Militarization and Weaponization of Space

Militarization vs. Weaponization Of Space – Risks And Opportunities
  • Currently, space is not (openly) weaponized. There are no (unclassified/publicly disclosed) weapons deployed in space or terrestrially (in air, sea, or on the ground) meant to attack space objects, such as satellites; nor are (unclassified/publicly disclosed)  satellite weapons deployed against terrestrial targets. At the same time, space is an increasingly vital part of our military activities from which the US obtains great advantages with respect to other nations. We use space for communication; for surveillance and targeting over the battlefields; for weather prediction; for precise mapping and positioning of our own and opposition military assets; for early warning of missile and air attacks; and for general military, economic, and technological intelligence worldwide. Thus space is “militarized” though not yet (unclassified/publicly disclosed) “weaponized.”  (
  • China’s strategy as a model for offense/defense:  in time of war, deny enemies the use of strategic information about troop and ship movements, incoming missiles, navigation, communication, etc, along with depriving its opponents the use of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. (
  • Countries will continue to develop anti-satellite weapons (e.g., China) to counter space-based military assets, including existing communications satellites and potential (and extant) weapons.
  • However, as improved technology lowers costs and more countries deploy satellites and anti-satellite technology, space debris will become a bigger problem for all militaries with a stake in space.
  • Ultimately, with the U.S. military the most reliant on space-based technologies, the United States will have the most to lose from advances in other countries’ anti-satellite systems. (
  • Electromagnetic Pulse From Space Detonation or Cyberattacks on Space Based Assets:   “In a nightmare scenario, as adversaries launch a massive cyber attack on key infrastructure and disable and destroy our satellites in space, televisions would go blank, mobile networks silent, and the Internet would slow and then stop.”  ( Alternatively or in synchronicity with such a cyberattacks, an EMP attack from space could similarly but with less discrimination affect key terrestrial infrastructure and disable and destroy our satellites in space.
  • War In All Five Domains: As humans go out there, there has always been conflict. Conflict in the Wild West as we move in the West … conflict twice in Europe for its horrible world wars…[s]o every time humans actually physically move into that, there’s conflict, and in that case, we’ll have to be prepared for that.” -Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, 2016, on warfare in the domain of space (
  • “Breaking with a decadeslong policy that stopped short of publicly advocating putting arms in orbit, U.S. Defense Department leaders are calling for faster development of offensive weapons and combat tactics for space, initially to protect the biggest, most expensive U.S. spy satellites from potential attacks.” – Andy Pasztor, U.S. Military Gears Up For Warfare in Space – Extra dollars to ensure space superiority, Wall Street Journal, 26 Apr. 2017 (
Space Law and Warfare in Outer Space Primer:

Classification of Outer Space. Outer space is governed by a separate legal regime than that for airspace.
 Outer space may be viewed as analogous to the high seas in certain respects. For example, no State may claim sovereignty over outer space. In addition, the space systems of all nations have rights of passage through space without interference.
Application of International Law to Activities in Space.
Treaties Specifically Addressing Space Activities.
The United States is a Party to certain treaties that address space activities:
•The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty), imposes restrictions on certain military operations in outer space (i.e., it does not exempt military spacecraft or military space activities from its purview). The Outer Space Treaty provides for State responsibility for the activities of non- governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies.
Other treaties that specifically address space activities include:
•Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space;
•Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects; and
•Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.

Certain provisions of these treaties may not be applicable as between belligerents during international armed conflict.
Application of General International Law to Activities and Use of Outer Space.
The Outer Space Treaty reaffirms the duty of States Parties to comply with existing international law in carrying out activities in outer space. Article III of the Outer Space Treaty provides that “States Parties to the Treaty shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, in accordance with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation and understanding.”
Although existing international law, such as the Charter of the United Nations, generally applies to States Parties’ activities in outer space, international law that prescribes certain conditions for national claims of sovereignty does not apply to outer space because outer space is not subject to national appropriation.
Certain treaties apply only in certain geographical locations (such as a State’s own territory), and thus might not create obligations applicable to a State’s activities in outer space. However, law of war treaties and the customary law of war are understood to regulate the conduct of hostilities, regardless of where they are conducted, which would include the conduct of hostilities in outer space. In this way, the application of the law of war to activities in outer space is the same as its application to activities in other environments, such as the land, sea, air, or cyber domains.

Outer Space Treaty Restrictions on Military Activities.
The Outer Space Treaty imposes restrictions on certain military operations in outer space.
Other treaties may also impose restrictions on military activities in outer space. For example, the Treaty Banning Nuclear Testing in the Atmosphere, Oceans, and Outer Space (Limited Test Ban Treaty) prohibits nuclear weapon test explosions in outer space.
Restriction on Nuclear Weapons and
Other Kinds of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Outer Space.
Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty provides that “States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.”
The prohibition on placing weapons of mass destruction “in orbit around the earth” refers only to their placement in full orbit around the Earth; thus, the Outer Space Treaty does not ban the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction that go into a fractional orbit or engage in suborbital flight. For example, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) will travel a portion of their trajectory in outer space; but because ICBMs would enter outer space only temporarily, their entry into outer space with nuclear warheads would not violate this prohibition.
By contrast, some arms control treaties have prohibited the production, testing, or deployment of systems, including missiles, that place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction into either full earth orbit or a fraction of an earth orbit.

In addition, this rule in Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty does not establish any prohibitions with respect to weapons that are not weapons of mass destruction (e.g., anti-satellite laser weapons or other conventional weapons).
Restrictions on Military Activities on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.
Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty places certain prohibitions on military activities on the moon and other celestial bodies:
(1) the establishment of military bases, installations, and fortifications; and
(2) the testing of any type of weapons; and
(3) the conduct of military maneuvers.
These activities are prohibited only on the moon and other celestial bodies, not in outer space itself.
Article IV also recognizes the unimpeded right to:
(1) the use of military personnel for scientific research or other peaceful purposes on outer space missions; and
(2) the use of any equipment or facility necessary for the peaceful exploration of the moon and other celestial bodies.
General Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes.
The United States has expressed the view that outer space should be used only for peaceful purposes. This view is consistent with the Preamble to the Outer Space Treaty.
The United States has interpreted use of outer space for “peaceful purposes” to mean “non-aggressive and beneficial” purposes consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and  other international law.
This interpretation of “peaceful purposes” is similar to the interpretation given to the reservation of the high seas for “peaceful purposes” in the Law of the Sea (LOS) Convention.
For example, observation or information-gathering from satellites in space is not an act of aggression under the Charter of the United Nations and, thus, would be a use of space for peaceful purposes.
Similarly, lawful military activities in self-defense (e.g., missile early warning, use of weapon systems) would be consistent with the use of space for peaceful purposes, but aggressive activities that violate the Charter of the United Nations would not be permissible.
Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty provides that “[t]he moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes.” Article IV specifies restrictions on military operations on the moon and other celestial bodies.
Outer Space Treaty Provisions on Cooperation, Mutual Assistance, and Potentially Harmful Interference.
Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty provides that in the exploration and use of outer space, States Parties shall be guided by the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in outer space with due regard to the  corresponding interests of all other States Parties.  For example, States should conduct their activities in space with due regard for the rights of other States to have their space systems pass through, and conduct operations in, space without interference.
Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty also requires States Parties to undertake “appropriate international consultations” before proceeding with any activity or experiment planned by it or its nationals in outer space if that State Party has reason to believe that its activity or experiment would cause potentially harmful interference with the activities of other States Parties in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space.
Conversely, a State Party that has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by another State Party in outer space would cause potentially harmful interference with its activities in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space may request consultation concerning the activity or experiment.