The militarisation of space: Disharmony in the spheres

Modern American warfare relies on satellites. They make America powerful but also vulnerable, particularly in light of China’s new celestial assertivenessA hushed, dimmed hall in the nerve centre that controls America’s air operations from Somalia to Afghanistan is dominated by giant video screens tracking coalition aircraft. Blue dots show the location of ground forces, with “troops in contact” highlighted for priority air support. Smaller screens show live black-and-white footage, relayed by satellite from unmanned drones which, in their turn, are remotely controlled by pilots in America.The Combined Air Operations Centre’s exact location in “southwest Asia” cannot be disclosed. But from here commanders supervise tens of thousands of sorties a year. Through aircraft surveillance pods they get a god’s eye view of operations that range from old-fashioned strafing to the targeted killing of insurgent leaders with bombs guided by global positioning system (GPS) satellites, and emergency air drops to isolated soldiers using parachutes that steer themselves automatically to the chosen spot.These days America fights not in a fog of war but, as one senior air force officer puts it, in a “huge cloud of electrons”. Large amounts of information, particularly surveillance videos, can be beamed to soldiers on the ground or leaders in America. The officer says this kind of “network-centric” warfare is “as revolutionary as when the air force went from open cockpits to jet aeroplanes.”

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