Given that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are not yet particularly autonomous, for the most part, they are generally operated remotely by people. Apparently, the transmission system and encryption used between UAV operators in Nevada and the drones they are piloting in Afghanistan and Pakistan introduces a 1.7 second delay between commands being given and responses being received. As a result, take-off and landing need to be handled by a team located within the theatre of operations, since these activities require more nimble responses. The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system being considered by the US Navy will require much more dynamic communication capabilities, of the sort that can probably only be conveniently provided from orbit.
This is just one example of the way in which the operation of armed forces – and especially the American armed forces – is increasingly dependent on their capabilities in space. From communications to intelligence to navigation, satellites have become essential. That, in turn, makes the capability to interfere with satellites highly strategic. The umbrage taken by the US and others to the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test is demonstrative of this. The test also illustrates the major dangers associated with creating debris in orbit. If enough such material was ever to accumulate, it could make the use of certain orbits hazardous or impossible. The 2009 Iridium satellite collision is a demonstration of how debris clouds can also arise from accidental events, which will become both more common and more threatening as more and more assets are placed in orbit. That crash created about 600 large pieces of debris that remain in Low Earth Orbit.
In the next few decades, we will probably see a lot of development where it comes to the weaponization of space, including (quite probably) the placement of offensive weapons in orbit, the proliferation of ground-based weapons that target satellites, and the deployment of weapons intended to counter those weapons (a significant secondary purpose for ballistic missile defence technologies