Report: Acts of space warfare likely by 2025

Report: Acts of space warfare likely by 2025

Summary: A forecast published by the Military Space Transparency Project (MSTP) warns of a second arms race that can erupt if the international community doesn't take steps toward a space treaty program.


It's no secret that the extension of military weapons beyond the atmosphere is a priority for space-faring nations that need to protect their increasing military and commercial assets in orbit. For instance, in 2001, a commission headed by then US Defense Secretary-designate Donald Rumsfeld warned about a possible “space Pearl Harbor” which led to the development of the Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) project.


But the concern over space supremacy runs deeper than threats of Russian anti-satellite weapons. A forecast published by the Military Space Transparency Project (MSTP) warns of a second arms race that can erupt if the international community doesn't take steps toward a space treaty program.

"Given how easily information can spread about the globe today, it is inevitable that space warfare technologies will proliferate. Once one country sets its sights on space domination, other countries are sure to follow," writes Matthew Hoey.

Hoey is MSTP's founder and a former senior research associate at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies (IDDS), a United Nations non-governmental research organization located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he forecasted missile defense and military space technologies.

The report; Global Space Warfare Technologies - Influences, Trends & The Road Ahead, highlights the potential bridges and sequels between various existing and emerging technologies in the years leading up to 2025 that might culminate in acts of space warfare.

"The international community is in a race against time as technologies are evolving faster than ever before and will continue to accelerate exponentially in an almost biological fashion. If this process continues unabated, it will almost certainty result in the deterioration of peaceful collaborations, an increase in the creation of orbital debris, and the risk of an accidental or spasm nuclear event," according to Hoey.

Armed with a strong technical aptitude, Hoey's analysis of dual-use and emerging technologies that'll lead to the weaponization of space--including artificial intelligence, robotics, directed energy and nanotechnology--is worth the read. To wit:

As the arrival of Strong AI draws ever closer, along with it comes the realization that computing on such a scale and breadth is beyond our human ability to maintain and monitor, even with the assistance of the machines themselves. We will begin to turn over keys to the IT department to the computer within it, as the pending arrival of Strong AI will drive its own evolutionary cycle, with human oversight existing from afar, at specific points in the data stream. This is the liftoff for military space systems, and our final approach towards a victory over the Turing Test.

Related reading:

Gizmodo: Boeing to Design New DARPA's Networked Swarm Spacecrafts

Defense Industry Daily: Preventing a Space Pearl Harbor: SBSS Program to Monitor the Heavens

Popular Science: New Infographic Visualizes the Space Debris Cloud Surrounding Earth

Topics: Hardware, Emerging Tech

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  • Highly political, and the AI bit is silly

    First of all, the future of space warfare is very likely to be highly influenced by politics, not technology.

    Who goes to war and what treaties are in place are far more likely to affect space warfare than technology trends.

    Right now, the vast majority of our warfare is focused on low-tech, ground based enemies - not high-tech, space based enemies.

    So right now, I'd say that unless major warfare breaks out between currently peaceful countries, it's not gonna happen by 2025.

    Second - the bit about strong AI is pretty silly. We have no idea what's going to happen with AI.

    AI has proven to be impossible to predict - again and again I've seen failed AI predictions. I don't think anybody knows what will happen with AI or when it will happen.
    • The AI Bit Gave Me a Chuckle, Too

      I remember reading an article in college that confidently pronounced AI would be "solved" in ten years. That was 25 years ago.

      But I suppose those kind of statements do wonders when you're trying to keep or increase your slice of the budget pie. As long as you don't get caught.
      • AI like fusion

        Always 30 years off.
        Anyone remember the "hairy smoking golf-ball" speculation?
        Theory was that a processor equal to the human brain would be about the size of a golf-ball, have to run at 100KHz, and would use more power than New York 1963.
        Clearly, the depth of the problem was underestimated.
        And it clearly still is.
    • Wow, CobraAI, That's a Relief

      I am so relieved by your assurance that no major wars will
      break out before 2025 and that we, therefore, have nothing to
      fear from space weapons. And, similarly, I'm sure if one of our
      "friendly enemies" like China actually placed powerful weapons
      in space more formidable than our own they would never press
      their advantage with them and try to bend us to their will.

      As for concerns about AI being silly, well that's exactly what I
      thought when Stephen Hawking warned us of AI machines run
      amok and acting contrary to man's interests, even withOUT
      human enemies directing them against us. The old guy has
      been watching too many sci-fi movies. I mean, what does
      Stephen Hawking know.
      • just saying . . .

