Space Force commander warns Congress of threats posed to U.S. assets by China, Russia

By 
 March 15, 2023

During a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, the commander of the U.S. Space Force outlined some of the threats posed to U.S. space dominance and satellite systems, primarily by the communist Chinese regime, The Washington Times reported.

Space Force Gen. B. Chance Saltzman also warned of the threats posed by Russia, though he acknowledged that China presented the greatest and most imminent risk to U.S. assets and capabilities in space.

The "threat picture"

A subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee held a hearing Tuesday to hear testimony on the progress and programs of the Space Force and its budget request for Fiscal Year 2024, which was recently set at $30 billion, approximately $3.7 billion more than what was appropriated by Congress last year for the newest military branch.

In his prepared opening statement, Gen. Saltzman outlined his top three priorities and said, "Our adversaries seek to supersede our advantages in space. We cannot let that happen. Through these three efforts, the Space Force will develop a competitive mindset and warfighting culture. We will outpace and outcompete our adversaries. We will preserve stability in space."

With respect to the broad "threat picture" faced by Space Force, the general first addressed the growing issue of an increasingly congested orbital domain full of new and old satellites, random and abandoned equipment like expended rocket bodies, and voluminous amounts of potentially damaging or lethal debris, all of which is closely monitored and tracked by Space Force personnel.

The China threat

The greater concern for Gen. Saltzman, however, is that space is "undeniably a contested warfighting domain" in which China poses "the most immediate threat," and in which Russia, "while less capable, remains an acute threat" to U.S. superiority with the development of weapons systems and other platforms that are intended to "neutralize American satellites."

He explained, "Both states recognize the advantage space provides the United States. Both expect space to be key to future warfare by enabling long-range precision strikes. Both seek information superiority through disabling an adversary’s space communication and navigation systems. They are intent on targeting perceived U.S. vulnerabilities and eliminating American advantage in the space domain."

China especially has developed a "range of operational counterspace capabilities" that include terrestrial lasers, electronic jammers, and anti-satellite missiles, including some that fly at hypersonic speeds, as well as weaponized satellite systems of their own that can physically grapple with and move or destroy U.S. and allied satellites.

The general also highlighted the fact that out of more than 700 operational satellites for China, nearly half were dedicated to providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities for the Chinese military that can be used in conjunction with China's positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) satellites to "allow China to monitor, track, target and attack U.S. forces in conflict."

The Russian threat

As for Russia, they have developed and tested "orbital anti-satellite systems, extensive cyber capabilities, and terrestrial anti-satellite missiles, jammers, and lasers," as well as an "air launch anti-satellite missile."

The general further noted that while Russia's satellite capabilities are "highly advanced" they are also "limited in number" in comparison to China and the U.S., but still "must be taken seriously."

Gen. Saltzman concluded, "The Space Force will protect the Joint Force from threats of Russian and Chinese action. The Space Force must deter aggression and, if necessary, defeat adversaries. We will do so responsibly and sustainably. We will execute my priorities with the pacing challenge, China, at the forefront of our minds."

Advanced U.S. offensive space weapons under development

The Times noted that in addition to the threats posed by China and Russia in space, Gen. Saltzman also warned of certain threats those two rival nations pose to Space Force and the U.S. on the ground, particularly in terms of cyberattacks on ground-control facilities.

It was also pointed out that while the general did not provide any sort of specifics on any offensive capabilities of the U.S. in space, there are reportedly some advanced weapons and platforms under development and Space Force is also still revising its concepts for space warfare and how it should be conducted.

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