The Pentagon has launched what a top defense official described as a “long overdue” effort to develop anti-satellite weapons and protect US national security satellites, as rivals such as China roll out their own advanced space capabilities.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced plans to
ratchet up US space capabilities in light of the changing realities
of the militarization of space.
"We have established, really, for the first time, an integrated effort to bring together our space programs, all of them, with those folks who understand best the anti-satellite threat, and also how we can operate, if we have to, without spacecraft," Carter told the National Press Club on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
The initiative seeks to secure US Military and intelligence satellite systems against potential attacks, and to ensure the military can operate without them if necessary.
Carter added that the 2014 budget had already accounted for the initiative, as well as "investments in our own capability to deny the use of space against our forces in a conflict." He did not provide further details on the plan.
Satellites are an invaluable lynchpin in US Military operations, providing a vast array of functions such as communications, surveillance, navigation and warnings of potential hostile missile launches.
The initiative follows an 83-page Department of Defense report released Monday highlighting China’s efforts to modernize its military.
David Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, noted that Beijing is ramping up both its space and cyberspace capabilities, trends which are likely to continue under the country's new leadership helmed by President Xi Jinping.
Helvey said that in 2012, China had conducted 18 space launches and expanded its space-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, meteorological and communication satellite programs.
“At the same time, China continues to invest in a multidimensional program to deny others access to and use of space,” the American Forces Press Service quoted him as saying.
The report referenced a Chinese military analysis that stressed the value of “destroying or capturing satellite and other sensors” in the event of armed conflict.
US concerns over China’s space capabilities have remained high since a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test, which saw a missile launch destroy a Chinese weather satellite in orbit at more than 537 miles above the Earth.
Washington expressed concerns at the time, saying the “testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area.”
China responded by insisting it advocates the peaceful use of space and not its militarization, and that Beijing is opposed to “any form of arms race.”