NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The Space Force is developing directed-energy weapons as a counter to space warfare threats posed by both China and Russia, according to the general in charge of the force.
Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond disclosed the work on high-tech directed-energy weapons during congressional testimony last month.
Rep. James Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat, said during an exchange with Gen. Raymond at a House Armed Services Committee hearing that directed-energy weapons pose a “significant threat” but can also be a possible defensive tool for protecting American satellites.
“From your perspective, are we developing our directed-energy portfolio appropriately to be an effective capability for space dominance?” Mr. Langevin asked.
“Yes, sir, we are,” Gen. Raymond replied, noting he would provide more details in a closed session.
“We have to be able to protect these capabilities that we rely so heavily on,” he said at the June 16 hearing. “The force design work that we’re doing takes that into account and balances our ability to accomplish the mission, the ability to protect and defend that mission and cost and how fast you can get those capabilities on orbit.”
A Space Force spokesman declined to elaborate on the four-star general’s comments.
“Gen. Raymond has stated many times that China and Russia have directed-energy capabilities that are designed to damage or destroy our satellites. His response to a question from Congressman James Langevin during a hearing June 16, 2021 was confirming that our architecture developments in the face of these threats are appropriate,” the spokesman said.
No details of the space lasers or other directed energy-weapons were disclosed during the hearing. However, it is possible that satellite-killing lasers could be deployed on the Air Force‘s secretive X-37 space plane.
Oversight of the X-37, an unmanned orbiting craft, has been transferred to the Space Force and likely will become a key element of the force’s mission of protecting satellites and defending against space threats. The reusable spacecraft, modeled after the Space Shuttle, has conducted five low-Earth orbit missions and landed on runways. According to the Air Force, its current mission in space began with launch atop an Atlas V rocket in May 2020.
Analysts say the new Space Force is the first new military service created for conducting combat operations that was not armed and equipped with weapons. Space arms planned for the service remain one of the most closely held secrets by the military and the Pentagon.
Most current activities of the Space Force involve space surveillance of threats posed by hostile forces or debris, and launching military satellites. There is no mention on the force’s website of any of its weapons capabilities.
As disclosed in this space last year, the sole announced offensive weapon in the Space Force arsenal is an electronic jammer capable of disrupting satellite communications. The Counter Communications System Block 10.2, was last deployed with the Air Force 4th Space Control Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado in March 2020. The mobile jammer disrupts enemy satellite communications.
By contrast, both China and Russia have several different types of space warfare capabilities, including ground-launched missiles capable of destroying orbiting satellites. According to a survey of global counterspace capabilities by the Secure World Foundation, China has significant low-Earth orbit anti-satellite missile capabilities and electronic warfare space systems.
Russia also is building a ground-launched anti-satellite missile called Nudol.
Both China and Russia are building orbiting robot satellites capable of disrupting or destroying orbiting satellites.
The U.S. military has missile defense interceptors capable of being reconfigured for anti-satellite attacks, but has no known program of dedicated ASAT missiles.
A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies states that directed energy can be used from ground stations to satellites as well as orbiting platforms. Space-based weapons can include orbiting crosslink jammers and high-powered microwave beam weapons to disrupt satellite operations.
“They can degrade, disrupt, or destroy a target satellite without making physical contact, producing orbital debris or otherwise affecting other satellites,” the CSIS report said. “The effects can be temporary or permanent depending on the form of attack used and the protections on the target satellite.”
The report said there are no public examples that such a system has been tested, although such tests could be masked as remote “proximity operations” — the use of maneuvering satellites.
Ground-fired non-kinetic weapons can include uplink jammers, and lasers that can disrupt or blind satellite optics, along with cyberattacks.
Gen. Raymond’s comments were first reported in the newsletter C4ISRNET.com.
Lawmakers warn of Chinese meddling in Haiti
Two Republican members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday urging the State Department to be wary of Chinese meddling in Haiti following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise July 7.
“We are concerned about the potential ripple effects this assassination may have on stability, both within Haiti and across the wider region — as well as the doors it may open to political interference by the People’s Republic of China,” wrote Reps. Tom Tiffany and Scott Perry.
Mr. Tiffany, of Wisconsin, and Mr. Perry, from Pennsylvania, wrote that eleven of those suspected in the killing broke into the Taiwan Embassy in Port-au-Prince a day after the murder. They damaged doors and broke windows.
Haiti is one of the 15 nations that recognize Taiwan as China‘s government and does not have diplomatic relations with Beijing. China has been aggressive in its global efforts to coax and coerce nations that have diplomatic ties with Taipei to break them.
In 2018, Burkina Faso, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti, gave in to Chinese pressure and abandoned ties with Taiwan. A year later, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands made the change, and other key states, like Panama, also de-recognized Taiwan.
The two lawmakers said the break-in at the Taiwan Embassy “raises serious concerns about the potential for Chinese mischief in Haiti, and more specifically, broader efforts by Beijing to exploit the current chaos in an effort to gain a greater foothold in the Caribbean.”
“Given the dangers of expanded Chinese influence on America’s doorstep, we hope you will convey to your counterparts in Haiti — as well as those across Latin America and the Caribbean — the importance of resisting Chinese overtures and of maintaining their ties with Taipei,” Mr. Tiffany and Mr. Perry stated. “The Chinese Communist Party will exploit any opportunity to advance its political and economic objectives around the world, and will most certainly seek to take advantage of the political turmoil in Haiti to further marginalize U.S. and Taiwanese interests.”
Both House members requested an explanation of what the Biden administration plans to do to contain Chinese expansion in the region and to bolster ties with Taiwan.
Navy secretary nominee backs off defunding nuclear missile
President Biden’s nominee for Navy secretary, Carlos Del Toro, appeared to back off from a controversial push by the current acting Navy secretary to cancel plans for a nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas W. Harker angered Republican defense hawks in Congress last month by ordering the sea service to defund development of the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile. The action was taken without consulting senior defense officials, according to written policy questions posed to Mr. Del Toro by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“This action appears to contradict assurances provided by [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin that no programmatic decisions on nuclear forces would be made prior to the department’s review of U.S. nuclear policies was completed,” the committee said.
Asked about Mr. Harker’s directive, Mr. Del Toro, a Cuban-born businessman and retired Navy commander, stated that “I believe it would be premature to make any decisions until the administration’s Nuclear Policy Review is completed.”
However, Mr. Del Toro made no commitment to keeping the nuclear cruise missile program, a hint that the Biden administration will likely reverse the policies of the Trump administration and seek to reduce the role of nuclear arms in defense policy, a return to the policy first adopted by the Obama administration. No senators asked Mr. Del Toro about the missile during the nomination hearing.
Melissa Dalton, the Pentagon’s senior nuclear policy official, told a House hearing last month that the nuclear posture review had not yet begun.
Rep. Mike Turner, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said GOP members were shocked by the Navy missile cancellation. “This is something that is incredibly important,” he said at a June 10 hearing. “We know that the nuclear posture review isn’t underway, and yet we have the first steps toward actions that would be unilateral disarmament.”
The Pentagon announced recently the deployment of the W72-2 low-yield warhead on submarine-launched ballistic missiles and a study of the return to nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles to the fleet.
A nuclear posture review in 1994 during the Clinton administration called for denuclearizing the Navy’s entire surface fleet and leaving the nuclear Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile on some submarines. The Obama administration retired the nuclear Tomahawks.
The rapid development of nuclear forces in China and the modernization of nuclear forces in Russia have prompted a reevaluation of nuclear cruise missiles. The Air Force is developing a new air-launched cruise missile called the long-range stand-off weapon.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.