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Chinese and Russian counter-space weapons have Pentagon officials worried, but new capabilities are on the way to mitigate the threat, a top U.S. Space Command official said Aug. 21.
Adversaries currently have the ability to use jammers, ground-based lasers, ground- and space-based kinetic weapons, attacks against ground facilities that support space operations, or a nuclear detonation in space to put U.S. and allied assets at risk, Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Tim Lawson said during remarks at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Space Warfighting Industry Forum, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
China has already tested anti-satellite missiles, while Russia has deployed on-orbit systems that could threaten U.S. satellites, noted Lawson, the mobilization assistant to the commander of Spacecom and the acting deputy commander of Spacecom.
“As a geographical combatant command focused on the space domain, those are the things that keep us up at night,” he said.
However, secretive, classified technology that’s in the works can help the U.S. military stay ahead of those threats, he said without going into specifics.
“I would love to sit behind some closed doors and have this discussion on some of the things we really think we need,” Lawson said when asked about the types of capabilities Spacecom is seeking. “A lot of times you listen to that threat picture and you kind of get a little dismayed at what you’re seeing, but then you look at our side and — trust me — we’ve got some things coming. So, it’s good news.”
Significant portions of the U.S. military’s space programs are part of the classified “black budget,” making it difficult for outside observers to know what’s coming down the pike.
Meanwhile, Lawson highlighted the need to have resilient space architectures that utilize large networks of small communications and intelligence-gathering satellites that would be less vulnerable to enemy attack than many of the large, expensive military systems that are on orbit today.
“If you had hundreds of small satellites up there in a constellation … the enemy can take out quite a few of those and it will really never have an impact on us,” he said. “That really is the resiliency piece that we’re seeking out there and we need.”
The command is also interested in developments in space logistics such as on-orbit refueling or servicing of satellites.
“If we could ever figure that out to where it is an economic way to do business, it would be a gamechanger, absolutely,” he said. “No doubt about it. And we would fully support a capability that would allow us to do that. And I think we would be very open to having some very good candid conversation on where industry is at in that piece of it.”
Lawson’s remarks came near the one-year anniversary of the reestablishment of U.S. Space Command. The organization is a full-fledged geographic combatant command responsible for military operations that occur 100 kilometers or higher above the Earth’s surface.
The Pentagon now considers space to be a warfighting domain on par with land, air and sea. Lawson said Spacecom must “be ready to fight tonight” — a mantra that in the past was usually applied to U.S. combat forces in geopolitical hotspots such as the Korean Peninsula. However, it will be “several years” before the command achieves full operational capability, Lawson said.