Abstract. For some years, various countries have been engaged in a race for the militarization of 'outer space' and the creation of new space forces. This race is having consequences on technology, war strategy, and international relations.
Research questions. What are the programs and resources allocated to the new Space Forces? What new technologies will future wars be fought with? What new risks are being created? Is it possible to slow down the new space race and transform this effort into economic and social opportunities?
Methodology. An analysis of the six countries that currently have the most experience in space activities is carried out. The analysis concerns objectives, organizational structures, and size of the resources allocated to R&D in new military technologies. The sources of data and information are from scientific literature, documents of the ministries of defense, reports of parliamentary commissions and bodies of the armed forces.
Discussion. In addition to indicating the new types of war and weapons, and the risks that are emerging, ways to facilitate cooperation are also considered as well as the possibly positive effects of new technologies on the economy and society.
Keywords: Space Forces. Cooperation agreements. Technological fallout. 
Donald Trump’s and Emmanuel Macron’s 2019 announcements, just a few weeks apart, around the establishment of a Space Force in their countries confirmed the existence of the process of the militarization of Outer Space (conventionally identified in space and related celestial bodies, starting 100 km above sea level), which now seems to be generally accepted. Other countries with a solid experience in space, such as Russia, China, Japan, and India, have also started building their own Defense Space Corps. These initiatives are confirmed by the growing trends in military spending envisaged in their relative budgets. Among these countries, China and Russia had previously received complaints from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom for having repeatedly carried out destructive tests of satellites in orbit. A new controversial chapter in space competition is thus opening.
For the time being, all the big countries justify the new corps as structures for the defense of their economic and commercial interests represented by satellites for telecommunications, scientific exploration, and other services. This motivation hides the will to garrison Outer Space for other reasons, such as maintaining — or increasing — one's power and political influence at the international level. In this sense, the opening of a new aspect of military competition generates behaviors similar to those that marked the Space Race of the 1950s and 1960s. Once again, in fact, an intense technological competition is taking place, with the only difference that it is now defining the very features of modern warfare.
Below is a review of the Space Forces currently being set up in the main countries and their respective programs. Since no one is unaware of the potential danger of the militarization of Space, the nature of the risks deriving from the ongoing process is also described here. Finally, the possibly positive effects of investments and research efforts on economic systems and society are considered in the hope that, despite militarization, Outer Space will remain an area of freedom and peaceful collaboration.
The Constraints Imposed by the Space Law
The establishment of Space Forces marks the start of a process that can upend the use of Outer Space, governed by a series of principles and rules still in force dictated by so-called space law. It is appropriate to briefly recall the main aspects of this law, which was established after the end of the space race of the last century.
Before the start of the space adventure, Outer Space had received attention only from scientific associations of astrophysicists, which beginning in the early 1940s had begun to raise the problem of space policy at their annual meetings, albeit without making any regulation proposals. Various international treaties stipulated between 1967 and 1979 progressively contributed to shaping space law. The most important one is the 1967 Treaty signed by 104 countries (Outer Space Treaty) entitled: 'Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies'. The formal definition of the norms, the guidelines for their application, and their related monitoring are entrusted to a United Nations Agency (UNOOSA, 2019). The basic principle that inspired these rules as a whole is the freedom of accessing Outer Space, understood as a place that belongs to humanity. Therefore, property rights by individual states, citizens, businesses, or other organizations are not permitted. The entry of vehicles in Outer Space must therefore be reported and registered: in particular, the type of vehicle (satellite, probe, station etc.), the purpose of the mission, and the expected duration of an operation must be indicated. To avoid the accumulation of dangerous debris in orbit, there is also the obligation to recover the space instrument that is no longer usable. Furthermore, the use of Outer Space is allowed for peaceful reasons only; therefore, the transport of weapons and radioactive material is not permitted (Latino, 2020). Finally, other obligations revolve around the sharing of information, compensation for any damage caused, and assistance operations. In essence, the regulatory framework still in force is defined by a free and peaceful use of Outer Space to promote and protect the development of joint initiatives in solidarity. This was the case with the successful launch of the 1976 Apollo-Soyuz Project, — which allowed the docking of two spacecrafts —, with the 1986 establishment of the Mir space station — which was later visited by various guests from the West — and with the joint planning of scientific missions up to the creation of the International Space Station (ISS), which still operates today.
