Thursday, 22 Oct 2020

US Space Force begins its first mission… in the Middle East

The US Space Force has deployed soldiers to a vast new frontier… the Middle East.

A squadron of 20 “core space operators” has been stationed at the al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, in the unit’s first foreign deployment.

Their mission is to confront new threats in the region from Iran‘s missile programme – as well as attempts to jam, hack and blind satellites.

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The team will run satellites, track enemy manoeuvres and try to avert conflicts in space.

Although it has been the butt of several jokes since it was announced (and even the subject of a Netflix comedy), the unit is set to cost more than $15bn (£11.7bn) in 2021 – and will have 16,000 personnel.

Colonel Todd Benson, director of Space Force troops at al Udeid, said: “We’re starting to see other nations that are extremely aggressive in preparing to extend conflict into space.

“We have to be able to compete and defend and protect all of our national interests. The missions are not new and the people are not necessarily new.”

The decision to deploy to the Arabian Peninsula first could be seen as a nod to the country’s first “space” war, the First Gulf War of 1990-91, which was triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

That was the first conflict in which the US military used GPS coordinates to tell troops where they were in the desert as they pushed Saddam Hussein’s army out of its neighbour’s territory.

The US has accused Iran of interfering with military communications.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been growing throughout Mr Trump’s time in the White House, including his withdrawal of the US from the Iran Nuclear Treaty and the US drone strike that assassinated a leading Iranian general in January.

Iran responded by launching ballistic missiles at American soldiers in Iraq.

This spring, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched its first satellite into space, revealing what experts describe as a secret military space programme.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Iran’s space agency, accusing it of developing ballistic missiles under the cover of a civilian programme to set satellites into orbit.

But US officials insist the new deployment is aimed at securing US interests, not setting off an extraterrestrial arms race.

Mr Benson said: “The US military would like to see a peaceful space. Other folks’ behaviour is kind of driving us to this point.”

The force has been widely mocked as a vanity project for US President Donald Trump and for having a logo similar to one used in the Star Trek TV and movie franchise.

The Netflix comedy series mocking the unit, starring Steve Carrell and John Malkovich, aired earlier this year.

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