China and Russia are aggressively developing capabilities such as anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons that could soon destroy all U.S. satellites in low-earth orbit, according to a new report issued by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. ASAT weapons could decapitate the Pentagon’s use of surveillance, navigation, and communications satellites from its arsenal during wartime efforts, which would severely cripple the effectiveness of U.S. armed forces.
The Joint Staff intelligence directorate, known as J-2, published the warning in a recent report on the growing threat of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons from China and Russia, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
Officials who were familiar with the report stated, “China and Russia will be capable of severely disrupting or destroying U.S. satellites in low-earth orbit” in the next two years. Back in May, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a very similar warning but less specific than the J-2 report.
“We assess that Russia and China perceive a need to offset any U.S. military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine,” Coats said. “Both will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness.”
Coats said that both China and Russia are colluding with each other to limit U.S. defenses in space through collaboration and the development of ASAT weapons. Russia’s arsenal of space weapons include a “diverse suite of capabilities to affect satellites in all orbital regimes,” Coats testified to Congress, including a non-kinetic means of targeting U.S. satellites through direct energy weapons.
“Ten years after China intercepted one of its own satellites in low-earth orbit, its ground-launched ASAT missiles might be nearing operational service within the PLA,” Coats said.
Space expert Michael J. Listner said ASAT weapons were developed in the Cold War days. Both the United States and the Soviet Union acquired the technology many decades ago that could knock out each other’s satellites in space.
“The United States ASAT program, Program 437, took the form of the ASM-135 missile, or the ‘flying tomato can’ and was intended by the Reagan administration to be a deterrent to the Soviet co-orbital system,” said Listner, founder of Space Law & Policy Solutions, a consulting firm.
“When Congress defunded development of the ASM-135 there was no follow-on program to provide the desired deterrent effect,” Listner said. “Russia did not completely scrap its program and China is pursuing its own, leaves the United States with the conundrum of how to deter the threat aside from the hope of resilience,” he added.
The Washington Free Beacon notes that the Pentagon’s low-earth satellites are highly vulnerable to Chinese or Russian ASAT weapons.
Resilience is a term used by the Pentagon for protecting, hardening, or replacing satellites in a future conflict.
Low-earth orbit satellites operate between 100 miles and 1,242 miles above the earth and are used for reconnaissance and earth and ocean observation. Those low-orbiting satellites provide key military data used in preparing battlefields around the world for deploying forces in a conflict or crisis.
Also, weather monitoring and communications satellites, including Iridium, Globalstar, and Orbcomm, circle in low-earth orbit.
A number of critical intelligence and military communications satellites also operate in highly elliptical orbits that during orbit travel in an extremely low perigee close to earth where they will soon be vulnerable to Chinese or Russian attack.
All these low-earth orbit satellites are now highly vulnerable to Chinese or Russian anti-satellite weapons and capabilities.
Those capabilities range from several types of ground-launched space missiles, to lasers and electronic jammers, to small maneuvering satellites that can maneuver, grab, and crush orbiting satellites.
According to a report by the National Institute for Public Policy, as of 2016 there were 780 satellites in low earth orbit operated by 43 nations. At total of 37 highly elliptical orbit satellites will soon be vulnerable to Chinese or Russian ASATs.
A former Pentagon missile expert Steve Lambakis warned, “U.S. space systems are among the most fragile and vulnerable assets operated by the U.S. military.”
“This vulnerable communications and data collection, processing, and distribution infrastructure is worth billions of dollars and is vital to nearly every activity of the United States and, increasingly, the armed forces of U.S. allies,” he stated.
Last week, the Pentagon launched its largest-ever three-week premier set of air war drills, called Red Flag 18-1, which started last Friday and will conclude February 16. Right now, the Pentagon is blacking out GPS over the Nevada Test and Training Range, which provides realistic war-like conditions to challenge fighter pilots.
To sum up, the Pentagon is preparing for the next global conflict which could start in outer space. As highlighted by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, China and Russia’s ambitions to knock U.S. military satellites out of low earth orbit have certainly spooked Washington. If China or Russia deploy an ASAT weapon and take out critical satellites of the U.S. military, it could render the Pentagon blind. This is no position any country wants to be in, and now we understand why the Pentagon is currently conducting massive air war drills in Nevada with simulated GPS blackouts.
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