The Trump Administration recently held a highly classified meeting for cabinet-level officials to discuss the growing danger Russia and China pose to U.S. space systems. The participants were told that because of heavy U.S. reliance on orbital assets, Moscow and Beijing were acquiring “counterspace” capabilities to deny America’s military victory in future wars, and severely impair the U.S. economy. Most of the danger was traced to China.
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.
Similar circumstances surround efforts to brief Congress on the growing threat in space. Select legislators are briefed on the full extent of the danger, but the briefings consist largely of “special access” intelligence that they can’t share even with trusted staffers. As a result, much of Congress and nearly all of the American public is oblivious to just how worrisome orbital challenges are becoming, or what the military is doing about them.
Two intelligence agencies have recently released documents that describe in general terms the nature of the threat. Russia and China are developing kinetic and non-kinetic means designed to disrupt, degrade and destroy U.S. space systems. 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.
The Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite is the U.S. military's most secure means for global communications. However, The Defense Intelligence Agency says China is attempting to develop methods for jamming its signals.
What does not come through in the public documents is the degree to which China is driving concern for the survivability of U.S. space systems. Administration insiders acknowledge that Russia has a panoply of counterspace capabilities, but these are generally well known and Russia is viewed as lacking the resources to expand much on what it already possesses.
China, on the other hand, is investing heavily in military space systems and in the process, pursuing capabilities that the U.S. does not fully understand.
For instance, China is believed to possess 120 intelligence and reconnaissance satellites, many of which are operated by the People’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. (end of excerpt)
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