A recent Joint Chiefs Staff – Directorate for Intelligence (J-2) report revealed that China and Russia are currently developing anti-satellite missiles and other weapons capable of damaging or destroying all low-earth orbit U.S. satellites.
J-2 issued the warning as part of its study on the growing threat of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons from those countries. The capability to attack low-earth orbit satellites could be in place by 2020.
The report states that “China and Russia will be capable of severely disrupting or destroying U.S. satellites in low-earth orbit,” and that Russia’s space weapons included a “diverse suite of capabilities to affect satellites in all orbital regimes,” including an airborne case for use against U.S. satellites. Both countries are also developing debris-removing satellites that could be used to damage satellites.
The J-2 report echoes similar warnings communicated by Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, last May.
“We assess that Russia and China perceive a need to offset any U.S. military advantages derived from military, civil or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine,” Coats said. “Both will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness.”
While the threats are alarming, space expert and founder of Space Law & Policy Solutions Micael Listner says this is nothing new.
Both the U.S. and Soviet Union had ongoing plans to implement technology designed to degrade space systems during the Cold War.
“The United States ASAT program, Program 437, took the form of the ASM-135 missile, or the ‘flying tomato can,’ and was intended by the Reagan Administration to be a deterrent to the Soviet co-orbital system,” he said.
“When Congress defunded development of the ASM-135, there was no follow-on program to provide the desired deterrent effect,” Listner said.
“That Russia did not completely scrap its program and China is pursuing its own, leaves the United States with the conundrum of how to deter the threat,” he added.
Former Pentagon missile expert Steve Lambakis stressed the value of of the hundreds of satellites currently orbiting the Earth, and also the importance of having a plan in place to combat any and all threats.
“U.S. Space systems are among the most fragile and vulnerable assets operated by the U.S. military,” he said. “This vulnerable communications and data collection, processing and distribution infrastructure is worth billions of dollars and is vital to nearly every activity of the Unites States and, increasingly, the armed forces of U.S. allies.”