Asia-Pacific area.

China’s spy satellite capabilities are even catching up to America’s. “Starting from almost no live surveillance capability 10 years ago, today the pla has likely equaled the U.S.’s ability to observe targets from space for some real-time operations,” wrote Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin from the World Security Institute in the Journal of Strategic Studies last year.

Europe: Cloaking Military Involvement

Several commentators point to the military applications of China’s space program, but few hold Europe to the same standard. Make no mistake, though: The EU’s space program is militarily oriented.

The EU has been building its own version of gps—Galileo—for years, touting it as the civilian alternative to America’s military-built system. But once the rules for the system were presented to the European Parliament, it became clear that it would be no different than the American system: As with gps, the European Union will be able to turn off most of its satellite navigation service and leave just the military and emergency service version running.

German Member of the European Parliament Reinhard Bütikofer accused the European Commission of deliberately hiding how widespread the military uses for the project were. Until March 2011, documents “did not even hint at the extent of the military uses of the project,” he said.

Despite missed deadlines, cost overruns and Europe’s economic crisis, Galileo has kept going. There is a lot of will behind it. As a civilian project, it makes no sense. But without it, European armies, whose modern weapons rely on satellite navigation, cannot operate independently of the U.S. That makes it a major military priority, especially if you want to use your military for something the U.S. might not like.

The EU also has a major spy satellite program, called gmes—Global Monitoring for Environment and Security. The EU’s publications, like China’s, say this program will focus on climate and disaster monitoring. It says the project will “develop applications such as border or maritime surveillance.” But anything that can be used for “disaster monitoring” can also be used to spy. The EU even admits this is one of its purposes, though of course, that is not as highly publicized.

Included in the project is g-mosaic (gmes services for Management of Operations, Situation Awareness and Intelligence for Regional Crises), which will use the satellites for intelligence gathering. Its “preemptive intelligence” will monitor locations around the world. It will be able to help plan and provide detailed maps for “possible strategic military missions,” according to the EU’s brochure.

A more overt European military satellite project is musis (Multinational Space-Based Imagery System). Several EU nations have their own advanced spy satellites. musis aims to coordinate these systems so Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Greece and Belgium can share data. musis is not yet operational, but Germany and Italy already both have deals with France to share intelligence.

As these powers drive forward to increase their mastery of space technology, America is doing little to keep its lead.

A Game Changer

One obstacle facing the U.S. in trying to retain its space dominance is the volatile nature of its political scene. Put simply, America’s space policy lacks the clear, consistent direction of China’s. “nasa’s direction tends to shift with every change of presidency,” wrote Edward Wong and Kenneth Chang in the New York Times. “President George W. Bush called on nasa to return to the moon by 2020. President Obama cancelled that program and now wants the agency to send astronauts to an asteroid” (Dec. 29, 2011).

China, on the other hand, doggedly follows its five-year plans.

The military component of America’s space program is not managed by nasa, but by the Department of Defense. But the Defense Department suffers from the same wastage and cancellations that cripple nasa.

Including space-related spending by Defense Department and nasa, the United States spends over $64 billion on space a year, dwarfing the defense spending of other nations. The EU, the European Space Agency and EU member states spend a little over $8 billion a year on space in total. But the law of diminishing returns still applies outside the Earth’s atmosphere. America may get better and better observation and communication satellites. But the extra benefit it derives from that spending isn’t even close to the benefit Europe and China would gain from no longer having to rely on America’s satellite navigation system once they have their own.

Right now, the EU’s military is welded to America’s because of its dependence on America’s space infrastructure. American gps guides their bombs, missiles and soldiers: Europe cannot act independently. But once it has completed its own satellite networks, Europe’s foreign policy will shift in a radically different direction.

Europe and Asia’s entry into space changes the world.

America’s Achilles’ Heel

In World War ii, when airpower was relatively new, Germany quickly gained the upper hand not by having the best equipment and technology, but because it figured out how to use what it had to its best advantage. By the time other nations caught on, Germany had already taken over a continent.

With more nations joining this current new battlefield, there is a greater chance of this kind of innovation.

Imagine going from being the only nation with airplanes to being one of several. Even if your air force is still the best, it is a huge shift.

In addition, a nation with space power is in a better position to deliberately target America’s space technology. America’s space power gives it a great advantage, but also creates dependence. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has pointed to America’s reliance on technology as the nation’s Achilles’ heel. Its heavy reliance on technology makes it vulnerable not only to a cyberattack, but also to a physical or electronic attack on its satellite or related systems.

One of China’s new launch rockets, according to Lewis Page, would be able to intercept satellites. As these other nations get more experienced with space systems, they will get better at countering them. A successful attack could mean no more smart bombs, guided missiles, satellite maps and photos or navigation.

For half a century, America was the world’s dominant superpower. But evidence abounds—in the nation’s foreign policy, its economy, its military, its scientific establishment and elsewhere—that this period of dominance is ending. The realm of space technology is yet another arena in which America’s decline has set in, and foreign nations are closing the gap.

This shift takes the world into dangerous new territory—but it is completely in line with trends the Trumpet has been forecasting for decades. For more information on the source of our forecasting, request our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.