The top general of the US Space Force, Gen. Chance Saltzman, recently stated that the military could be called upon to defend commercial satellites from attack. As the Pentagon increasingly relies on commercial networks for communication and surveillance, the protection of these satellite systems becomes crucial. Saltzman emphasized that US military space capabilities are under threat from China and Russia, and more information is needed about other countries’ activities in space. He also highlighted the growing role of commercial satellites in the military’s space programs.
When asked about the military’s role in protecting commercial satellites, Saltzman suggested that the US military has a responsibility to defend these assets in space. Just as the military protects sea lanes during conflicts, it should extend the same philosophy to space. Saltzman compared the situation to civilian airliner traffic in Europe, which is safeguarded. He stated, “I have no reason to believe that will be different” in space.
In the case of a hypothetical attack on a commercial satellite, it is likely that the defense operation would involve the US Space Command, a separate entity from the Space Force. Space Command is responsible for equipping and outfitting combatant commands with the necessary personnel and technology. Ultimately, it would be up to Space Command and civilian leadership to prioritize the defense of commercial capabilities from attack.
Last year, a Russian deputy director mentioned that the use of Western commercial satellites by Ukraine posed a dangerous trend. Commercial satellites being used for wartime purposes would make them military targets. Protecting these assets would be crucial in case of an attack.
While a physical attack on the Starlink network, for example, would be challenging due to its extensive satellite constellation and ground support infrastructure, the threat of a cyberattack remains real. It is important to address the vulnerabilities and ensure the protection of commercial satellites to maintain operational and communication capabilities.