On Tuesday, U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, the commander of the U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) said China is second only to the U.S. for the most satellites in orbit, with 400 Chinese satellites currently in operation. Dickinson also warned that Russia is not far behind, with 200 space satellites in operation and plans to double that number within the decade.
“China’s space enterprise continues to mature rapidly, presenting a pacing challenge for us,” Dickinson said during a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They invest heavily in space with more than 400 satellites on orbit today. China is building military space capabilities rapidly.”
Satellites play a key role in allowing countries to coordinate their forces operating globally as well as monitor the activities of other countries and providing guidance system for weapons.
In a prepared statement before the hearing, Dickinson also said China’s satellite capabilities include satellites for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).
Dickinson noted China’s GPS equivalent, the BeiDou satellite-based navigation system, is now globally operational and provides China’s military “with the ability to globally command and control their forces, enhance their situational awareness, as well as enable them to monitor, track, and target adversary forces.”
“China’s rapidly growing space program is second only to the United States in the number of operational satellites,” Dickinson said in his prepared remarks.
The U.S. still leads in the number of satellites by a wide margin, with 1,897 active satellites, according to a January 2021 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Still Dickinson said, “Beijing actively seeks space superiority through space and space attack systems.”
“One notable object is the Shijian-17, a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites,” Dickinson said in his prepared remarks. “China also has multiple ground-based laser systems of varying power levels that could blind or damage satellite systems.”
Describing the Russia’s satellite capabilities, Dickinson said, “Russia currently has close to 200 satellites on orbit and could double that by 2030.”
In his prepared remarks, Dickinson also said, “Russia considers U.S. dependency on space to enable military power projection as a
vulnerability it can exploit in a conflict.
In addition to the growing number of Chinese and Russian space satellites, Dickinson said SPACECOM is closely monitoring the commercialization of space and is tracking thousands of satellites and debris left by both nations and commercial space entities.
“We are observing exponential growth in the commercialization of space,” Dickinson said. “We currently track a challenging 32,000 objects in space. Nearly 7,000 of those objects are active or retired satellite payloads.”
Dickinson said the large number of satellites and other objects in space “demands a new level of awareness on our part.”