Space Activities and Military-Civil Cooperation
In the last century, the military’s contribution was decisive for the development of space activities and related technologies. Famously, the protagonists of the first phase of the Space Race were two engineers who belonged to the armed forces or worked for them. In the United States, Wernher Von Braun’s contribution was essential: he had previously worked for the German Army as an SS major and was the designer of the V2 rocket. After surrendering to the Allies, Von Braun first collaborated with the US Air Force and later with NASA, at President Eisenhower’s behest, where he worked first on the development of the Vanguard rockets and later as Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, contributing to the realization of the great launcher Saturn V, necessary for the Moon landing. Similarly, in the Soviet Union, the chief of space engineers Sergey Korolev, Colonel of the Red Army, led the construction of — and put in orbit — Sputnik 1 on the 4th of October 1957, and subsequently, on the 12th of April 1961, the first astronaut Yurij Gagarin, aboard the Vostok 1. Korolev's name is finally linked to the creation of the R-7 carrier, still considered one of the most reliable today.
Historically, the list of technologies developed for war means and later deployed for civilian use is very long. Just think of the radar as a warning system against air attacks, jet aircraft engines, and the first nuclear fission reactor. Important technologies of military origin are, to name a few, the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency NETwork) created in 1969 and financed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), progenitor of the Internet network which entered civilian use in 1991 with the World Wide Web. Always of military origin are the satellite services such as GPS (Global Positioning System) then transferred to civil applications with an appropriately degraded signal, communication systems, and technologies for taking images of the Earth.
In some countries, such as China and partly Russia, the management of both civil and military space activities is entrusted to a single structure under military control. In other countries, the link between civil and military programs takes place at the level of the board of directors of civil space agencies, where a place is reserved for a representative of the armed forces, as is the case, for example, in France for CNES and in Italy for ASI. An institutional approach to collaboration between the military and civilians is the dual use model, which has been widespread in the space sector for several years, essentially for cost-saving reasons. However, problems in the use of this model have not been absent. In Japan, for example, a law amending the Constitution had to be approved in 2008, which excluded the use of space technologies for military purposes (Yasuo Otani et al., 2012). It has been pointed out that the transfer to civil uses ('non-linear' transfer) may require significant additional investments in R&D (Molas-Gallart, 1997). Finally, legal problems have been raised relating to the ownership of the technologies to be transferred, and still others of an ethical nature (Gasparini Alves, 2001). In this regard, the concern has been raised that the transfer could lead to a generalized proliferation of weapons, given that the military commands do not always have their own manufacturing facilities and turn to external suppliers, that is to specialized companies that also work for the space agencies involved in civilian uses of space. These suppliers end up effectively operating as technology transfer agents in ways that often elude the laws around the protection of innovative know-how.
Principal Space Defense Institutions and Programs
As aforementioned, the countries who have substantial experience and organizational as well as technological structure in space have recently decided to give an autonomous organizational structure to their military commitment to the sector. It is a military branch distinct from traditional armed forces (army, navy, and air force), though it is frequently inserted within these. In all cases, these bodies have their own budget with their own hierarchical and functional structure. Although their establishment is very recent, we can describe, based on the documents available, some of the space defense programs under construction. We will consider the following countries below: the US (due to its international role and the amount of dedicated resources); Japan (which, despite its constitutional constraints, has very advanced technologies), and China (due to its role in the East and the economic influence it is gaining in the world); as well as Russia, France, and India.
A summary examination of the new Space Forces allows us to grasp two common features that characterize their mission: 1. the design and management of defense operations both for its own satellites and new weapons; 2. the development and management of surveillance and intelligence systems from Space through communication networks and inter-operational links with other forces (cyberspace). In this sense, the mission of these structures is configured as a 'mission of service'.
U.S. Space Force
Following Donald Trump’s announcement, the US Space Force, currently part of the Air Defense Department (Ervin, 2020), began on the 20th of December 2019 within the US Strategic Command. Its organizational structure appears to be divided into three commands (Fig.1): Space Systems, Space Operations, Space Training, and Readiness Command.
Fig 1. U.S. Space Force Organization Structure
(Source; Space Forces Public Affairs, 2020)
The 2021 Space Force budget requested by the Senate amounts to USD15.5 billion. To these must be added USD800 million for personnel expenses, temporarily accounted for in the budget of the Department of the Air Force. The organization of the budget broken down by major expense items is as follows (in billions $):
- 10.3 R&D and technological upgrading programs;
- 2.6 operations and maintenance work;
- 2.4 construction of satellites, launches, and the cost of satellite services;
- 0.2 modernization of buildings and the construction of new infrastructure.
