Speaking with lawmakers at the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on May 7, U.S. Space Force (USSF) Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond stated that the U.S. military needs to act quickly to combat China's military buildup. Raymond and other Air Force officials argued that the latter is posing a major challenge for the Space Force.
Raymond explained to members of the subcommittee that both China and Russia are swiftly manufacturing space weapons that can engage in "robust jamming of GPS and communications satellites." These weapons are designed to direct energy systems that can "blind, disrupt or damage" American satellites.
He also added that China has ground-based lasers that pose a threat to satellites circling the globe in low-Earth orbit. The threat from these, he said, was "real today and concerning." (Related: China developing "killer satellites" and "directed energy weapons" to challenge US in space.)
"Given China’s exponential pace of weapons development and extensive marshaling of government and industry, we do not have the leeway to simply maintain our current approach," said Raymond, as well as Acting Air Force Secretary John Roth, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown in a statement.
"China is on track to exceed our capacity, so it is our obligation to act with a sense of urgency," they continued. "China poses challenges unlike any other in our nation’s history. We must be clear-eyed about these threats and our response to them."
Brown noted that their main concern is the potential of jamming GPS satellites. This involves a form of electronic anti-satellite attack that interferes with signals traveling to and from a satellite by emitting another signal with the same frequency while within range of the satellite's antennas. Such an attack could disrupt American military operations.
Raymond, on the other hand, warned that Chinese space weapons could spoof U.S. GPS signals. This could cause weapons guided by these to miss their targets. This is on top of interfering with other devices, both military and civilian, that rely on GPS.
"GPS is absolutely critical not just to our military but it’s critical to our society,” he said. He added that Air Force is working to build a system that will better shield GPS satellites from jamming and other forms of cyberattack.
Raymond and the other Air Force officials' statements come just a month after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a report describing Beijing's push for global power as the leading threat to U.S. national security.
In the annual threat assessment report by the ODNI, China was identified as the top threat to the U.S., followed by Russia, Iran and North Korea. It stated that Beijing will "continue its whole-of-government efforts to spread China's influence, undercut that of the United States, drive wedges between Washington and its allies and partners, and foster new international norms that favor the authoritarian Chinese system."
Part of the threat presented by these countries comes from the danger they present to the freedom to access and maneuver in space.
“The challenge is that the access to space, and the freedom to maneuver in space, can no longer be treated as a given. We have to be able to protect it because there are threats that exist today,” Raymond said in an interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
He added that defending America's assets in space was vital due because of the country's current lead in the field which is something Russia and China are looking to challenge.
"We have the best GPS capabilities in the world," he said, adding that "you can’t just build a satellite, launch a satellite and assume it will be there forever. You have to be able to protect and defend it."
Raymond went on to explain that the USSF was "purpose-built" to counter these threats from countries such as China and Russia. They're job was to make sure that these nations don't target assets such as GPS, affecting everyone, military or civilian, who relies on them.
"Our primary mission is to deter conflict from ascending into space," Raymond said. "The cost of space is a very, very small portion of the Department of Defense’s budget. Space is a huge force multiplier. We cannot afford, as a nation, to lose space."
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