Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Star Wars: The US Gets Ready to Battle China and Russia in Space


The American military will set up a new command center to better coordinate responses to attacks in space.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work announced on Tuesday at the 2015 GEOINT symposium—an annual conference convening leaders from the American geospatial intelligence community—that the Pentagon will set up a new joint command center to better coordinate responses to attacks on U.S. military space assets, Marcus Weisgerber over at Defense One reports.

Space, Work emphasized in a speech, was once a “virtual sanctuary,” but should now “be considered a contested operational domain in ways that we haven’t had to think about in the past. (…) We must be prepared now to prevail in conflicts that extend into space.”

Consequently, Work and other senior Pentagon officials are pressing hard to setup a new joint coordination and planning cell, which will receive data from satellites belonging to all U.S. government agencies and should be opened within six months. The new operations center is part of a $5 billion increase for space security as outlined in the FY2016 Defense Department budget request, Weisgerber notes.

Chinese and Russian growing asymmetrical military capabilities are particularly worrisome for the Pentagon’s leadership, and present “a clear and present danger” to United States military superiority, Work further said. Additionally, he notes:

[W]e are going to develop the tactics, techniques, procedures, rules of the road that would allow us … to fight the architecture and protect it while it’s under attack. The ugly reality that we must now all face is that if an adversary were able to take space away from us, our ability to project decisive power across transoceanic distances and overmatch adversaries in theaters once we get there … would be critically weakened.

As I reported before (see: “Is the Pentagon Losing the Arms Race in Space?”), 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 — according to media reports.

Because of the huge costs involved in maintaining space-based navigation systems, such as GPS, the Pentagon is responsible for at least 24 operational GPS satellites in space transmitting signals. A number of Pentagon officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, have called for the replacement of the current satellite depended navigation system with a “GPS of things” (see: “Is the Pentagon Getting Ready to Dump GPS?”).

In addition, a few commentators have pointed out that the current threat scenarios have much more to do with the ongoing debate about sequestration—across the board budget cuts—and the fiscal year 2016 defense budget request (see: “The Defense Budget Debate Rages On”) than the actual current danger to U.S. satellites from Chinese and Russian weapons. By Franz-Stefan Gady for The Diplomat

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