- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Space is the next great battlefield where the U.S. military must maintain superiority, not just the domain of NASA astronauts and a playground for visionary entrepreneurs.

That, at least is the vision laid out by the Pentagon Wednesday in an effort to put meat on the bones of President Trump’s aggressive program to preserve U.S. dominance of space. The department’s updated 2020 Space Strategy, analysts said, marks a striking change in tone and content from the Obama-era blueprint it replaces.

Russia and China top the list of adversaries developing space-based weapons that, in a shooting war, could cripple the U.S. satellites that do everything from controlling your car’s GPS to providing vital communication links among America’s nuclear armed planes, missile silos and submarines, said Stephen Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy.

China and Russia have weaponized space and turned it into a warfighting domain,” Mr. Kitay said Wednesday at a Pentagon briefing to roll out the new strategy. “I wish I could say space was a sea of tranquility and a sanctuary from attack. But the fact of the matter is, space is contested.”

The new space strategy — designed for the next 10 years — tracks closely with the Trump administration’s overhauled national defense strategies in 2017 and 2018 that call for a renewed focus on “great power” competition with rivals such as China and Russia.

Pentagon officials said the new space strategy has three objectives: maintain superiority in space; ensure stability in space; and provide space support to U.S. and allied military operations down below.

“We are still ahead of them, but we are absolutely at risk with the pace that they are developing these capabilities,” Mr. Kitay said. “These are very serious threats.” Private critics, echoed by Beijing and Moscow, in turn accuse the U.S. of militarizing the cosmos, bringing the Earth-bound struggle for influence and supremacy into outer space.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in December complained that NATO was seeking a military edge in space and that Moscow would respond. The Chinese state-controlled Global Times, in an April editorial on the day President Trump unveiled the flag for his new U.S. Space Force, also said Beijing was prepared to counter U.S. moves.

Any country’s attempt to militarize space will result in changes in the international strategic balance,” the online news site said in an editorial. “Other major countries will not stand by and watch.”

Playing defense

But U.S. officials Wednesday painted American space defense projects as a response to threats from its main rivals, in a theater increasingly vital to the operations of the U.S. military as a whole.

“U.S. reliance on space has increased to the point where space capabilities not only enhance but enable our way of life and way of war,” the new strategy document said. “Chinese and Russian strategic intentions and capabilities present urgent and enduring threats to the ability of the [Defense Department] to achieve its desired conditions in space.”

Asked if the U.S. was developing and deploying offensive weapons in outer space, Mr. Kitay declined to answer directly.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement that the new strategy is meant to ensure U.S. superiority in space now and into the future.

“We desire a secure, stable and accessible space domain that underpins our nation’s security, prosperity and scientific achievement,” Mr. Esper said. “However, our adversaries have made space a warfighting domain and we have to implement enterprise-wide changes to policies, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities and expertise for this new strategic environment.”

In 2017, a Russian satellite launched a high speed projectile into space. Earlier this year, a satellite of the same design maneuvered perilously close to a U.S. government satellite, Mr. Kitay said.

“These are very serious threats,” Mr. Kitay said. “We are absolutely at risk with the pace they are developing these capabilities.”

According to the strategy, both Beijing and Moscow consider access to space — and the ability to block access for a hostile power — as critical components of their national security. They consider the use of counter-space capabilities as a means for reducing the effectiveness of U.S. and allied military operations and to achieve a significant edge in any future conflict.

The strategy contends both Russia and China also are developing sophisticated jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons and ground-based anti-satellite missiles. These capabilities threaten the U.S. satellite fleet as well as those of our friends and allies, Mr. Kitay said.

“Outer space has emerged as a key arena of potential conflict in an era of great-power competition,” he said.

The U.S. retains a lead in outer space exploration and the new Space Force and a separate U.S. Space Command are focusing resources and attention on the new battle theater, other nations are closely watching the balance of power in space, Mr. Kitay said.

“Our allies have had strong interest in cooperating with the United States in space. There’s a recognition of the criticality of the domain as well as the threats that we’re facing,” he said. “NATO recently declared space as an operational domain. They recognize the threats to our interests.”

A nuclear detonation in space could conceivably destroy several satellites with an electromagnetic pulse that would fry their electronics. It was a concern during the Cold War between the U.S.S.R. and the West and remains so today.

“That is a threat that we have to potentially be prepared for,” Mr. Kitay said.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 — signed by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union — did not ban military activities in space. But, it was believed by many that space would remain an area of scientific exploration and peaceful coexistence.

“The U.S. space enterprise was not built for the current strategic environment,” Mr. Kitay said. “But we will be prepared to protect and defend our interests from the hostile use of space.”

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