A Space Force general said American satellites are attacked by adversaries every day in ways that flirt with “acts of war,” and the US will lose a space arms race if it doesn’t take action.
China and Russia regularly strike US satellites with lasers, radiofrequency jammers, and cyber attacks, Gen. David Thompson told The Washington Post in an op-ed published Tuesday.
“The threats are really growing and expanding every single day. And it’s really an evolution of activity that’s been happening for a long time,” said Gen. Thompson, Vice Chief of Space Operations in the new military branch.
“We’re really at a point now where there’s a whole host of ways that our space systems can be threatened.”
Thompson disclosed a 2019 incident when a Russian satellite flew so close to a US “national security satellite” that authorities believed it could be an offensive. But the spacecraft backed away and tested a projectile, according to the op-ed.
“It maneuvered close, it maneuvered dangerously, it maneuvered threateningly so that they were coming close enough that there was a concern of collision,” he reportedly said. “So clearly, the Russians were sending us a message.”
Despite Russia’s bluster, the Chinese were “well ahead” of their neighbors when it came to “fielding operational systems at an incredible rate,” the general told the paper at the Halifax International Security Forum earlier this month.
The conference opened just days after a Russian anti-satellite weapon test destroyed an obsolete Soviet-era satellite, sending debris flying towards the International Space Station.
Several months earlier, China launched a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile into low orbit, a move that a Pentagon spokesperson said would “only increase tensions in the region and beyond.”
Thompson told the paper China is now sending satellites into space at twice the rate of the US, and will soon surpass the country in its orbital output.
“We are still the best in the world, clearly in terms of capability. They’re catching up quickly,” he said. “We should be concerned by the end of this decade if we don’t adapt.”
The White House was reportedly reaching out to Beijing to negotiate international rules for cyberspace and space as well as nuclear arms control, but Chinese officials rebuked the diplomatic effort, according to the editorial — which argued that the US had to be more vigilant above the atmosphere.
The deployment of many relatively low-cost satellites around space assets would better position the US in the event of a space war, Thompson reportedly proposed.
Thompson did not confirm or deny if there had been any serious attacks on US satellites, reportedly explaining that such an event would be classified information and he would not be able to discuss it.
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