As the Space Force approaches its fourth birthday, Chief of Space Operations General Bradley Chance Saltzman has identified one of its biggest threats – China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) missile capabilities. China demonstrated its anti-satellite capabilities in a test in 2007 when it used a modified ballistic missile to destroy one of its weather satellites, resulting in the largest-ever space debris field.
The debris from China’s 2007 ASAT test, as well as a recent Russian test, is still in orbit. This poses a significant threat to satellites and the safety of astronauts. General Saltzman has stated that China’s 2007 test was a watershed moment in the history of military space operations. He warns that such weapons continue to be a serious threat, not only because they can take out satellites but also because the debris generated by these destructions can cause further problems in orbit.
China’s advancements in anti-satellite capabilities are a cause for concern. It is believed that Beijing is constantly developing new weapons and missiles that can target both low and high orbits. The Pentagon has stated that China likely intends to pursue additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit. China has strengthened its military space capabilities over the years, despite opposition to space militarization.
General Saltzman believes that the Space Force must be prepared to deter and defend against these threats. The Space Development Agency is leading the way in developing a widespread constellation of Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for data transfer and missile tracking/warning. The focus is on developing methods for satellites to fight and protect themselves against both physical and non-physical attacks, such as cyberattacks. It is crucial to have proven strategies in place to respond to these attacks promptly and maintain satellite functionality.
One of the challenges is the lack of transparency from China regarding their tactics, techniques, and procedures. The Space Force emphasizes the importance of proactive communication to prevent collisions in space and lessen the impact of potential attacks.
In conclusion, China’s anti-satellite capabilities pose a significant threat to the Space Force and the safety of space assets. The Space Force is actively working to develop defenses against these threats and ensure the security and functionality of satellites in orbit. Proactive communication and information sharing are vital in maintaining safety in a disputed space environment.