A ship that was in the Pacific Ocean fires a high-powered laser at a US surveillance satellite, blinding the sensors and depriving the US of crucial eyes in the sky. As rival nations such as China and Russia ramp up their development and deployment of anti-satellite weapons, civilian leaders and military officials fear that this scenario will lead to wider conflict and escalation.
According to Lt. Gen. John Shaw, who serves as the deputy commander in charge of the US Space Command, if a satellite is attacked, “appropriate measures can be taken.” Shaw recently stated at the 36th Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs that the space battleground is just not science fiction and that anti-satellite weapons will be a way of life in future armed conflicts.
The United States Space Command is in charge of military operations in space, which begin at the Kármán line, approximately 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. This places Space Command in control of defending US satellites from hostile acts and determining how to respond in the event of an attack.
Military space assets, including satellites and ground systems, have traditionally been thought of as “support” technology that provides valuable services like communications, navigation data, and missile launch early warning. Satellites, on the other hand, have become strategic assets and sought targets for adversaries as the Pentagon has become increasingly reliant on space. “The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s vice chairman, Gen. John Hyten, loves to talk of satellites as being the ‘big fat juicy targets,’” Shaw said. Shaw stated, “I agree with you.” “However, what can we do about it?” How can we make it increasingly challenging for a future adversary to believe they can take our space capabilities away from us?”
These issues are being contested right now as Space Command creates “space warfighting doctrine,” as Shaw describes it. According to Shaw, a laser blinding the satellite is just one form of attack the US must be prepared for. If this were to happen, the Pentagon would have to figure out how to respond to the threat. Retaliatory action might theoretically be taken by naval or airborne forces.
“We’re just getting started grappling with… what space warfighting truly means,” Shaw added. The Trump presidency and Congress decided in 2019 to reactivate US Space Command, which was not inactive since 2002, and form the US Space Force as an autonomous service branch, in response to a battle for space domination between the US and rival powers Russia and China.
Kendall, who took over as civilian chief of Air Force and Space Force in late July, said the US and China are in a “long-term strategic struggle.” “China has worked actively to weaponize space,” he warned, and the ramifications for space are significant.