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US satellites are vulnerable to Chinese and Russian attacks, Air Force warns

March 19, 2018

Air Force officials revealed to Congress this week that Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are vulnerable to attacks from Chinese and Russian lasers and missiles. GPS satellites are critical to the function of precision-guided weapons, navigation systems, and countless other tools and networks around the world.

The Washington Fee Beacon reported on testimony made by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson who said her service is currently working on developing jam-proof GPS satellites and making improvements to current systems that are susceptible to a variety of weapons.

According to the Free Beacon, for the Chinese, space warfare will be used as part of strategies to prevent U.S. military operations near China’s coasts. The Russians are seeking to attack U.S. space assets as part of Moscow’s efforts to dominate regional states.

“With respect to the threat that we face, I think it’s everything from jamming from the surface or a cyber attack, to direct-ascent satellite weapons, either from Russia [or] in 2007 [when] the Chinese tested an anti-satellite weapon and spread debris all over orbit,” Wilson recently told a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.

Wilson’s testimony came just days after President Donald Trump touted the necessity of a “space corps.”

“Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea,” Trump said last week at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California. “We may even have a Space Force. […] We have the Air Force, we’ll have the Space Force.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Golden also outlined the service’s fiscal 2019 budget during the hearing, which included a 33-percent increase in spending on space satellites, rocket launchers and capabilities to counter space attacks.

Wilson said the risk to the GPS networks is one reason why the Air Force is also interested in quickly replacing the 30 orbiting GPS satellites that are vulnerable.  She also stressed the importance of the satellites for not only the Air Force, but also for everyday Americans who rely on apps, websites and other services for GPS.

“Or if you just take out your phone and look at that blue dot, or if you got money from an ATM machine, all of those services are provided by a squadron of less than 40 airmen in Colorado Springs, Colorado,” she said, referring to the GPS satellite controllers located at Schriever Air Force Base.

“We provide GPS to the world, to about a billion people every day,” Wilson said. “It’s a pretty amazing capability, and we’re going to keep it resilient for the long term.”

The former Strategic Command commander, retired Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, also stressed to the Armed Services panel the need in increasing both defenses and offenses against growing space threats.

Kehler warned that both China and Russia are aggressively building weapons designed to “diminish our ability to project power, diminish our ability to have global awareness, to fracture us from our allies, all the things that we see them doing at the strategic level have a space component to them.”