Russia and China Would Gun for America's Achilles Heel in a War: Satellites

March 7, 2018 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaChinaSpaceMilitaryTechnologyWorld

Russia and China Would Gun for America's Achilles Heel in a War: Satellites

Coats noted that both adversary nations are pressing for agreements on preventing the weaponization of space, however the United States intelligence community is suspicious.

Russian and Chinese space capabilities are growing rapidly, but moreover, both powers are developing counter-space capabilities to blunt America’s advantage in that domain.

“Foreign countries—particularly China and Russia—will continue to expand their space-based reconnaissance, communications, and navigation systems in terms of the numbers of satellites, the breadth of their capability, and the applications for use,” director of national intelligence Dan Coats said in his written testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 6. “Both Russia and China continue to pursue antisatellite (ASAT) weapons as a means to reduce US and allied military effectiveness.”

Coats noted that both Russia and China continue to press for restrictions on space weapons, but said that during a time of war, both Beijing and Moscow would justify the offensive space operations as a military necessity.

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“Russia and China aim to have nondestructive and destructive counter-space weapons available for use during a potential future conflict,” Coats said. “We assess that, if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against US and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived US military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems. Military reforms in both countries in the past few years indicate an increased focus on establishing operational forces designed to integrate attacks against space systems and services with military operations in other domains.”

Additionally, both Beijing and the Kremlin are working on destructive counter-space weapons that will likely become operational in the coming years.

“Russian and Chinese destructive ASAT weapons probably will reach initial operational capability in the next few years. China’s PLA has formed military units and begun initial operational training with counterspace capabilities that it has been developing, such as ground-launched ASAT missiles. Russia probably has a similar class of system in development. Both countries are also advancing directed-energy weapons technologies for the purpose of fielding ASAT weapons that could blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors, such as those used for remote sensing or missile defense.”

Perhaps a more dangerous threat are Russian and Chinese satellites that can get close and attack other satellites.

“Russia and China continue to launch ‘experimental’ satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities, at least some of which are intended to advance counterspace capabilities,” Coats said. “Some technologies with peaceful applications—such as satellite inspection, refueling, and repair—can also be used against adversary spacecraft.”

Coats noted that both adversary nations are pressing for agreements on preventing the weaponization of space, however the United States intelligence community is suspicious.

“Russia and China continue to publicly and diplomatically promote international agreements on the non-weaponization of space and ‘no first placement’ of weapons in space,” Coats said. “However, many classes of weapons would not be addressed by such proposals, allowing them to continue their pursuit of space warfare capabilities while publicly maintaining that space must be a peaceful domain.”

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest . You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar .