Speaking last week at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Cecil D. Haney, struck a familiar tone when warning about Russia’s and China’s burgeoning space warfare capabilities.
“Once thought of as a sanctuary, space is more congested, contested, and competitive than ever, and it is becoming increasingly vulnerable. Other nations understand our reliance on space and the advantages we have reaped in defense and commercial sectors,” he noted.
“Adversaries and potential adversaries want to exploit those dependencies by turning them into vulnerabilities.” He cautioned that threats are evolving faster than the U.S. military ever imagined and that they could “potentially threatens national sovereignty and survival.”
He went on to say that countries like China and Russia are developing and demonstrating “disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities.”
“Furthermore, they are exploiting what they perceive as space vulnerabilities – threatening the vital, national, civil, scientific, and economic benefits to the U.S. and the global community.”
Talking about Russia, the admiral notes:
Russia’s 2010 military doctrine emphasized space as a crucial component of its defense strategy, and Russia has publicly stated they are researching and developing counterspace capabilities to degrade, disrupt, and deny other users of space. Russia’s leaders also openly assert that Russian armed forces have anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, conduct ASAT research, and employ satellite jammers.
“China, like Russia, has advanced ‘directed energy’ capabilities that could be used to track or blind satellites, and like Russia, has demonstrated the ability to perform complex maneuvers in space,” he added.
Haney cited a November 2015 test of a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses, as evidence for China’s burgeoning capabilities in the field (See: “China Tests New Hypersonic Weapon”).
Russia purportedly tested a similar weapon in February last year, The Diplomat reported. However, Russia is considered to be behind China in developing hypersonic glide vehicles.
A 2015 report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission noted that “China is pursuing a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities, which includes direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons.”
As I noted in a previous article:
Chinese and Russian capabilities could potentially include cyber and electromagnetic attacks, jamming operations, and ground-based lasers as well as anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles. For example, China destroyed a defunct weather satellite with a missile in 2007. In addition, Beijing tested a missile-fired anti-satellite kill vehicle in the summer of 2014, disguising it as a ballistic missile defense test. Russia is allegedly developing a satellite hunter — a spacecraft able to track enemy satellites and destroy them. (…)
To counter Chinese and Russian threats, the head of U.S. Strategic Command outlined a more holistic deterrence strategy:
To effectively deter adversaries, and potential adversaries, from threatening our space capabilities, we must view deterrence holistically. Threats must be surveyed across the “spectrum of conflict,” where escalation may occur with more than one adversary and in multiple domains.
Whether we are deterring aggression in space, cyberspace, or nuclear – our actions and capabilities must make clear that no adversary will gain the advantage they seek in space, or in any domain; that they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict, and that restraint is always the better option.