China’s military has developed space weapons capable of disrupting and destroying American satellites in all orbits, the nominee for senior leader of the Space Force warned Congress.
Space Force Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, currently deputy chief of space operations, said the dangers posed by Chinese military space weapons are the most serious challenge.
“The most immediate threat, in my opinion, is the pace with which our strategic challengers, first and foremost the Chinese, are aggressively pursuing capabilities that can disrupt, degrade and ultimately even destroy our satellite capabilities and disrupt our ground infrastructure,” Gen. Saltzman said Tuesday during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
China’s military has studied U.S. joint force operations and understands the vital role played by space systems for the military.
“They recognize that it is an asymmetric advantage of theirs to go after our space capabilities and deny them to the joint force,” he said.
Gen. Saltzman said of China: “I don’t see anybody more dangerous, more committed to attacking U.S. interests” in the Pacific. The Space Force needs offensive space weapons to deter China and defensive arms to protect space systems, he added.
The general declined to provide details of plans for American anti-satellite weapons needed by the military during the open Senate hearing.
China has invested heavily in space weapons and demonstrated they are capable of disrupting or destroying U.S. space systems.
The Space Force is said to be secretly developing space weapons such as anti-satellite missiles, directed energy weapons and maneuvering satellites to counter similar arms already fielded by both China and Russia.
Currently, the sole space weapon announced by the Space Force is an electronic jammer capable of temporarily disrupting the electronics and communications of enemy systems.
By contrast, both China and Russia have tested and deployed ground-launched anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles accurate enough to strike and destroy satellites in different orbits.
Russia in November test-fired a missile that destroyed an orbiting satellite in a test that created a large orbiting debris field.
China in 2007 conducted a similar direct ascent ASAT missile test that left tens of thousands of dangerous orbiting debris pieces.
China also has demonstrated ground-based lasers and other directed energy weapons capable of destroying satellites.
The Space Force is also developing advanced cyber warfare capabilities that will be used in a future conflict to target space systems and their ground control stations.
China and Russia also have developed counter-space cyber tools.
Gen. Saltzman said orbiting systems will not only be targeted in a future conflict but that space itself will become a place where battles take place.
The rapid buildup of China’s space arms is a major worry.
“China has doubled its launches per year during the past 10 years and has demonstrated the ability to hold U.S. space capabilities at risk in every orbital regime,” he stated in written answers to questions from the committee.
During a hearing on his nomination to be Space Force chief, Sen. Angus King, Maine Democrat, asked the three-star general about the Biden administration’s emphasis on avoiding the militarization of space.
“That train has left the station, has it not?” Mr. King asked. “We have to react to the militarization of space that’s already taken place by our potential adversaries.”
“Senator, it’s one of my primary objectives to make sure that a war does not extend into space,” Gen. Saltzman said. “That’s not a good day for the United States. I believe the best way to create a deterrent capability to prevent that is to have a credible force that can both deny benefits of those actions and impose costs where necessary.”
Gen. Saltzman also acknowledged that offensive counterspace weapons are needed, in addition to defensive space measures.
“If we’re going to protect the joint force from what the adversaries have already put in space, their space-enabled targeting, we’re going to have to have counter capabilities,” he said.
Gen. Saltzman also questioned the Biden administration’s unilateral moratorium on destructive ASAT testing. “I don’t know if it’s going to dictate that they won’t do it,” he said of further Chinese and Russian destructive space tests. “I’m not hopeful of that.”
In the advance policy questions posed by the committee, Gen. Saltzman said the greatest risk to space systems “would be to underestimate China and Russia’s will and ability to counter our space capabilities.”
To counter the risk, investments are needed in weapon, and training.
“We cannot afford to lose the first engagement in a conflict that extends to space,” he stated.
• Bill Gertz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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