        Just saying, we have no idea what the political climate will be. Yes, it can change, and yes, we have some pretty big potential enemies, I'm not denying that. But to claim that war by 2025 is very likely? We don't know that.

        . . . and yes, even Stephen Hawking can be wrong about stuff. He's not God, and he didn't own a time machine.
      • Yes, China is planning to colonize the moon

        and then destroy the USA by throwing rocks at it.
        Let's double, no triple, the budget for weapons of
        mass destruction and deception.

        -- George W
  • RE: Report: Acts of space warfare likely by 2025

    I have worked in defense for over two decades. The way this piece describes cutting edge technologies and how they will converge in the coming decades is very impressive. Not many people, even in my field can see the big picture. I look forward to sharing this report with colleagues.
    • Gotta be careful, though.

      Gotta be careful, though. This is only one person's view, one person's opinion of how the future will unfold.

      Nobody really knows for sure how events will unfold, and I think it's rather naive to think that anybody really knows the future.
      • The future

        True, the future can't be predicted with perfect accuracy, but the potential for human greed and fanaticism can be predicted. It's much easier (and cheaper) to destroy than to create, and usually preferable by those trying to implement a psychotic agenda.

        Sane, educated people need to be prepared to defend themselves and their way of life from the non-educated and the insane (who seem to be multiplying at a shocking rate).
        • The best defense . . .

          The best defense is to solve the right problems, and not to judge people based on their education or religion.

          Lack of education is solved easily enough - invest in more education.

          Insanity is a bit more difficult to solve, as it tends to be a combination of social ills and specific issues with the individual. Often the specific issues have to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

          In addition, the social ills are a bit more difficult to resolve, as we tend to look for bandages rather than true solutions. We're obsessed with short term, quick-fix bandages for long term problems.
          • Dane Geld

            Yes, because everyone is really just like us deep down and if we just give them all the nice things we know they want then they'll be our friends....

            See: Dane Geld

            See also: Mirror Imaging
        • True, but...

          sadly it appears that few sane, educated people learned anything from

          And (with the passage of the absurd Patriot Act and other reactionary
          crisis legislation, along with the fact that they have still not been
          repealed), it appears that this is especially true of those that head of our
          political system.
  • fascinating read

    As the great Yogi Berra once said, "It's hard to make
    predictions, especially about the future." No matter if you
    agree or disagree with the writer, it's hard to argue that this
    is not a page-turner. Although I was not totally onboard with
    every detail of Hoey's forecast, I could not put it down! Thank
    you for sharing this report.
  • The debris will kill off any hopes of peaceful space exploration. nt

  • RE: Report: Acts of space warfare likely by 2025

    Great article. It makes me wonder in a hopeful way if
    something that we don't anticipate will alter the course of
  • The first strike will be interesting

    With all of the "secret" space shuttle launches in the past, I'm sure that the U.S. has some nice surprises up there for initial space attackers.

    It'll be interesting to see what is possible...

    Lasers won't need to drill through thick atmosphere to hit another space-based target, so they won't need to be as powerful to get the job done.

    Small EMP blasts could easily neutralize multi-million dollar communication satellites and could really ruin it for everyone (and every automated system) who depends on satellite navigation systems.

    Not to mention, the Internation Space Station being a primary terrorist target. How scary would that be!?! All it would take is a single "peaceful research mission" launch from that nut-job in Iran.
  • RE: Report: Acts of space warfare likely by 2025

    It would be nice to see a few more excerpts from Hoey's work on counter-trends to space weapon proliferation, how certain trends can be reversed, etc. The Cassandras of the Cheney and Rumsfeld variety get the most headlines with talk of a "space Pearl Harbor", but as Hoey himself realizes, the most interesting history is often written in the margins, in low-key and largely unnoticed ways. Example: While everyone wonders about space-based lasers and multi-spectral intelligence "fusing", the vast expansion of UAVs in both armed and unarmed versions has revolutionized warfare more than anything in orbit.
  • BitSmaker, which 'nut-job in Iran' ?

    It's not Iran but the United States that is seeking 'broad spectrum dominance', including in space. But perhaps you mean to suggest that there are no 'nut-jobs' in the United States ?...

  • RE: Report: Acts of space warfare likely by 2025

    With Obama and the Democrats in charge, we'll lose this race for sure. He promised he'd not do any new weapons development.

    WE need someone to fill Ronald Reagen's shoes.
  • RE: Report: Acts of space warfare likely by 2025

    It doesn't seem a stretch to me at all to say space warfare likely by 2025. There's so much junk floating around in our orbit conflicts are bound to follow.