The largest portion of the budget is allocated to R&D activities, which sheds light on the new force’s mission: to make space domination possible through primacy and technological upgrading. The examination of the sections of the US Space Force budget dedicated to R&D (RDTE, Research and development, technology, and evaluation) positions the effort for innovation on the following topics (US Dept. of Defense, 2020):
- antisatellite missiles (ASAT) and space transport vehicles
- direct energy weapons
- equipment for silencing satellite communications
- constellations of micro-satellites for the defense of existing US satellites in orbit
- intelligence and monitoring of opposing space defense structures
- design and testing of new satellite interceptors
- modernization of the Air Force’s ground stations and bases on US territory
- creation and testing of interoperative computer networks (cyberspace).
About fifteen years ago, the Department of Defense announced its intention to develop partially or totally autonomous weapons (AWS, Autonomous Weapons Systems: weapons that do not require human guidance) for all departments of the Armed Forces, initiating an Artificial Intelligence (AI) arms between the main countries (Marchant et al., 2011).
Japanese Space Defense
To understand the nature of the initiatives that Japan is taking in the field of space defense it is necessary to briefly recall some historical and contextual elements that guide its politico-military decision-making. At the end of the Second World War, Japan was denied the possibility of reconstituting its own army (Aruga, 1994). In 1960, considering tensions in the area, the possibility of setting up national armed forces was granted, albeit exclusively for defense purposes. Even today, the Japanese Army is identified as a self-defense organization. This obligation also guides the mission of the Space Defense Force it is setting up. Japan, which in the meantime has become a major industrial power, is aware of the politico-military role that China, a neighboring country, has assumed. And it cannot ignore North Korea's recent threats to democratic Asian countries.
Japan's economic growth was characterized by collaborative ties with the United States, which gradually extended to space as well. The two countries have intensively collaborated not only in industrial activities, but in scientific space missions as well. This collaboration has been extended to Space Defense, and it has recently been reaffirmed and drawn up in formal documents that specify the guidelines for the exchange of data and experiences in joint defense projects (Przystup, 2015). As with all countries interested in space, Japan's investments in space defense have multiple objectives (Anupama Vijayakumar, 2020):
- a) build a structure to contrast any rival’s war initiatives;
- b) maintain its politico-military influence;
- c) not to lose ground in the large international space market, particularly rich in innovative technologies.
In this regard, it is worth mentioning the high level reached by Japanese space companies, especially in robotics. An example is the 'Robot-astronaut' which operated effectively on the International Space Station (ISS) and the Hayabusa series of vehicles, successfully used in several space explorations (Kumaresan and Miyazaki, 1999; Hasegawa, 2020).
In April 2020, the Japanese Parliament approved the establishment of the 'Space Domain Mission Unit', dedicated to the defense of space. The resolution provides the operational activation of this unit by 2023, as part ofJapan’s self-defense Air Force, with its own budget and organizational autonomy. The summary documents of the preparatory work explicitly refer to the role the Unit could have for the security and political stability of the Indo-Pacific Region. Already in 2015, in view of this objective, the Ministry of Self-Defense launched some initiatives to avoid losing ground in the development of space weapons compared to China and Russia. In fact, both countries already have satellite interceptors, in particular the Chinese SC-19 and the Russian NUDOL -PL 19, launched in 2007 and 2019 respectively, which had left debris in orbit as a result of their deployment. The initiatives of the Japanese Air Force that preceded the establishment of the Self Space Defense Unit were:
- the preparation of an anti-missile rapid alert system;
- the restructuring of the military communications network;
- the launch of an experimental satellite equipped with radar for detection
and tracking of orbiting vehicles.
The Quasi-Zenith regional GPS (QZSS, also called Michibiki) has also been finalized, which serves as a back-up for the military navigation system used by the US Space Force, too.
No details are currently available on the activities planned for the next few years, as the space domain unit is still under construction (Japan Defense Budget, 2019). It is known, however, that a total of 50.6 billion yen have been allocated to space defense for 2021, equal to USD488.5 million. This sum should finance, among other projects, a part of the inter-Forces communication network, the development of an instrument for the 'silencing' of satellites based on high-power lasers and the launch of a satellite equipped with an optical telescope able to identify spacecraft with weapons on board. To the sum indicated above must be added 25.6 billion yen, equal to USD247.1 million, for the realization of an autonomous defense project (already described) to be entrusted to the National Cybernetics Agency, established in 2014.
