The Sobering Reality of Orbital Weapons Platforms

Image Credit: LucasFilm/LucasArts

Image Credit: LucasFilm/LucasArts

Space warfare is quickly becoming a reality. Though people might often imagine that wars fought in space would be against some sort of extraterrestrial power, this might not be the case. It’s far more likely than human beings will someday war with one another. As with every other major venture, international law is involved with the development of space. Certain laws are in place to prevent countries from placing weapons of mass destruction into orbit.

Whether or not aggressive powers would actually abide by such laws is questionable. Researchers will have to find ways to defend against such threats. Believe it or not, there have already been patent applications for certain types of hypersonic orbital fighter jets. Craft like this would need some particularly unique engine designs. While nuclear power sounds like a good idea, the threat of fallout making it back into the Earth’s atmosphere is too great.

When orbital shipyards make construction of vessels in space possible, wings become completely foolish. In fact, spacecraft designed for combat would want to show as little surface area as possible. Giant cruisers might have become popular as a result of the magic of motion picture technology, but these designs are almost worthless if fighting an enemy in space.

Since there’s no reason to worry about lift in a practical vacuum, spherical designs are probably the most useful. Few film directors would want to show numerous balls floating around in space, but these designs would be the most practical. Engines would easily wrap around a sphere and propel the object in one direction or the other. Gravitational forces presented by other bodies in space could very well be used as slingshots to travel great distances without using too much fuel. Of course, they could also be considered hazards to avoid.

It’s likely that the first few confrontations in space would be rather awkward. Tacticians wouldn’t really know how to use their new weapons any better than naval officers used the Monitor and the Merrimac. Of course, for the time being any space weapons would be looked at as a deterrent rather than a full-fledged offensive device. Since the Cold War has long ended and military forces are focused on fighting small groups as opposed to nation states, the idea of deterrents has seemed to slip many people’s minds.

Peace is still a very real option. One might hope that humanity can avoid such conflicts. In fact, despite the idea that space warfare is inevitable, the exploration of space might very well help to prevent wars. Since resources are almost limitless in space, development and exploration could end many of the root causes of international conflicts. That would actually be better than having to prepare for an interstellar fight.

Reference:

Klein, J. (2004). SPACE WARFARE: A MARITIME-INSPIRED SPACE STRATEGY Astropolitics, 2 (1), 33-61 DOI: 10.1080/14777620490444740

Maogoto, J., & Freeland, S. (2007). The Final Frontier: The Laws of Armed Conflict and Space Warfare SSRN Electronic Journal DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.1079376

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  • http://thisledo.blogspot.com Paul Healy

    Because so much of modern warfare depends on satellite communications, I think the possibility of orbital warfare is very possible, very soon. If it hasn’t already happened.
    Simply using an orbiting object to ram another is all it would take. And then there are the kinetic weapons being designed. Oy.

    • Jason Carr

      Definitely crazy and scary stuff Paul. Thanks for reading! :)

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