Pentagon to build space weapons, new strategy reveals

Pentagon to build space weapons, new strategy reveals

The Pentagon will develop and deploy new space weapons to battle Chinese and Russian space forces in a future conflict, according to a new strategy report.

The unclassified version of the strategy, made public on Thursday, provides no details on the types of weapons being developed.

The strategy also places a major emphasis on passive measures, such as building replacement satellites that can be used after orbiting systems are blown up or incinerated during a conflict with an adversary such as China or Russia.

Other passive measures are described in the report as “resiliency” and include hardening existing satellites against attack with defensive measures, or through maneuvering capabilities.

The Biden administration also is arms control in space through the establishment of norms of behavior in space. The administration imposed a unilateral moratorium on testing space weapons that cause debris as it pursues space diplomacy.

China and Russia both in the past have conducted space weapons tests that produced thousands of high-speed orbiting debris pieces; neither has signed on to the U.S. testing moratorium.

The Pentagon budget for fiscal 2024 includes $33.3 billion, the largest budget for space operations ever and an increase of 13% over last year, the report said.

On U.S. space arms, the report said the United States needs “integrated space fires” for deterrence and for combat, acknowledging that resilience measures for space systems are insufficient to deter attacks.

The Pentagon “requires joint military space capabilities to protect and defend the U.S., and as directed, allied, partner, and commercial space assets and to protect the joint force, allies, and partners from adversary hostile uses of space,” the report said.

Greater electronic warfare capabilities, battlespace awareness and cyber defenses also are central to the new strategy.

Tracking the rhetoric of top Pentagon officials, the report says China today poses the most significant danger to American military and civilian space systems.

“In addition to developing counterspace weapons to threaten U.S. use of space, China is developing and rapidly growing its ability to leverage space to enhance its own combat power to fight and win a modern military conflict,” states the report that was required under recent congressional legislation.

The U.S. military currently lags both Beijing and Moscow in space weaponry. China and Russia have tested and deployed several types of ground-based anti-satellite missiles, as well as directed-energy weapons that can burn the electronics of targeted satellites. Both nations also have maneuvering robot satellites equipped with mechanical arms that can grab and crush orbiting systems.

The sole known weapon fielded to date by the new U.S. military Space Force is an electronic jammer capable of disrupting signals between ground stations and satellites. Other U.S. space weapons are said to be under development but remain hidden from public view under a strict veil of secrecy.

Secrecy and security

The report said the Pentagon is reviewing its space secrecy policies to “overcome barriers” that have made cooperation with allies difficult, as well as to better share information between the various U.S. military services.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman said that the review is needed.

“The problem is that sometimes we classified things so early in the life cycle. … We’ve protected very conservatively early on. Procedurally, then, we kind of carry that classification through to operational systems, he said Tuesday during an annual Air and Space Force Association conference.

It’s a problem, he added, “that we can fix.”

The new U.S. space strategy report said China regards its space weapons as a way to deter and counter outside intervention in a regional conflict, such as during a war over Taiwan.

The Chinese military created a separate service in 2015 called the Strategic Support Force to “approach space as a warfighting domain more effectively,” the report said, noting that half of the world’s space-based intelligence and surveillance satellite are owned by the Chinese.

The satellite systems increase Beijing’s ability to “to conduct long-range strikes against U.S. and allied forces.”

“The PLA is developing, testing, and fielding capabilities intended to target U.S. and allied satellites, including electronic warfare to suppress or deceive enemy equipment; ground-based laser systems that can disrupt, degrade, and damage satellite sensors; offensive cyberwarfare capabilities; and direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missiles that can target satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO),” the report said.

Chinese experimental satellites designed to repair satellites and clean debris are viewed in the report as part of Beijing’s space warfare arsenal.

“The PRC continues to seek new methods to hold U.S. satellites at risk, probably intending to pursue [direct ascent anti-satellite] weapons capable of destroying satellites up to [geosynchronous orbit]” – 22,000 miles above earth, the report stated.

Along with its space weapons, China and Russia are promoting “false claims that [they] will not place weapons in space” and are seeking a legally binding and unverifiable treaty at the United Nations to ban weapons in space, the report said.

Russian challenge

Russian space forces also have been built up since 2015 and are viewed by Moscow’s military planners as decisive in reaching the “supremacy in space” needed for winning wars, the report said.

Moscow’s space arms include weapons that can produce both temporary and permanent damage to U.S. satellites during a conflict.

“These systems include jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based DA-ASAT missile capabilities,” the report said.

A November 2021 test of a Russian anti-satellite missile produced more than 1,500 piece of space debris that U.S. officials said threaten all craft in low Earth orbit, including astronauts in the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong space station.

The report said military forces need multiple options to deter aggression and if deterrence fails to win conflicts as the rivalries in space intensify.

“As the complexity of the domain grows, [the Defense Department] must provide the president and [secretary of defense] with options to deliver operational and strategic effects to achieve national objectives,” the report said, while seeking to balance weapons development with the need for a stable space environment.

Michael J. Listner, a space policy expert, said because the congressionally-mandated report provides few insights into U.S. strategy.

“The report doesn’t articulate a new strategy or a new approach to facing these counter space threats but rather it says this is where we are now based on our current strategies and policies,” said Mr. Listner, founder and principal of Space Law and Policy Solutions.

“Substantially, that policy is all about resilience and how the U.S. intends to survive an attack and, by extension, theoretically deterring an attack to begin with.”