The Military Presence in Chinese Space Plans
If we exclude astronomical studies that have a centuries-old tradition, China's interest in space is relatively recent. The launch of the first satellite (Donfanghong) took place in 1970; the subsequent activities in space, both civilian and military, were managed by the same agency. The country's activity in the space sector has only intensified in recent years. In the 2019-2020 two-year period, for example, the number of satellites launched by China was significantly higher than that of the United States (Tab. 2).
Tab. 1. Satellites put into orbit (excluding micro satellites) in 2019 and 2020
by countries with launch capabilities (Source: Gunter’s Space page, 2020)
It is probable that China, in the belief that space hegemony may play an important role in the future in terms of political and military influence, is moving towards a local war model with high technological intensity. This would be the point of arrival after a progressive idea of war that began under Mao Tse Tung’s leadership, who feared an invasion by the Russian or American armies in the 1950s and 1960s (Cheng, 2012), and thought to counter it through a popular revolt and widespread guerrilla warfare in the area. During the first period of his leadership, Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, developed the conviction that the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty would avert a global Russian-American conflict and reduce the tension between the great socialist and capitalist countries. Moreover, Deng grasped the possibility of a big push for economic and social progress in the development of space technologies, and consequently favored the development of space activities. During the second part of his mandate, and under Jiang Zemin’s leadership, the idea that the country's defense system should be totally restructured, given the increasingly frequent outbreak of regional conflicts and the disappearance, in fact, of the threat of global war gained currency amid the Chinese ruling class. In the second half of the 1990s, and on the basis of the experiences of the conflicts that had occurred in previous decades (from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War, to the conflict in Iraq), the typical profile of modern war emerged, marked by a strong technological base, effective intelligence for monitoring the field of operations, and the interoperability of the various forces.
Consistent with this vision, China formally formed its own Space Force, the Strategic Support Force (SSF), in December 2015, as part of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Born as a result of an overall reform of the country's Armed Forces, the SSF effectively brings together the various space activities developed since the 1990s (Ni and Gill, 2019), with two peculiar differences compared to similar structures in other large countries: at the top, the general command is flanked by a political commissar and 2. works in collaboration with the organization for the design and construction of launchers (PLA Rocket Force). The activities of the SSF concern three functional areas (Table 3): space systems, cyberspace, and space warfare (see also: Costello and Reynolds, 2018).
Tab 2. Functional diagram of the Chinese Space Force.
(Source: PLA Strategic Support Force Organization chart; NDU Press, Oct. 2, 2018)
The initiatives undertaken by the organization in question, after its establishment in 2015, bear witness to China's will to play an important role in the military control of Space. The first step through remote sensing, consisted in starting, a global reconnaissance of the militarily relevant situations in the area. This explains the large number of satellites (as many as 73, about half of which are military) launched in 2019 and 2020. The extensive analysis carried out made it possible to collect data on the geodesy, hydrogeological structure, and atmospheric conditions of the various areas of the planet (Acuthan, 2018). China has also expanded the range of use of the BeiDou GPS navigation system, extending its effectiveness to the entire Asian continent. Many of the military satellites launched incorporate SAR and ELINT equipment (i.e., radar and artificial intelligence, AI) necessary for space recognition and surveillance. Finally, in the last two years, several constellations of micro-satellites capable of carrying out quantum communications have been put in orbit to create a defense umbrella for the country and a network necessary to link with various armed forces.
Regarding the programs for the next few years, various documents indicate a significant effort to digitalize the activities to serve the Strategic Support Force, in addition to the development of attack and destruction systems mainly based on the use of electromagnetic waves and powerful radar. Investments in information technology will also form the basis for the use of AI systems to connect the various military networks, and therefore to speed up any responses to enemy attacks (Bommakanti, 2020). Such a program will require a considerable effort in R&D, of which, however, there are no reliable economic data. The necessary resources will presumably be found in the Chinese Defense budget, which has been growing for over twenty years.
