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Space Force Deploys to Arabian Desert  09/21 06:10

   

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The newly formed U.S. Space Force is 
deploying troops to a vast new frontier: the Arabian Peninsula.

   Space Force now has a squadron of 20 airmen stationed at Qatar's Al-Udeid 
Air Base in its first foreign deployment. The force, pushed by President Donald 
Trump, represents the sixth branch of the U.S. military and the first new 
military service since the creation of the Air Force in 1947.

   It has provoked skepticism in Congress, satire on Netflix, and, with its 
uncannily similar logo, "Star Trek" jokes about intergalactic battles.

   Future wars may be waged in outer space, but the Arabian Desert already saw 
what military experts dub the world's first "space war" --- the 1991 Desert 
Storm operation to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Today, the U.S. faces new 
threats in the region from Iran's missile program and efforts to jam, hack and 
blind satellites.

   "We're starting to see other nations that are extremely aggressive in 
preparing to extend conflict into space," Col. Todd Benson, director of Space 
Force troops at Al-Udeid, told The Associated Press. "We have to be able to 
compete and defend and protect all of our national interests."

   In a swearing-in ceremony earlier this month at Al-Udeid, 20 Air Force 
troops, flanked by American flags and massive satellites, entered Space Force. 
Soon several more will join the unit of "core space operators" who will run 
satellites, track enemy maneuvers and try to avert conflicts in space.

   "The missions are not new and the people are not necessarily new," Benson 
said.

   That troubles some American lawmakers who view the branch, with its 
projected force of 16,000 troops and 2021 budget of $15.4 billion, as a vanity 
project for Trump ahead of the November presidential election.

   Concerns over the weaponization of outer space are decades old. But as space 
becomes increasingly contested, military experts have cited the need for a 
space corps devoted to defending American interests.

   Threats from global competitors have grown since the Persian Gulf War in 
1991, when the U.S. military first relied on GPS coordinates to tell troops 
where they were in the desert as they pushed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's 
forces out of Kuwait.

   Benson declined to name the "aggressive" nations his airmen will monitor and 
potentially combat. But the decision to deploy Space Force personnel at 
Al-Udeid follows months of escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

   Hostilities between the two countries, ignited by Trump's unilateral 
withdrawal of the U.S. from Iran's nuclear accord, came to a head in January 
when U.S. forces killed a top Iranian general. Iran responded by launching 
ballistic missiles at American soldiers in Iraq.

   This spring, Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched its first 
satellite into space, revealing what experts describe as a secret military 
space program. The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Iran's space 
agency, accusing it of developing ballistic missiles under the cover of a 
civilian program to set satellites into orbit.

   World powers with more advanced space programs, like Russia and China, have 
made more threatening progress, U.S. officials contend. Last month, Defense 
Secretary Mark Esper warned that Russia and China were developing weapons that 
could knock out U.S. satellites, potentially scattering dangerous debris across 
space and paralyzing cell phones and weather forecasts, as well as American 
drones, fighter jets, aircraft carriers and even nuclear weapon controllers.

   "The military is very reliant on satellite communications, navigation and 
global missile warning," said Capt. Ryan Vickers, a newly inducted Space Force 
member at Al-Udeid.

   American troops, he added, use GPS coordinates to track ships passing 
through strategic Gulf passageways "to make sure they're not running into 
international waters of other nations."

   The Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% 
of the world's oil flows, has been the scene of a series of tense encounters, 
with Iran seizing boats it claims had entered its waters. One disrupted signal 
or miscalculation could touch off a confrontation.

   For years, Iran has allegedly jammed satellite and radio signals to block 
foreign-based Farsi media outlets from broadcasting into the Islamic Republic, 
where radio and television stations are state-controlled.

   The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has warned that commercial aircraft 
cruising over the Persian Gulf could experience interference and communications 
jamming from Iran. Ships in the region have also reported "spoofed" 
communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be U.S. or coalition 
warships, according to American authorities.

   "It's not that hard to do, but we've seen Iran and other countries become 
pretty darn efficient at doing it on a big scale," said Brian Weeden, an Air 
Force veteran and director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, 
which promotes peaceful uses of outer space. "There's a concern Iran could 
interfere with military broadband communications."

   Responding to questions from the AP, Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman at 
Iran's mission to the United Nations, said "Iran will not tolerate interference 
in our affairs, and in accordance with international law, will respond to any 
attacks against our sovereignty." He added that Iran has faced numerous cyber 
attacks from the U.S. and Israel.

   Failing an international agreement that bars conventional arms, like 
ballistic missiles, from shooting down space assets, the domain will only 
become more militarized, said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the 
Washington-based Arms Control Association. Russia and China have already 
created space force units and the Revolutionary Guard's sudden interest in 
satellite launches has heightened U.S. concerns.

   Still, American officials insist the new Space Force deployment aims to 
secure U.S. interests, not set off an extraterrestrial arms race.

   "The U.S. military would like to see a peaceful space," Benson, the director 
of Space Force troops stationed in Qatar, said. "Other folks' behavior is kind 
of driving us to this point."

 
 
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