Will China knock out America’s satellites?

Perhaps the greatest strategic and tactical advantages we have over our adversaries are the enormous capabilities our hundreds of military and intelligence satellites provide. Among those capabilities are communicating over secure channels, navigating and targeting weapons with great precision, providing instant early warning of missile launches, and spying on other nations’ communications and military movements.

If we lose a significant number of these satellites in any conflict, we will also lose those advantages. Other nations have satellite capabilities, but none equal to ours.

Logically, then, any enemy planning to wage war against us would invest heavily in capabilities to destroy or cripple our critical satellites. According to the November 29 Pentagon report “Military and Security Developments Associated with the People’s Republic of China in 2022,” China is certainly doing that.

The report said in part: “The PRC continues to develop a variety of counterspace capabilities designed to limit or prevent an adversary’s use of space-based assets during a crisis or conflict. In addition to developing directed-energy weapons and satellite jammers, the [People’s Liberation Army] has operational ground-based anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles aimed at targeting low-Earth orbit satellites, and the PRC likely intends to acquire additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites up to geosynchronous Earth orbit.”

The report continues: “The PLA likely views counterspace operations as a means of deterring and countering US intervention during regional military conflicts. Additionally, PRC defense scholars suggest that reconnaissance, communications, navigation and early warning satellites could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy”.

Also Read :  Colombia's Petro, Venezuela's Maduro meet in Caracas

China’s “counterspace” capabilities have been in development for decades and are improving rapidly. We are far behind China in counter-space systems and security of our satellites.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula is dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. He told The Washington Times: “China’s threat to our space systems is now, not in the future. For example, they are attacking our civilian and military systems every day with cyber intrusions and probing our space systems as well as various media.”

Fifteen years ago – which is technically ancient history – China destroyed one of its own weather satellites by crashing into another orbiting object. Now, it aims to attack our satellites with cyber weapons and “kill” them with other weapons, including directed-energy weapons (lasers, etc.), killer satellites, and ground-based missiles.

Each satellite has communication channels to receive and transmit information. That means the communication channel could be jammed, or it could be used for a cyber warfare attack on the satellite.

Think about the impact of that cyber intervention. One effect would be to throw off the GPS satellites by a few degrees, making it difficult for warplanes and missiles to locate where they are supposed to strike.

Also Read :  Gross-Bullock leads Bryant to win over Binghamton in America East debut

The worst effects – leading to war or open conflict – could see many or most of our mission-essential satellites destroyed or jammed, literally rendering us deaf, dumb and blind.

In any open war, China will launch multiple attacks on our satellites. Some will be destroyed by directed-energy weapons, others by hunter-killer satellites and ground-launched missiles. When – if not – the Chinese try to take over Taiwan, we can expect them to use any and all of those weapons to knock out our satellites.

The effects on our intelligence-gathering abilities will be huge. Adam. Stansfield Turner, Jimmy Carter’s CIA director, decided that we would rely on satellites instead of human spies on the ground. The CIA has tried to increase its “humanit” capability again, but in the case of closed societies like Iran, China and Russia, it is probably close to zero.

That brings us to the question of whether our defensive capabilities can be effective against what the Chinese are planning for our satellites. The answer is that we have few or none of the necessary satellite defenses.

Also Read :  In Washington, Macron to seek relief for Europe Inc amid China competition

As General Deptula told us, “Almost all current on-orbit satellites were designed and launched with a benign space environment in mind. They are examples of what former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Hyten, called ‘big juicy targets’. They are very vulnerable, a situation we need to address quickly. That is a tall order.

Our satellite builders must try to make our satellites safe from cyber attacks, but nothing can be completely safe against such attacks. It is conceivable that US satellites could be interfered with or used against us.

To protect the satellites from kinetic attack we would need to replace them with others in orbit that are hardened against laser attack and resistant to blasts from nearby enemy satellites. Defense against land-based weapons will require constant surveillance and maneuver.

Securing our satellites will take years and cost billions of dollars. It must happen because space is no longer a benign environment. If, as many of us expect, China tries to conquer Taiwan by 2025, our time to act is over. If only President Biden were not unaware of this critical need.

• Jed Babbin is a national security and foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times and a contributing editor for The American Spectator.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles

Back to top button