The Russian Space Force
The realization of an effective space defense has been part of the Russian political-military strategy since the period of the competition against the United States (the Space Race). A project in this regard was developed as the Soviet response to Ronald Regan’s announcement in March 1983 to create a protective shield against possible missile attacks. It can therefore be considered that the Russian know-how in the field of space warfare is high and has survived unscathed the period of political uncertainty after the end of the Cold War. In 2015, the Russian Space Force became an autonomous command within the Ministry of Defense. The mission of the renewed Space Forces is described as follows:
" (...) Space Forces perform a wide range of missions including:
- Monitoring space objects and identification of potential threats to the Russian Federation in space and from space, prevention of attacks as needed;
- Carrying out spacecraft launches and placing in orbit, controlling satellite systems, including Integrated ones (to be used for both military and civilian purposes) in flight, and using separate ones towards providing the Russian Federation Armed Forces with the necessary information;
- Maintaining both military and integrated satellite systems with launching installations and assets of control in the workable order, and a number of other tasks" (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, 2020).
The Russian Government wanted to keep the prestigious Center for the design and construction of launchers hierarchically distinct from the Space Command, though functionally connected to it, which supplies other agencies for civilian activities in space through specific commercial agreements. The activities include:
Programming launch activities (Programming launchers and missiles, Co-management of launch bases, Design and management of anti-missile systems, Programming of satellite and space transport vehicle launches);
Space and communication systems (Satellite management, Glonass system management (GPS), Communication network management, Ground station management);
Surveillance (Remote sensing and intelligence, Tracking and monitoring of orbital vehicles, Sensors and warning systems, Protection systems for in-orbit satellites);
Combat systems (Ballistic weapons, Direct energy weapons, Electronic and electromagnetic weapons).
Tab. 3. Russian military spending, 2010-2019 (Source: SIPRI Yearbook;
US billion dollars and roubles at constant prices and rates exchange)
Various research and experimental technological structures are inserted within the aforementioned functional areas (Strout, 2020). Among the technical tools already developed we not OCNO, a powerful orbiting optical telescope, and OREST, another orbiting instrument capable of disabling satellite communications, blocking GPS, and making various systems for linking communication networks useless. Finally, the A-232 NUDOL anti-satellite ballistic missile, already tested on satellites in low orbit, is worth mentioning.
Space Defense in India’s Strategy
The Indian space defense is entrusted to the Defense Space Agency (DSA), established in September 2018 as part of the country's defense system. Three military commands have been united under this structure: Cyberspace, the Aerospace Division, and Special Operations of the Army (Raghuvanshi, 2019). The government's decision to establish the DSA as a 'three services' organization can be traced back to the threat of Pakistani ballistic missiles, which has occurred several times, and to the difficult relations that India has always had with China, in part linked to the dispute over the Himalayan territories located on the borders of the two large countries.
DSA has some characteristics that differentiate it from the Space Forces already examined. It is directly dependent on the Integrated Defense Agency, an umbrella structure for the defense system which includes, in addition to the Ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Finance, the Commands of the Navy, Air Force, and Ground Forces. This location highlights its strategic role: to elaborate and coordinate warfare strategies; while the name of the agency excludes it from being a military corps stricto sensu (Lele, 2019). It is also functionally linked to the Defense Space Research Organization (DESRO), which has the scientific and technological skills necessary for the development of innovative projects in various warfare activities (Winthers, 2019). Given its nature as a body for research, proposal, and coordination, the Agency has a staff of 300 people with a high professional profile detached from the various commands of the armed forces. For the space defense program, the knowledge and experience gained from the early years of this century have converged in the SDA; in 2006 an anti-missile system was tested; and in 2009 an anti-satellite technology (ASAT) was made available to the armed forces. The development of the anti-missile system was carried out to respond to the threat of Pakistani missiles, involving the research and industrial structures of the country with know-how on launchers. In the case of ASAT technology (ballistic missiles and satellite 'silencing' by means of electromagnetic pulses), the aim was to support research and development after the first Chinese ASAT test in 2007. With these precedents, the objectives under the agency’s current direction and coordination include projects that cover all areas of warfare: ASAT systems, anti-missile systems, directed energy weapons, co-orbital defense systems and, of course, the development of GPS, intelligence, and surveillance. On March 27th, 2019, India carried out an ASAT test with its own missile (Akhmetov et al., 2019).
