Who has the best Space program?
Russia and China are increasingly pursuing the ability to attack America’s space-based assets, but is there anything the Pentagon can do to thwart Beijing and Moscow’s ambitions?
While it is sometimes treated as an afterthought here on earth, space-based capabilities like GPS, communications and reconnaissance satellites are the sinews that hold the U.S. military together, allowing American forces to operate across the globe. That’s a fact, however, that has not gone unnoticed in Beijing or Moscow.
“Adversaries and potential adversaries are developing, and in some cases 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, ” Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command told an audience at the Center for a New American Security on January 22.
The biggest challenges come from rival great powers which have the technical and financial wherewithal to challenge American power in space.
“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, ” Haney said, adding that “Russia’s leaders also openly assert that Russian armed forces have anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, conduct ASAT research and employ satellite jammers.”
“Last year, " Haney said, "the Washington Times reported Russian President Putin as saying that Russia, following the Chinese military, is building state-of-the-art weapons that would ‘guarantee [for] Russia the fulfillment of space defense tasks for the period until 2020.’”
While Russia—and the Soviet Union before it—might have been America’s closest rivals in space, these days the most dangerous challenge comes from Beijing. “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, ” Haney said. He added:
“In November, China conducted its sixth test of a hypersonic strike vehicle, and several news sources reported an ASAT the previous month. Of course, many of us are still dealing with China’s 2007 ASAT test, which created more than 3, 000 pieces of debris, adding significantly to the congested space environment. Well over 80 percent of this debris, which litters one of the most utilized areas of space, will affect space flight for many decades to come.”
But what can Washington do to counter these developments? The answer to that question is less clear.
Haney laid out four main points:
“First, we must have a deeper, broader understanding of our adversaries, and potential adversaries. No matter the foe, we must understand their capability and intent, so that we can deny enemy action, hold critical nodes at risk, and prevent perceptions, misperceptions and actions from escalating.”