BY SAPIEN SAPIEN
Despite the reality that outer space is extremely a hostile place for humans; it has become the new domain of warfare. This entails that the use of technology to explore that theatre has now become of paramount importance.
This article is inspired by the Chinese Long March 5B rocket that is expected to fall into the earth’s atmosphere anytime soon, after successfully carrying a Chinese space module, with potentially negative ramifications to humanity.
The space race is on as the Chinese are seeking to develop their own rival to the International Space Station that shall highlight the aims of the Asian giant towards maintaining a large space station.
This episode represents a growing militarisation of outer space that was launched with the Soviet Union’s Sputnik-1 in 1957 and that can be seen as an escalation of asymmetric warfare. The Sputnik-1 spacecraft was the first artificial satellite successfully placed in orbit around the Earth and was launched from Kazakhstan, then part of the former Soviet Union.
New Horizon — an interplanetary space probe that was launched in 2006 as a part of Nasa’s New Frontiers programme — managed to give us first close range images of Pluto. Voyages to the moon are being made while the assassination of Iranian scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Mahabadi last year paints a gory picture of the lethality of space technology.
It is widely believed that the renowned czar of the Iranian nuclear programme was neutralised, in a daring and audacious raid, via the usage of a “satellite system which was using artificial intelligence”. This job, so spectacular in many dimensions, indicates that weaponisation of space and its related technologies are a nascent reality that humanity must learn to live with.
It was announced that Zimbabwe was going to launch its first space satellite in an effort to expedite the research agenda. This was preceded by the launch of the Zimbabwe National Geospatial Space Agency in 2018 which was to be located within the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.
Beyond those pronouncements amidst the usual pomp and fanfare, nothing, at the very least, has been heard of as far as the thrust is concerned; maybe something is still in the offing. For comparison purposes, it is important to mention that Algeria, with the assistance of, China, launched its satellite in 2017. This shows that as a country, Zimbabwe can ill afford not to use its instruments of national power, such as the military, diplomatic, information technology and the economy to complement its statecraft.
It is important to remember that space war is a direct continuation of air war. Hazards such as meteorites and the hostile nature of outer space means repairs and necessary adjustments to equipment and other tools of the trade remain a difficult task that can only be conducted on earth.
It therefore comes without a doubt that those responsible for engaging in this theatre of war ought to be skilled and have expertise that traverses average human potential. The adoption and usage of ballistic missiles for reconnaissance and surveillance witnessed during the Cold War and into the current era proves that competition for superiority within this theatre will only escalate as the fight for hegemony, dominance and control of global statecraft and politics continue to soar.
Nations have attempted to use outer space, primarily satellites, to intercept ballistic missiles but the cost of that initiative is too prohibitive to be viable. The speed and distance that a satellite travels and orbits the earth represent immense difficulties towards intercepting them.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) remains vulnerable to targeted attacks by hostile characters with nefarious agendas.
Learning to live with such technologies means adopting and adapting skills and techniques that can offer a competitive advantage to one country to be in a position to face and resist the might of its adversaries can’t be such a bad thing.
Zimbabwe’s relationship with China, which has been cemented by the ongoing vaccine diplomacy, can be strengthened further if collaborative engagements are considered within the realms of the space race. This can be done with any other nation on earth.
What is needed is capacity to be competitive in this current volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment. After all, Zimbabwe has the engagement strategy as its foreign policy thrust.
Sapien is a trade and security analyst