The French Space Command
A few weeks after President Macron’s announcement on July 13th 2019, the Comandement de l'èspace was incorporated (3rd September) in the Air Force, thus becoming the Air and Space Force with this new entry. The President justified the creation of the new Command with the need to defend French satellites, holding that Outer Space had become a theater of military competition. This opinion took shape after various tests on the neutralization of satellites, recently organized by the Russian and Chinese military. These include the 2017 attempt to intercept the communications of the Franco-Italian military satellite 'Athena-Fidus' by a Russian satellite (Spacewatch Global, 2020).
Among European countries, France has always had a pre-eminent position in space activities, and, to this day, ranks third in spending by share of gross domestic product (GDP). This considerable commitment was maintained even after the birth of the European Space Agency (ESA), in which France is one of the major financiers along with Germany and Italy. In addition to this, the French government has always promoted close collaboration in the space field between civilian and military actors. In addition to dual-use projects, the new Military Command intends to further develop collaboration with CNES (the French Space Agency) and therefore with ESA, using the Kouru equatorial launch base and common technological and research skills. The civil-military proximity will also be physical, since the new military command provides for the establishment of a research center of electronic and computer engineers, located in Toulouse in the same building occupied by CNES’ researchers (Spacewatch Global, 2020).
The Command is under the authority of the Chief of Staff of the Air and Space Force. The plans foresee its gradual development until 2023 in the following functional areas (Vecchiatto, 2021):
- Space Systems (launch and management of satellites);
- Operations support services (collection, control and distribution of information to other military forces, management of communication networks, other cyberspace activities);
- Space environment awareness (surveillance, intelligence and monitoring, organization of early military response);
- Active defense (protective armed interventions).
The structure in question will be completed by 2023; its start was ensured by the transfer of personnel from other Commands. €4.3 billion were allocated to carry out the planned activities for the 2020-2025 period, to be used mainly for the following initiatives:
- renewal of the terrestrial communications network of the Armed Forces;
- replacement of most of the current satellites with a new generation of satellites equipped with cameras, and subsequently with others equipped with powerful laser and other devices to deactivate or destroy enemy satellites;
- putting in orbit of some constellations of small satellites capable of deactivating or disturbing the communications of enemy satellites;
- strengthening of interforce communications systems, enabling them to receive data and images from orbiting vehicles (Liptak, 2019)
What to Learn from the Space Force’s Ongoing Experiences?
Technologies and Risks of Space War
The cases examined above chronicle in some detail the process of the 'militarization' of space that is underway. The actors are countries with more experience in the space field and who, at the same time, have specific political-military reasons for organizing their own defense. Other countries are also aspiring participants, e.g., Israel, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and North Korea. From what is described in the above, a strong commitment to R&D emerges; the technological areas in which investments are concentrated are, as already mentioned, AI, robotics, cyberspace (integrated IT systems, telecommunications), and new weapon systems (ballistic and 'directed energy').
The new space race has both political and economic motives and involves risks and opportunities. A presence in outer space, in addition to increasing the effectiveness of a country's security system, increases its political power and prestige. It is therefore not surprising that in the confrontation between the United States and China, driven by the effort for political and economic leadership, they have chosen to project it to the military garrison of space (Al Rodhan, 2019; Moltz, 2019). In this context, Russia will be able to play a supporting role as will Europe, if it is able to find united leadership on the political and military level. Although this goal will be difficult to achieve, both because of the UK’s exit from the European Union and France’s ambitions, as the latter is unlikely to give up its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. It should also be noted that Germany is unlikely to accept reducing its cooperative behavior with China, which currently receives the largest share of its exports. The great economic interests of the individual countries involved in the militarization of space do not facilitate collaboration: this includes industrial and financial interests related to the Internet, telecommunications, and satellite services (navigation, logistical, and transport systems, social services such as telemedicine, tele-education), whose strong growth is expected in coming years (Nair, 2008).
After the signing of the 1968 Treaty on the prohibition of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the phase of so-called détente also extended to space. First of all, collaborative relations between astrophysicists intensified, something which had never ceased even during the Cold War period as regards the exchange of scientific information. Shortly thereafter, the joint planning of scientific missions continued until 1976, when the Apollo-Soyuz Project was successfully carried out, which made possible the docking of a Russian and an American spacecraft. This event marked the end of the Space Race and began a period of broad-based collaboration in space in a climate of substantial peace that has lasted for 45 years (Deffree, 2015). In addition, all UN members have adhered to an agreement which establishes that outer space belongs to humanity, and may be explored by compliance with some fundamental rules of conduct (United Nations, 2002). It is therefore legitimate to ask whether the militarization process does not disregard UN norms and marks instead the beginning of a new space race (Pekkamen, 2019). The danger that we may, in the future, look to space weapons to deal with a regional conflict, for instance, is concrete.
