Russia isn’t done screwing with the United States in 2016.
On Dec. 16, the Russian military reportedly tested what appears to be an anti-satellite weapon—a rocket that can boost into low orbit and smash into enemy spacecraft.Sponsored Ads
The test could be the latest sign of Russia’s intention, and improving ability, to threaten America’s hundreds of government and private spacecraft—and chip away at the United States’ military and commercial advantage in space.
Killer satellites, blinding lasers, sophisticated jammers: the world’s military powers are quietly readying for a war in outer space—at the risk of fueling a dangerous new arms race.
US military officials have in recent years sounded growing alarm about the potential vulnerabilities of their satellites, which underpin US military power.
Initially, the reserve of the United States and the Soviet Union, space has now become accessible to an ever-expanding multitude of nations and private firms.
And Moscow and Beijing are keen to show off their space-attack capabilities, a deep worry for US strategists.
In the 2015 near-future novel Ghost Fleet, Russo-Chinese forces annihilate the U.S. constellation of satellites from orbit in a sudden surprise attack, leaving the superpower suddenly massively exposed in its own prized sphere of “information dominance.” Without access to the GPS, intelligence sharing, and force coordination systems so critical to 21st century warfare, US forces suddenly find themselves outmaneuvered and outgunned, forced to rely on the aging, non-networked hulls of the mothballed “ghost fleet” to respond to Chinese incursions across the Pacific. It’s a chilling portrait of future warfare that has taken the Washington defense establishment by storm, and which illustrates the degree to which the United States must focus on its space systems as a critical pillar of national security.
Now, as Russia, China and others develop technology that could take out the national security infrastructure the United States has built in space, Pentagon officials fear its satellites could be sitting ducks. Navy Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said recently that North Korea has successfully jammed GPS satellites, that Iran was busy building a space program and that “violent extremist organizations” were able to access space-based technologies to help them encrypt communications, among other things.
However, the dominance that the U.S. has enjoyed in space since the end of the Cold War appears to be ending. James Lewis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies says adversaries “are investing tens of millions of dollars in a range of technologies intended to degrade or destroy satellites and space capabilities.”
China in particular has become very active in this area. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Chinese satellite launches increased dramatically between 2003 and 2012. These new satellites have served a number of different purposes, from enhancing communications to the creation of China’s own regional GPS constellation.
The most worrying aspect of the Chinese space program has been their anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons demonstrations. The first of these occurred in 2007, when China shot down one of its own satellites. There have been reports of other ASAT tests in 2010 and2013, although the Chinese government disputes these reports. Bruce MacDonald, a former Special Advisor of the Nonproliferation and Arms Control Project with the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, expects these trends to continue. He says that China wants to pursue capabilities that include “its own complete GPS-like satellite constellation, more satellites for both military and civilian long distance communications, more advanced intelligence satellites, and more advanced ASAT systems.”
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.
The world’s major powers follow an unwritten rule when it comes to space exploration: no weapons in orbit. But lately the three leading space nations—the US, China, and Russia—have been accused of ignoring this gentlemen’s agreement. Russia, especially.
The accusations involve a trio of Russian satellites that may be “suicide” weapons, devices that can smash into and destroy other satellites. The craft are certainly suspicious. Russia did not announce the satellites prior to lift-off, as launch nations generally do. The craft practically dance around in orbit. One may even have collided with another object. To be fair, the satellites could be agile spy craft or repair drones. But it’s their potential as weapons that’s worrying.
The Kremlin says its nimble new satellites are just for communications. But they look—and act—an awful lot like prototype weapons.
On Christmas Day in 2013, a rocket blasted off from the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, about 500 miles north of Moscow. The 95-foot-tall, 118-ton Rokot booster—an unarmed version of a Cold War nuclear-tipped missile—lanced into low orbit, shedding spent stages as it climbed.
Seventy-five miles above the surface the earth, the Rokot’s nose cracked open and its payload spilled out. The rocket carried Rodnik communications satellites, according to Russian officials.
It’s customary for Rodnik sats to deploy in threes, but in a notification to the United Nations, Moscow listed four spacecraft inside the Christmas Rokot.
The discrepancy was strange…and got stranger.
Pentagon, military, and intelligence officials outlined plans on Wednesday for warfare in space and warned China not to attack U.S. satellites in any future conflict.
“The threats are real, they’re technologically advanced and they’re a concern,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, in testimony before a House subcommittee. “We are quickly approaching the point where every satellite in every orbit can be threatened.”
Douglas Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said that the threat of attacks on satellites in orbit is no longer a theoretical concern.
“Quite frankly, it’s one thing to anticipate an imaginary threat,” Loverro said. “It’s another thing to see that threat develop, watch it be exercised as with the Chinese on several occasions, recognize what it can do to our capability, and react to that. And that’s what we’re doing right now, is reacting to it and making it very clear we have no desire to have a conflict extend to space.”
China is using its earnings from China-US trade to point big guns (missiles) at the US and to destroy US satellites. Still think trading with a country that behaves like this is a good idea?
Delusional thinking in the West pushed more and more trade toward China. All those cheap products from China will certainly make life better over in America. Except all those geniuses forgot to factor in the probability of war.
Why would China want to go to war against the US? If you have to ask that question then just go home.You haven’t been paying attention.
The “China Dream” demands that China reaches its past glory. Right now the US and Japan stand in its way. Given the internal instability of China, the current regime is at risk of revolution in some form. Aggressively pushing outward toward its neighbors is one way to redirect people’s attention and achieve the China Dream. However, that aggressiveness could very well lead to war. China is preparing for that war.
China’s recent test of a missile designed to shoot down satellites in low-earth orbit highlights a growing threat of space weapons, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command said on Tuesday.
Adm. Cecil D. Haney, head of the Omaha-based nuclear forces command, also voiced worries about the strategic nuclear forces buildup by Russia and China, and said as commander he must assume North Korea is correct in claiming to have miniaturized a nuclear warhead for its missile forces.
Haney also warned about the use of sophisticated cyber attacks by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS or ISIL.