The United States was the first — and still the only — nation to put a man on the moon. Nobody will forget that. But come July, that first manned lunar landing will have been exactly 50 years ago.
A lot has changed in space in the last half century, including the number of countries that are capable of putting things on the moon, launching rockets with complex satellites, or building space stations. The United States still has a lead in space, but that might not last long.
Russia and China, for instance, “are looking to asymmetrically undermine our space-based capabilities,” Kenneth P. Rapuano, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, said at a March 27 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee.
“Space is a vital national interest,” Rapuano said. “It underpins our economy and way of life, supporting our academia, agricultural, banking and travel sectors, among others. Moreover, the rapidly growing commercial space sector offers enormous promise for the prosperity of Americans and our global partners.”
But space also offers the U.S. military an advantage that Rapuano said America must fight to maintain. Just how important is space to uniformed gunslingers on the battlefield?
“It’s pivotal,” Rapuano said. “Our targeting. Our communications. Positioning, timing, location for GPS. And all of the … capabilities in terms of surveillance and reconnaissance that we get from space. Real-time situational awareness of adversaries’ locations and activities. To lose those capabilities would be very significant, and that is why we are so focused on defending and protecting them.”
U.S. Edge at Risk
Rapuano let senators know the U.S. has got to step up its game or risk losing its edge to the Chinese or Russians, both of whom are vying for the top spot in the space race for the strategic advantage it provides.
“China has expanded by orders of magnitude,” Rapuano said. “The Russians have grabbed back. They have newly invested in space and developed some relatively exquisite capabilities. But the scale of the Chinese investment is the lead in terms of everyone else out there, including Russia. They have more rocket launches this year than the United States. They are the lead rocket-launch nation in the world.”
Rapuano said China and Russia are developing military capabilities, doctrine and organizations intended to place U.S. space systems at risk, including anti-satellite weapons, ground-launch missiles and directed energy weapons. Additionally, he said, they continue to launch experimental satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities to advance counter-space capabilities.
“The department must do more to accelerate its response to the changing dynamics of space by adapting our organizations, policies, doctrine, capabilities and joint force employment to more effectively deter aggression, protect our interests and enhance our lethality,” Rapuano said.
The DOD’s proposal for U.S. Space Force, establishment of U.S. Space Command as a unified command, and establishment of a Space Development Agency are all part of DOD’s efforts to move forward, Rapuano said.