If you worry that the recent near-collision between U.S. and Russian warships or Iran’s downing of an American drone could escalate into war, you should be even more worried about enemy actions against our U.S. satellites.

On June 7, an American guided missile cruiser and a Russian destroyer nearly collided in the Philippine Sea. Cmdr. Clay Doss, spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet in Japan said the Russian ship came from behind and “accelerated and closed to an unsafe distance” of about 50 to 100 feet. Russian state media retorted that “the US cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed its course and crossed the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer’s course some 50 meters [160 feet] away from the ship.” The incident shows that the minimum safe distance of 3,000 feet enshrined in maritime law is necessary but insufficient to keep warships safe; also needed is a transparent rule to promptly determine who is at fault so that the at-fault party can take corrective action to avoid collision and the victimized party, defensive action to protect its ship. 

The drone incident, in which the Pentagon lost a $130 million RQ-4 Global Hawk, “illustrates the costs of focusing on drones that are neither more capable at the high-end — stealthier, faster, able to defend themselves — or cheaper and more numerous, meaning anyone getting shot down is not a big deal,” said Michael Horowitz, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. This is to say: the hefty U.S. investment has produced expensive drones vulnerable to adversaries’ fire.

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