Space

Will British Commandos Deploy From Space One Day?

The US Air Force is reportedly spending $48 million on the prospect of dropping troops via space ...

We have all seen those movies.

James Bond's Moonraker, cyclops slasher-porn Starship Troopers, the endless chapters of George Lucas' Star Wars saga. In fact, when the words "war in space" are muttered, we more than likely conjure up nostalgic scenes from typically 80s or 90s movies, many considered masterpiece works of sci-fi entertainment.

But, according to a space warfare expert, those notions of laser guns and lightspeed rocket ships, or of orbiting death stars and Earth-invading little green men, cause more of a hindrance than a help as the modern and real-world faces an ever more likely prospect of war in space.

With reports that the US Air Force is spending $48 million on researching reusable rockets that might one day deploy troops via space, BFBS spoke to the go-to expert on space warfare about the prospects of British Commandos one day being deployed on operations from space. 

Will Commandos Be Dropped Into Battle From Space One Day?

Dr Bleddyn Bowen is an expert in space policy and international relations in outer space. Based at Leicester University, he is one of the go-to experts on all matters of war in space. But for anybody who fancies themselves as the next Han Solo, his expert knowledge on conflict in space will likely pour cold water on those visions or dreams.

When asked whether or not we will likely see our military men and women dropped into operations from orbit, the space expert, laughing, said:

"I saw the news that the US Space Force [is] looking at their orbital point-to-point thing, and again, it's resuscitating ideas that have come and gone in various Pentagon labs. It doesn't change the problems. 

"Doing things with rockets, even reusable ones is expensive. Everything you put in a rocket has to survive, for one thing, the shaking you get on launch. But if you want to save money, you have to send the rocket to other spaceports, and if you want to refuel it, it is not as if you can launch something into the jungle and not expect to get it back again. 

"There are really logistical problems here that haven't changed since they were last talking about this 30 years ago.

"That's imaginations running wild."

Dr Bleddyn Bowen is an expert in space policy and international relations in outer space. Credit: Dr Bleddyn Bowen

What Does War In Space Really Look Like?

Describing the likely reality of space war, Dr Bowen said the truth was much closer to home than far-flung battles on the Moon. He said:

"Methods of harassing satellites are highly spread.

"Even if you are looking at regional powers as opposed to "great" world powers, smaller powers can do a lot to satellites through electronic warfare or jamming. And, if you have invested in enough resources, cyber warfare as well.

"I would definitely expect the Israelis to be looking at a lot of various cyber warfare capabilities against any potential satellite system that might be a problem for them in their likely operations. So, if Iran was to develop a sophisticated satellite infrastructure, I would expect the Israelis to be looking at more methods to undermine those systems."

Is War In Space Inevitable?

Dr Bowen was asked if he felt space was an inevitable frontier in future conflicts with the US's newly formed Space Force and more and more critical thinking around the prospects of war in space. His response was direct. He said:

"What you should be asking is: is war inevitable?

"And then depending on the type of war, how useful is space to that?"

Dr Bowen added:

"If the parties have the ability to disrupt, harass or destroy space systems, then space war is an inevitability.

"War in space is something that will happen in the context of terrestrial conflict here on Earth. If we were talking about war with America and China, you wouldn't be asking if naval war was inevitable. If those two nations were going to have a shooting war, then it is inevitable that space systems are going to be targeted in one way or another."

The International Space Station does not allow for scientific collaboration with China. It launched in 1998. Credit: NASA

Who Are The Likely Troublemakers In Space?

Are we in danger from nations cultivating space to aid international objectives in conflict, or is it more likely a Bond-esque villain will use the frontier to gain the upper hand in cyber activities such as computer hacking? According to Dr Bowen, the answer is much more alarming. He said:

"Everybody is a troublemaker because everybody is using space for political, military, economic, self-interested and competitive purposes. 

"The Americans and Soviets led the way in the Cold War, but so did Western Europe, Japan, India and China in the later years of the Cold War as well. What we are seeing now is just a continuation of that."

How Secure Is Space?

The International Space Station is approaching its 21st birthday later this year. However, all these years into its mission, China is still banned from being a part of the scientific coalition that has utilised the ISS for over two decades. Why is that? And with a lack of international conventions designed to keep space secure, how safe is the sky beyond the blue bit for people down here on Earth? Dr Bowen suggested the question is a difficult one to answer, as the matter is so subjective. He said:

"That is a very subjective question. There is no simple answer.

"A good way to approach it is to ask where are the dependencies on space in any given scenario. If you were looking at a China/America war over Taiwan, America's dependencies on space are perhaps more acute and are more widespread definitely than China's, but also more than what the United States' dependencies on space are in a Russia/NATO scenario in, say, a Baltic War."

Dr Bleddyn Bowen is the Author of War In Space, published by Edinburgh University Press.

Does The UK Have A Military Space Capability?

The US has established a Space Force, something Dr Bowen described as being "probably Donald Trump's only legacy," but what has the UK done regarding preparedness for space operations?

Dr Bowen explained that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has had space on its radar for longer than people might realise. He said:

"In terms of the way the MOD is thinking about this, space systems and space power has been a part of doctrine for quite some time. 

"That intellectual foundation is there. The real question is, what does that mean in practice for the MOD when money is tight, and personnel numbers are only really going one way.

"In terms of the services, I don't see space influencing that decision that much. It will be the bigger budgetary decisions that do that.

"And regardless of what goes on in space, you are still going to need to fight wars here on Earth."

How Realistic Is War In Space Portrayed In The Movies?

James Bond has fought off villains using space on several occasions, be they Hugo Drax in Moonraker or Sean Bean's Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye.

But how realistic are these depictions? We asked Dr Bowen his opinions on war in space in the movies. This is what he had to say:

"If you are going to look at one James Bond film, I suggest Tomorrow Never Dies because that has the scene in it where Elliot Carver – the media mogul – spoofs GPS, putting wrong data into the GPS system. That sends a British warship off course into Chinese territorial waters and then triggers a nuclear crisis between Britain and China. 

"In terms of getting into the GPS system, that is arguably the most plausible description of what we could call space warfare in any of the Bond films.

Dr Bowen added:

"Sci-fi really is a hindrance rather than a help here.

"We have to abandon all those notions of sci-fi in space warfare."

Dr Bleddyn Bowen has a book out called War in Space: Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics, which was published by Edinburgh University Press. The paperback edition will also be available soon.

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