Russia And China: Could New Base Plans 'Militarise The Moon'?

A joint Russian-Chinese moon base may not solely be a step toward aggression, a space security expert has suggested.

Both competitors to the West have signed a memorandum of understanding to create a station on the moon, months after the chief of the US Space Force declared space a "warfighting domain".

Alexandra Stickings, Research Fellow for Space Policy and Security at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), believes any potential Western response should leave room for shared exploration and research interests – which the Russian space agency Roscosmos says would benefit all mankind.

Strategies in space are now moving closer to the "disruption and denial" of assets rather than their "destruction", Ms Stickings explained.

Gaining an advantage over international competitors through less explicit acts, leaving hardly any trace, is an increasingly familiar tactic deployed by Russia and China in separate domains.

Both countries have been criticised for operating in the 'grey zone' between war and peace – seeking to destabilise other states through non-combat techniques.

These methods can include disinformationcyber attacks, subversive economics and influencing academic research.

"Certainly in that sense, space is no different," said Ms Stickings, despite managing Western perceptions of the latest move from Russia and China and questioning the helpfulness of a hypothetical moon-based weapon.

"There are so many difficulties when you think about placing a weapon or a capability in orbit around the moon, and that's often just the time it takes to travel from the moon back to, for example, geo-stationary orbit.

"There's no indication of timeframes, of when we might see this happening. No indication of budgets," she added.

Satellites have featured in much of the recent 'war in space' rhetoric in recent years, many concerned the assets could be interfered with (Picture: NASA).
Satellites have featured in much of the recent 'war in space' rhetoric in recent years, many concerned the assets could be interfered with (Picture: NASA).

While maintaining "shooting wars in space" are not an inevitability and that the incoming joint station wouldn't necessarily point toward Russia and China "militarising the moon", Ms Stickings acknowledged an "underlying worry" surrounding the move.

UK Space Command is looking to develop capabilities across the landscape, mostly guiding operations back on Earth with valuable satellite information.

Rhetoric surrounding space war includes the potential to interfere with the satellites used by other nations.

"There are a range of different capabilities that can prevent access to space – to your satellites," Ms Stickings continued.

"Kinetic anti-satellite missiles" come with the additional problem of debris in space, which could in turn impact the assets of the actor which fired the weapon.

Non-kinetic techniques can include cyber attacks, "spoofing of GPS signals," and the potential for lasers to "dazzle optical sensors on satellites," the expert added.

But could the US and Russia's shared used of the International Space Station, alongside international applause for China's recent rover moon missions, signal potential for less aggression in space compared to back on Earth?

"Where space is different is in its ability to act as a bridge," said Ms Stickings.

"We also do need to appreciate the science and exploration in and of itself and not always automatically place military or national security concerns on all of the activities."

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