The technologies used — or under development — for space war can be deduced, as we have shown from various countries’ military programs and analytical spending budgets, and include:
1) new launchers, missiles, satellites, and space transport vehicles;
2) space-space and ground-space communications networks;
3) warning, surveillance, and protection systems for orbiting vehicles;
4) Earth observations, intelligence, and monitoring;
5) defense systems (directed energy, electronic, electromagnetic anti-missile, and anti-satellite missiles). Part of R&D is dedicated to electronic warfare: secure communications, advanced radar, deactivation and disturbance of satellite communications, and spoofing (false GPS coordinates).
In general, R&D efforts are therefore aimed at 'modern warfare', above all missiles, orbital control, and artificial intelligence applications. Since most wars still take place on the ground, many systems are aimed at enhancing traditional weapons in terms of target acquisition capability, speed, and attack accuracy. A risk of a different nature, often mentioned, is the spread of debris into orbit: namely, high-speed projectiles who can destroy satellites or orbital stations (catastrophic fallout). For at least a decade, the main countries have been engaged in the development of partially — or totally — autonomous weapons (AWS, Autonomous Weapons Systems) equipped with AI, which do not require human guidance (ICRC, 2014). The consequence is that satellite-guided armed drones are now operational and widespread (Nichols, 2020). The September 2019 attack on the oil fields of Abqaiq and Khurais in Saudi Arabia with a swarm of partially autonomous drones was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Today, AWS weapons seem to be already deployed in some theaters of war, for example the Middle East. Fighter bombers and unmanned ships, and even flotillas of Distributed Autonomous Submarine Hunting (DASH) attack submarines have recently been tested by the US Navy (Hopkins, 2012). DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has pioneered a fully autonomous hypersonic aircraft capable of reaching speeds 20 times greater than that of sound. Russia is automating its most advanced tank model (T-14 Armata) in view of a probable deployment on European borders, and it is developing fully autonomous combat modules that can be installed on conventional weapon systems (e.g., artillery). Even China, who has perhaps invested the most in AI for both civil and military purposes, is now working on the development of ‘intelligent’ tanks, ships, and airplanes.
The military commands of these main countries are also promoting the strategy of 'force multiplication': swarms of fast drones, fleets of attack boats (Hopkins, 2012), and swarms of tanks (Connors, 2013), all completely autonomous, to be deployed for massive and coordinated actions on several fronts. The development of AWS systems and the introduction of AI — which were justified by military commands in terms of accuracy in targeting and reduction of collateral damage — have promoted the race to developing and deploying so-called 'intelligent' weapons (Sharkey, 2019). The push for the spread of this type of weapons comes from the consideration that conflicts would now unfold at too fast a pace for human operators to make decisions. And, of course, it also occurred under the pressure from the defense industry, interested in the huge public investments concerned.
However, the spread — and swarms of — weapons that choose and attack targets without human supervision raises problems and creates alarming scenarios (Marchant et al., 2011). When a new genre of weapon enters the arsenal of some powers, its use spreads rapidly with effects on the nature of conflicts that are difficult to predict. The ever-present risk of computer errors is aggravated by the fact that 'intelligent' weapon systems opposed by others equipped with unknown AI algorithms — as would normally occur in the case of a real conflict — can work in unpredictable ways. According to some, this risk is inescapable, based on the consideration that it is impossible to reduce what cannot be foreseen (Sharkey, 2019).
It may be useful at this point to recall the disastrous effects produced by the space race of the 1960s and 1970s of the last century: it led to a close competition between the US and the Soviet Union to conquer global political-military leadership. Although it produced significant technological advances (new materials, miniaturized equipment, electronic sensors, etc.), the clash absorbed an enormous amount of resources, still ill-defined to this day, and it strongly polarized the political and economic world. The advantages, including economic ones, were progressively highlighted only after the end of the space race, with a strong growth in the telecommunications market, satellite services, and consumer electronics. Since then, a large number of countries have gained access to space technologies, although to different degrees, as many as 80 countries now have at least one of their own satellites in orbit.
