The latest intelligence from Russia and China is alarming top military and civilian space officials about multiple new antisatellite (ASAT) threats against U.S. military and intelligence satellites—at all altitudes. Key commercial satcoms and other civilian satellites are also at great risk.
The Pentagon says both Iran and North Korea are also developing new ASAT systems.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, told the House Armed Service Strategic Subcommittee that threats to American satellites “have reached a tipping point.”
“Simply stated, there isn’t a single aspect of our space architecture, to include the ground architecture, that isn’t now at risk,” Lt. Gen. David Buck, commander of the Joint Functional Component for Space at U.S. Strategic Command told a subcommittee hearing in mid-March.
And speaking before a recent aerospace forum, the head of Strategic Command Navy Admiral Cecil D. Haney also sharply warned that space threats are evolving so fast that, if employed now, they “potentially threaten national sovereignty and survival.”
“After years of post-Cold War stagnation, our adversaries have become re-energized and re- motivated to challenge our long-held advantage in space and cyberspace. We must take decisive action now, “ said Hyten.
“The rise of foreign capability is jeopardizing our technological superiority,” Dyke Weatherington, the Director for Space, and Strategic and Intelligence Systems for the Defense Dept. told the subcommittee.
Russia is testing a new “Nudol” direct ascent ASAT that has flown at least three times in the last few months, including one successful test flown last Nov. 18. Russia has also conducted many more, cyber, directed energy, and suborbital tests that remain classified, lest it reveal top secret U. S. monitoring capability.
China has conducted at least eight ASAT tests since 2005. But many more tests such as directed energy and cyber attack exercises remain classified by the Intelligence Community. These tests have used different launch vehicles and trajectories, including co orbital ASATS. The most recent of the eight was a high altitude test last October.
The Strategic Subcommittee and its witnesses went into a closed session to review top secret data from the specific weapons systems arrayed against U.S. spacecraft.
“We face unprecedented threats in national security space.,” said subcommittee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Al).
“However, I recognize that changing a bureaucracy is a difficult undertaking, and even more so when you are part of that bureaucracy. But we have to get this right because we cannot risk our space assets.”
He asked both the military and civilian space managers in charge of the satellites at risk to provide more feedback to the House Armed Services Strategic Subcommittee by April 1.
“Even as our dependence on space capabilities continues to increase, and although we maintain a substantial asymmetric advantage due to those capabilities, the rapid evolution and expansion of threats to our space capabilities in every orbit regime has highlighted the converse. [That being] an asymmetric disadvantage due to the inherent susceptibilities and increasing vulnerabilities of these systems,” Weatherington told the subcommittee.
“We risk encountering a potential strategic imbalance in which adversaries are increasingly able to use space to support military operations, and also threaten our ability to sustain use of our space capabilities.
“Meanwhile our abilities have lagged to protect our own use of space, and operate through the effects of adversary threats. Any adversary would almost certainly trade its own ability to utilize space if in return it could deny U.S. use of space to support military and intelligence operations,” Weatherington said.
As a result “we have to change our mindset from focusing solely on providing space capability to terrestrial forces to [instead] a ‘warfighter’ mindset prepared to defend against an adversary’s threat in space,” said Hyten.
He told the subcommittee about the newest efforts to counter the ASAT surge.
Hyten said the Director of National Intelligence staff, U.S. Strategic Command, the National Reconnaissance Office and Air Force Space Command have just established a Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.
Although a cumbersome acronym it has a dynamic role that now combines U.S. military space operations with space-related intelligence operations around the clock.
“The JICSpOC is focused on space defense, and is developing new space- system operational concepts, tactics, techniques and procedures in support of both the DoD and Intelligence Community,” said Hyten.
“Fusing the operations of our space systems and intelligence capabilities in real-time will enhance our ability to track, monitor, analyze and predict irresponsible and dangerous activity in space,” he told the Strategic subcommittee.
