The Chief of Space Operations, Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, has identified China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) missile capabilities as one of the Space Force’s biggest challenges. He has emphasized the significance of China’s 2007 direct ascent ASAT weapon test, which remains a serious concern for military space operations. Saltzman believes that China’s ability to destroy satellites and the resulting debris in orbit compound the problem and must be addressed.
Debris from the 2007 ASAT test continues to pose a threat, as does debris from a more recent Russian test. As the space domain becomes increasingly congested and complex, the Space Force must not only track existing threats but also deter future ones.
To achieve deterrence, the Space Force is shifting towards a more resilient architecture for its satellites in orbit and its ground networks. The Space Development Agency (SDA) is leading efforts to build a proliferated constellation of satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) for missile tracking, warning, and data transport. The strategy is to make the cost of shooting down one satellite greater than the cost of fielding one.
In addition to building more, smaller satellites, the Space Force is also focusing on developing defense capabilities. Saltzman highlights the importance of satellites being able to defend and protect themselves from physical and electronic attacks. This includes designing tactics to counter cyber attacks and training operators accordingly.
The Space Force is also concerned about transparency in information sharing with China, particularly when it comes to safety. They emphasize the need for proactive communication and warn of potential collisions in space. While the Space Force provides warnings when objects are in close proximity, China’s response can sometimes be omitted, leading to dangerous situations.
The Pentagon’s annual China report has also raised concerns about China’s emphasis on controlling space-based information and their investment in space-based intelligence and counterspace capabilities. China is actively developing kinetic-kill missiles and ground-based lasers.
In conclusion, China’s anti-satellite missile capabilities pose significant challenges for the Space Force. Efforts are being made to create a more resilient satellite architecture and develop defense capabilities. Transparent communication regarding safety is crucial, and concerns about China’s actions in space persist.