By Jon Dougherty
(NationalSentinel) The Pentagon’s emerging secret space defense programs are being developed in large part to counter a rising threat to U.S. orbital assets from both Russia and China, though the latter poses the more significant risk, according to Defense Department officials.
Writing atÂ Forbes, senior aerospace and defense contributor Loren Thompson reported that a recent briefing to Trump Cabinet members by a top Air Force commander was highly classified and covered threats to American space-based military and civilian assets posed by Moscow and Beijing, both of whom are building counter-space capabilities aimed at blinding the U.S. military in a conflict and crippling our economy.
“he participants were told that because of heavy U.S. reliance on orbital assets, Moscow and Beijing were acquiring ‘counterspace- capabilities to deny Americaâ€™s military victory in future wars, and severely impair the U.S. economy. Most of the danger was traced to China,” he wrote.
“It was a shocking litany of challenges about which some of the participants previously had not been aware. But at the end of the meeting the main briefer, General John Hyten of U.S. Strategic Command, cautioned his audience that they could not go back to their agencies and discuss what they had heard. The information was too sensitive,” Thompson noted further.
Select members of Congress have also been briefed on the growing threat, but not all members — again, because the information is simply too sensitive and concerns about leaks are real. The intelligence provided is “special access” only, meaning the few members who are briefed cannot relay any information even to trusted staffers.
But because of the secrecy, which is necessary, the majority of Congress and the American people are simply unaware of the threat China and, to a lesser extent Russia, pose to the critical space-based infrastructure that not only keeps our military cutting-edge, but our economy and that of the global economy functioning.
Also, most are not aware of what our own military is doing to counter the threats.
A pair of U.S. intelligence agencies, Thompson notes, recently released documents that generally describe the threat.
“Russia and China are developing kinetic and non-kinetic means designed to disrupt, degrade and destroy U.S. space systems,” he writes.
“Mechanisms being tested include directed energy weapons such as lasers, spacecraft that can physically manipulate satellites, terrestrial anti-satellite munitions, jammers that can disrupt uplinks and downlinks, and cyber tools that can impair satellites, ground stations and the equipment of warfighters reliant on space-based systems,” he adds.
But those documents provide a basic overview, he adds. What isn’t relayed specifically is the degree to which China, especially, threatens our assets and, more importantly, the survivability of U.S. space-based infrastructure.
Trump administration insiders are aware that Russia, too, has a range of counter space capabilities. But they say most of those are known and overall, Moscow is seen as not having the financial resources to fully develop additional capabilities beyond what it has already built.
China is a different story, however. Beijing understands it cannot hope to match conventional U.S. military capabilities, so its military has long invested in “asymmetrical” capabilities — space-denial, for instance. And Thompson says U.S. military planners don’t fully understand the Chinese threat yet:
For instance, China is believed to possess 120 intelligence and reconnaissance satellites, many of which are operated by the Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army to track the movements of U.S. forces. Russia only possesses about 20 such satellites. And while Russia pioneered development of systems for hacking and attacking U.S. space systems, it is China that is continually increasing it outlays for counterspace technologies. For example, Beijing tested an anti-satellite weapon in 2007 and has continued refining that technology.
Why does it matter?
Other than disrupting U.S. commerce — itself catastrophic — space denial of assets means that a typical Army brigade cannot function on a modern battlefield to its fullest potential. Each one possesses about 2,000 pieces of equipment dependent on space-based satellites such as GPS and real-time intelligence. Denying access to them hampers modern Army tactics and evens the score, so to speak, on the battlefield.
“That is why Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford referred to this weekâ€™s re-establishment of U.S. Space Command as ‘another Sputnik moment,'” Thompson wrote.
“The U.S. has lagged in efforts to keep up with the military moves of potential adversaries in space, and as a result its assumed superiority in overhead capabilities is rapidly ebbing away. The big difference in this Sputnik moment, though, is that the threat is coming mostly from China.”
In 2018, the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted in a special report that China is arguably the fastest-rising space power.
“China has made rapid progress in developing both its space and counterspace capabilities. The country has tested direct-ascent ASAT weapons, on-orbit robotics, and remote proximity operations. Reports indicate that China is also developing and testing directed-energy and jamming technologies,” a summary of the report states.
Chinese military scholars write that â€œspace dominance will be a vital factor in securing air dominance, maritime dominance, and electromagnetic dominance. It will directly affect the course and outcome of wars.â€
China has been testing ASAT — anti-satellite — weapons since the mid-2000s, including a ‘shoot-down’ of a satellite in 2007 that produced a large amount of space debris. Subsequent tests were designed to not produce any. In addition, the Chinese have developed cyber- and electronic warfare tools aimed at disrupting American satellites.
Back in 2005, Wang Hucheng, a Chinese military strategic, proclaimed that “for countries that can never win a war with the United States by using the method of tanks and planes, attacking the U.S. space system may be an irresistible and most tempting choice,” the CSIS report noted.
Most of what U.S. Space Command is planning in terms of countering the Chinese and Russian space threats is shrouded in secrecy. But as Thompson intimates, China is making so many advances on so many fronts to attack and defeat U.S. space-based assets it is difficult, if not impossible, to defend against them all. Also, it’s hard to know which counter-space defensive efforts should be prioritized.
Finally, Thompson emphasizes that U.S. Space Command needs to be populated with leaders who have a warfighter’s mentality because it’s not just an “enabling domain” any longer — it is a contested domain.
What’s more, the U.S. military must fully integrate Space Command into its overall warfighting strategy as it has done so with air, land, and sea forces.
And integration, as well as developing defensive and offensive space capabilities, needs to proceed much faster, to keep up with the rapidly rising threat level.
“As officials often point out, itâ€™s hard to take risks when each satellite costs hundreds of millions of dollars,” he wrote.
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