Issue Brief on “US Space Force: Is Competition in Space Inevitable?”

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The US formally established the US Space Force (USSF) when President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act on December 20, 2019. USSF became the sixth military branch of the US. Its primary function is to safeguard US assets in space and conduct operations of its own.

For decades, outer space has been used mostly by satellite for civil purposes but also increasingly for military purposes like communication with troops, reconnaissance and intelligence purposes as well as guiding munitions, drones and as part of Ballistic Missiles Defenses (BMD). The leading states in use of space are US, Russia China and now India as well. Reliance on space-based capabilities for military purposes is indispensable today. It is particularly important for great powers like the US which have military bases and assets across the world. US establishment of a Space Force is likely to spur an arms race in what is now considered as the fourth medium of warfare – outer space. This has a number of implications ranging from weaponization of space, issues of space debris, and an unchecked competition among great powers. This is likely to bring yet more instability to an international arena that is characterized by abrogation of existing arms control arrangements, onset of a new nuclear arms race, and establishment of new norms that give renewed importance to weapons systems – conventional, nuclear, and space-based.

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