by Jeff Foust
War in Space: The Science and Technology Behind Our Next Theater of Conflict
by Linda Dawson
Springer Praxis, 2018
paperback, 216 pp., illus.
The last year has seen plenty of attention devoted to growing military activities in space and the threat of conflict there. Much of that has focused on proposals by the Trump Administration to establish a Space Force as a separate military branch (or, perhaps, as a “Space Corps” within the Air Force) to elevate the importance of space within the Pentagon. In addition, a new Missile Defense Review unveiled last month called for development of a new satellite system for monitoring missile launches and a study of space-based interceptors.
Those developments and others, like anti-satellite weapons development in China and Russia, would seem like a good foundation for a book examining the potential for conflict in space. That is indeed what War in Space by Linda Dawson attempts to do, although many readers may be disappointed in the result.
The book appears targeted at those with little background in space in general, let alone military space activities. An introductory chapter emphasizes the importance of satellites through a “day without space” exercise, discussing what would happen if all satellites suddenly stopped working. (Spoiler: by midnight of that day a “sense of panic is becoming the norm.”) That’s followed by chapters on military space activities, space debris, space history and policy, and missile defense.
That structure is a reasonable approach to this topic, but the execution is wanting. Dawson relies heavily on secondary sources, like news articles, and at times it seems like the text is simply regurgitating those articles rather than providing any new information or analysis. (At least those secondary sources are clearly and extensively footnoted.) Other passages seem extraneous, like a chapter principally devoted to the history of NASA: while intended to showcase links between civil and military space in the US, it often discusses programs like Skylab where any connections are tenuous, at best. Another section discusses space mining, but its relevance to military space was never strong, and now, with the acquisition of Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, likely non-existent for the foreseeable future.
Curiously absent from the book is any discussion of a standalone Space Force. While the issue came to prominence last year, the idea is not that new, having been previously discussed and debated in Congress, like a proposal in a House defense authorization bill for a Space Corps within the Air Force. There’s no mention of that debate, or discussion of the various concepts for a Space Force or similar body, or analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of those approaches and how they affect space security broadly.
There’s a lot more to be written about the future of a Space Force, particularly as the Pentagon unveils its proposals in the coming weeks and Congress—particularly the Democratic-controlled House— considers them. A Space Force could enhance space security or destabilize it, depending on its activities and the responses from China and Russia in particular. That analysis, though, will have to come in a book other than War in Space.