He and other witnesses said that the JICSpOC is needed to ensure the national security space enterprise meets and out-paces emerging and advanced ASAT capabilities from especially Russia and China.
“This initiative continues to provide vital information and capabilities to national leadership, allies and partners and joint warfighters. It provides the DoD and the Intelligence Community with a robust test and experimentation environment to better integrate our space operations in response to threats,” he told the subcommittee.
Although new, “the JICSpOC is already demonstrating the power of unity of effort and information in space operations,”said Frank Calvelli Deputy Director of the National Reconnaissance Office whose spacecraft are especially under threat.
“Through the JSpOC Mission System (JMS), we are building a new open architecture high performance computing environment, to give our operators a modern capability to integrate Space Situational Awareness (SSA) data,” Calvelli said.
“JMS goes beyond the integration of metric and positional data to support predictive awareness. Ultimately, we need the capability for true battle management, and command and control of space forces, said Hyten.
“What’s missing is an embedded capability to leverage this information. We are investigating options to accelerate such a capability to give the Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space and the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command the ability to act,” Hyten said.
Acting could mean the employment of top secret U. S. measures from traditional jamming and cyberspace actions to rapidly maneuvering U.S. spacecraft, to employing U.S. ASAT capable RIM 161 Standard 3 missiles, like those carried on many Navy destroyers and tested in 2008 by the USS Lake Erie against a failed NRO satellite.
“To further counter the space threats Air Force Space Command is forming a specific Space Mission Force (SMF) to fundamentally change how we operate space mission systems; how we organize, train, and equip our space capabilities and how we present forces to the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command,” said Hyten.
“It is a paradigm shift in how we conduct space operations within the context of a contested domain. The goal of the SMF is to present forces to Strategic Command in a unified fashion that increases [its] commander’s readiness to respond to potential threats against our space capabilities.
“The SMF construct allows half of our squadron’s crew force to conduct operations while the other half is conducting advanced training, similar to the approach taken in other major weapon systems.
“As this Committee is well aware, space underpins our Nation’s way of life in peacetime and provides critical warfighting capabilities during conflict,” said Buck. who is based at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
“It’s no surprise that potential adversaries have taken notice and are working to counter our operational advantages in space.
“Our ability to deliver space effects is challenged by the unprecedented development of [primarily Russian and Chinese] counter-space programs … resources invested and systems designed to deny or degrade our freedom of action,” Buck told the subcommittee.
“The implication, of course, is that we can no longer take for granted the strategic, operational and tactical advantages we’ve come to depend on from space,” he said.
“From a warfighting perspective, the consequences are far reaching since an adversary can impose multi- domain impacts by denying or degrading U. S. space [capability],” he told the subcommittee.
“Clearly, we don’t ever want to fight a fight that extends to space, but we must be prepared. We must be prepared to defend ourselves and, if necessary, fight through a degraded space environment,” he said.
Buck, who has been heavily involved in military space operations for 16 years, said “these are easily the most dynamic, complex and exciting times I’ve ever experienced.”
Calvelli told the subcommittee that the NRO fully recognizes that space is an increasingly contested environment.
“Foreign nations understand the incredible decision advantage our capabilities in space provide, which is why they are actively pursuing the means to deny our space advantage,” he said.
“For that reason, the NRO is committed to making its entire mission architecture more resilient; to include developing collection systems with enhanced survivability built-in from the beginning.
“In short, we are more focused on survivability and resiliency from an enterprise perspective than we have ever been and we have made significant investments to that end,” he briefed the subcommittee.
Douglas Loverro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, told the subcommittee that “Space services are inextricably woven throughout the fabric of our defense and national security infrastructure, and we do not intend to yield them.”
“Let me be clear about our intent—we will be ready. We are making changes in our systems, our tactics, our culture, and our people to assure that if [a space attack] arises, we will be able to defend U.S. and allied interests in space.”