In the years ahead, the long-running nightmare of the nuclear Cold War — mutually assured destruction — could return in a new context on the final frontier, a Pentagon adviser said today at a Seattle-based space policy conference.
Brad Townsend, a space strategy and policy adviser to the leadership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, raised the alarm about anti-satellite weapons, or ASATs, during a virtual symposium sponsored by the University of Washington’s Space Policy and Research Center.
He noted that China and Russia are already experimenting with methods to disable other nations’ satellites in the event of a future conflict. But in the course of destroying an enemy satellite, attackers could set off a catastrophic chain reaction of out-of-control orbital debris.
Such a phenomenon, sometimes referred to as the Kessler syndrome, has fed into the plotlines for movies such as “Gravity” and novels such as “SevenEves.” But Townsend warned that the threat is more than just a science-fiction possibility.
“If nations start arming with ASATs as a way to deter other nations from attacking their orbital assets, they risk creating a new form of mutually assured destruction,” he said.