U.S. Space Assets Face Growing Threat From Adversaries, Stratcom Chief Warns
WASHINGTON — U.S. military and intelligence satellites face a growing threat from nations actively developing counterspace capabilities, the head of U.S. Strategic Command warned a Senate panel Feb. 27.
U.S. Navy Adm. Cecil Haney’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee marked the third time in recent weeks that a senior U.S. military or intelligence official has publicly sounded the alarm about the threats U.S. national security space assets face from adversaries abroad.
“The U.S. still retains a strategic advantage in space as other nations are investing significant resources — including developing counterspace capabilities — to counter that advantage,” Haney testified. “These threats will continue to grow in the next decade.”
Haney, who as Stratcom’s commander is responsible for space surveillance and protecting U.S. space systems from hostile actions, did not identify these nations by name. Nor did the commander of Air Force Space Command, Gen. William Shelton, when he warned in a Feb. 7 speech at the Air Force Association here that the threat to U.S. space assets is moving at a quick pace.
“I’ll tell you the considered wisdom of the intelligence community has produced some really good seminal work on the space threats that are out there,” Shelton said. “And what we are finding is they were maybe a little too conservative. Things are moving much faster than we certainly would like and certainly they had predicted.”
Shelton’s comments came a little more than a week after U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the United States will face increased threats to its national security space assets in 2014, specifically mentioning China and Russia.
“Threats to U.S. space services will increase during 2014 and beyond as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities,” Clapper said in written testimony. “Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to disrupt U.S. use of space in conflict.”
Shelton has also identified China by name, telling SpaceNews in a Jan. 27 interview that defense leaders saw a mismatch between Chinese space activities and rhetoric.
“If you listen to their rhetoric it is peaceful purposes, regional power, not global hegemony, but the kind of capability we see them demonstrating don’t match that same rhetoric,” he said.
At the start of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s wide-ranging Feb. 27 hearing on U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command matters, Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked Haney to address “steps that may be needed to ensure that we can protect or reconstitute our space assets in any future conflict.”
Haney did not provide many specifics but he did testify that disaggregation — the concept of distributing space capabilities among a greater number of platforms to better protect them against attack and other hazards — needs more analysis before it is accepted as a cost-cutting measure. “We are exploring options such as disaggregation as a method to achieve affordable resilience but additional analysis is necessary in this area,” he said, according to his written testimony.
Air Force Space Command, which is expected to complete a series of studies on disaggregation later this year, has embraced the space architecture concept as a way to improve resiliency while cutting costs. In April, Shelton and officials from the U.S. Government Accountability Office said preliminary study results suggest disaggregation would in fact save the Air Force money.
Haney also testified Feb. 27 that while space situational awareness (SSA) is one of the nation’s top priorities, there are concerns about sharing more data internationally because it may help competitors.
“Sharing SSA information with other nations and commercial firms promotes safe and responsible space operations, reduces the potential for debris-making collisions, builds international confidence in U.S. space systems, fosters U.S. space leadership, and improves our own SSA through knowledge of other owner/operator satellite positional data,” Haney said in his written testimony. “For all its advantages, there is concern that SSA data sharing might aid potential adversaries.”
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