The Ukraine War is speeding up US Space Force plans to establish galactic armed conflict policies

The Washington Post reports that White House and Pentagon officials have been scrambling to determine their official policies regarding armed conflicts in space. This panic comes in response to recent actions by the Ukrainian government, which reportedly used private satellites belonging to commercial enterprises to target and attack Russian invaders. If Russia should retaliate by targeting these (or similar) satellites in orbit around the planet, well, that open up a whole new can of worms when it comes to the rules of war. Maritime law is complex enough; now extrapolate that to the point where it's not even terrestrial anymore, then factor in the involvement of non-governmental privateers, and things get exponentially more complicated.

"The Ukraine conflict has brought it to the forefront," [Gen. David Thompson, the Space Force's vice chief of operations] said. "First, commercial companies are thinking very clearly and carefully about, can we be involved? Should we be involved? What are the implications of being involved? … And on our side, it's exactly the same thing. Should we depend on commercial services? Where can we depend on commercial services?"

The Pentagon has long relied on the private sector, he said. But the proliferation of small satellites has created a more resilient system that has provided real-time imagery of the Ukraine battlefield from space, allowing nations to track troop movements, assess damage and share intelligence. Communication systems, such as SpaceX's Starlink constellation, have kept the internet up and running at a time when Ukraine's infrastructure has been decimated.

The discussions come as the Pentagon is investing in more systems that were originally developed for civilian use but also have military applications. In theNational Defense Strategy released late last year, the Pentagon vowed to "increase collaboration with the private sector in priority areas, especially with the commercial space industry, leveraging its technological advancements and entrepreneurial spirit to enable new capabilities."

You know what they say: In space, no one can hear you can hear you negotiate the rules of engagement.

War in space: U.S. officials debating rules for a conflict in orbit [Christian Davenport / The Washington Post]