China is making massive, long-term investments in weapons designed to jam or destroy satellites as it seeks to quickly close the gap with the United States in space technology, according to senior intelligence officials at the Defense Department’s Indo-Pacific Command.
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Michael Studeman said this week in a webinar hosted by an intelligence security trade group that China is pushing to develop anti-satellite weapons with “dazzling jamming, ground-based kinetic kill, space-based kinetic kill capabilities,” Bloomberg reported. . He said China is “on the march” in all of these areas.
The Bloomberg report described Stutman’s comments as the latest unclassified U.S. assessment of a nation’s counterspace capabilities. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has repeatedly called it the biggest challenge to U.S. defense planning and spending.
The Chinese threat to U.S. satellites and Russian advances in space countermeasures technology are a major driver for U.S. officials to create a U.S. Space Force, a sixth U.S. military branch and a regional space command during the Trump administration.
The report quotes Stoudman as saying, “They looked at our space capabilities and wanted to match and exceed them and be in a dominant position to ensure the maneuverability needed to be able to achieve our goals in combat.”
The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said in April that the Chinese military “will continue to integrate space services – such as satellite reconnaissance and positioning, navigation, timing and satellite communications – into its weapons and command and control that undermine the dominance of U.S. information systems.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the development of so-called counterspace operations would be an integral part of potential military operations. In its annual threat assessment report, the office said Beijing continues to train its military space forces and “deploy new disruptive and non-disruptive ground and space-based anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.”
According to the report, China “has deployed land-based ASAT lasers designed to destroy near-Earth orbiting satellites and potentially to blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors on board near-Earth orbiting satellites.”
The House Appropriations Committee, in a draft report on the fiscal year 2022 defense bill obtained by the Bloomberg administration, is concerned about “the growing threat posed by ground-based lasers capable of damaging or destroying sensitive space sensors in low orbit and the lack of a coordinated strategy to understand this threat and develop concepts to mitigate its risks.
The report does not mention China, but instead directs the Pentagon, in coordination with the Office of the Director of Intelligence, to “provide a plan to collect, integrate and characterize data on the laser threat activities of potential adversaries and to develop strategies to mitigate these threats.”
The Bloomberg report also cites the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s description of China’s communications satellite program as of 2019. The Defense Intelligence Agency said that in addition to its disruptive counterspace technologies, China is conducting a parallel program of military and commercial communications satellites, owning and operating about 30 satellites for civilian, commercial and military use in satellite communications; Beijing also operates a small number of military-only communications satellites.
Stoudman said there will be a game of initiatives, countermeasures and opposing policies in the coming period.
The Bloomberg report refers to a top U.S. anti-space weapon called the Meadowlands system designed to temporarily jam but not destroy Chinese and Russian satellites, and says the U.S. Pacific Air Force will build as many as 48 such land-based arsenals over the next seven years, with the first operational road-based arsenal announced in March 2020.