Discussion and Conclusions
The military garrison of outer space is an initiative pursued by all countries with experience in the space field and by others who are acquiring it. Space now seems to be considered an operational area of defense. The analysis of the organizational structures, programs, and economic resources allocated to new-born space forces reveals that a process alike the space race of the 1950s and 1960s is underway. The declared objective of the governments of the countries involved is the defense of their satellites and the economic interests associated with them. However, political motives appear to be equally important, including designs for power and influence within international politics. As we have discussed, the process of militarization of the space mobilizes significant investments in R&D, necessary to create new, advanced defense systems and the related development of weapons on Earth required by 'modern warfare'. This typically revolves around regional outbreaks, which can be tackled with rapid interventions and significant interforce integration. All this requires advanced telecommunications, satellite detection systems, and a substantial development of AI applications.
In attempting an initial assessment, the danger emerges that space will take on a new configuration from that developed after the end of the space race of the last century, which indicated space as a sphere of peaceful cooperation and development and whose principles inspired space law, which is still in force. The technologies for space warfare and the new military structures are currently associated with increasing risks. On the one hand, it is unlikely that this race will be slowed down by the prevalence of pacifistic ideological positions; on the other hand, the military have the upper hand if they appeal to the ancient Romans’ si vis pacem para bellum principle (if you want peace, prepare for war). However, if not controlled in some way, these technologies could deeply undermine international equilibriums, without substantial gains and instead serious damage to civil society.
New regulation around access to outer space could limit these risks and facilitate a positive technological impact on the economy and society. Historically, the technological transfer from military to civilian uses has always been important, and it is easy to identify which technologies specifically designed for military use could today have great and advantageous repercussions. Limiting ourselves to a few examples, the constellations of microsatellites necessary to ensure coverage of the globe for interforce military communications — if open to civilian use like for GPS — could contribute to reducing the digital divide and — together with low-cost microcomputers — make fast www services available to everyone worldwide. Military surveillance systems and highly detailed multispectral monitoring can help address issues such as the control of agricultural production and densely populated areas, territorial health care, widespread education, natural disaster prevention and management (fault shifts, subsidence, earthquakes), and weather forecasting, to name a few. Space robotics, in addition to allowing the maintenance and upgrading of satellites and reducing outer space pollution generated by debris, could easily find a large number of civilian uses. As for the latest generation of AI, its potential civilian applications are innumerable.
A convergent opinion in this regard was expressed by the Foreign Ministers of the member countries at NATO’s headquarters during the Paris meeting in November 2019 (Gillow, 2020). The need to regulate how to access Space, including its use for military surveillance, had already been discussed in the same forum. There are authoritative proposals in this regard, including that developed by researchers from King's College London sponsored by UNOOSA (Delgado Lopez, et al., 2014; Jasani, 2016).
Surveying the differences between the new and the old space race could be useful. First of all, the race is no longer 'dualistic', as it does not include two superpowers alone: the countries we have examined — and others as well (South Korea, Brazil, Iran, Israel, United Arab Emirates, European Union) — currently have a wealth of knowledge that enables them to play a political-military role in outer space. Space-based industrial products have generated vast expectations and common economic interests in many countries; in some cases, such as in India, they have contributed to addressing serious social deficiencies. These experiences, which are also the result of globalization, currently tend to oppose the concentration of political-military power in the hands of just two countries, as occurred in the space race of the last century.
Although it will be very difficult to step away from the militarization of space, we believe the only way to cooperate towards useful economic and social objectives is diplomacy. At the moment, relations between Washington and Moscow are strained and those with China are becoming complicated, and it is in no one's interest that such relations worsen. Even if it is difficult to think of a future of shared principles and values, it is desirable that in the new space race a balance of armaments will be found as occurred with the control of nuclear weapons and the 1975 Helsinki Conference, which led to improved relations between the West and the East. The objective of a renewed balance and collaboration between forces and influences, sanctioned by the adherence to a renewed Space Law, could therefore generate an important technological and economic fallout and mark the transition, for civil society, from a culture of war to one of peace.
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 Abstract, text and references: 8180 words.
 According to a recurring representation, many political scientists imagine international relations as an area populated by billiard balls, representing the nation states about to touch or even clash (conflict thesis), while others scholars instead depict international politics as a close network of relationships - a cobweb - created by international institutions and economic interdependence (cooperation thesis). Rather than ask which theory is right and which is wrong, we should ask if and how they both could be true: one might be more important under some conditions and less important under others, and they might well reinforce one another. On the international relations (IR) theory see Petroni - Bianchi, 2016.