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China, Russia making space weapons to target U.S. satellites, Space Force chief says

Lt. Gen. Chance Saltzman (US Air Force/Released)
March 16, 2023

During a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing held on March 14, Space Force Gen. B. Chance Saltzman warned officials that China’s increased satellite launches could signal a threat to U.S. forces.

Saltzman, a four-star general, stressed the need to achieve funding and strengthen defenses, according to The Washington Times. Saltzman stated that Russia was testing and deploying land-based and orbital anti-satellite weapons and cyber capabilities, while China was focusing on lasers capable of destroying satellite sensors as well as electronic jammers that could disrupt communications and GPS transmittal. 

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“(Both) are intent on targeting perceived U.S. vulnerabilities and eliminating American advantage in the space domain,” Saltzman said. “Both expect space to be key to future warfare by enabling long-range precision strikes. Both seek information superiority through disabling an adversary’s space communication and navigation systems.” 

China has demonstrated an increase in satellite launches, recording a total of 35 launches in the last 6 months, he said.

The Space Force, under the direction of the Department of Defense (DoD), operates numerous tracking, defense, and information-gathering satellites. These satellites orbit the Earth, detecting weapons-grade threats, enabling communications, and providing surveillance. 

Due to their vital mission, Space Force-operated satellites are considered a valuable asset to the DoD. Until recently, their position in orbit removed most threats. According to CBN News, officials feel threats to satellites are rapidly emerging as a pressing concern for the military. 

Mike Rogers, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, detailed the evolving concerns and need to establish defense operations to protect DoD assets in space in February. 

“Just a couple of months ago, the Russians fired a missile,” Rogers said. “Now, they shot their own satellite, but they destroyed a satellite that was in orbit. And they did that to demonstrate both to the United States and our allies that they had the capability to take out satellites.”

In March 2022, Fierce Electronics reported that 37 GPS satellites operated by the United States were vulnerable to cyber attacks from Chinese and Russian forces, and that China’s development of a satellite equipped with robotic arms that could reasonably enable physical attacks in orbit. 

President Joe Biden has responded to the potential threat with a proposed $842 billion Defense budget allotment in his 2024 budget plan, with funds earmarked to improve, strengthen and advance U.S. space assets, as reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine.