WASHINGTON — The intelligence community recently warned Congress that several countries — including China, Russia and Iran — are developing space-based surveillance, navigation and anti-satellite systems that puts them in a position to challenge the United States’ dominance in outer space.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Wednesday echoed that point during a breakfast meeting with reporters.
The speed at which technology gets into the hands of U.S. adversaries has brought the realization that “we have to up our game if we’re going to stay competitive,” said Coats. “We have to become much more agile, more innovative, more creative.”
On the issue of whether foreign adversaries have the technology to take down U.S. satellites, Coats cited a report his office released in February, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”
The report predicts that if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against U.S. and allied satellites as necessary to offset U.S. military advantages derived from space systems.
“There are a lot of efforts out there by more than one country relative to gaining space capabilities,” Coats told reporters. “That includes anti-satellite capabilities. We track that very, very carefully. We are fully aware of it.”
The U.S. intelligence community believes Russia and China are launching experimental satellites ostensibly for peaceful missions but in reality are being used to advance their counter-space capabilities.
Coats would not discuss specifics counter-space weapons that might be aimed at U.S. satellites. Broadly speaking, “space is becoming an ever more important domain,” he said. He compared satellites in space to “troops on the ground” performing vital duties.
Asked to comment on President’s Trump suggestion that the United States should create a new branch of the military focused on space, Coats said that will be a “DoD decision pushed up to the president.”
Congress, however, might disagree that this is strictly a DoD call. The House last year voted to create a Space Corps in its version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, but the language didn’t pass the Senate.
Coats suggested that the decision to stand up a space force should be based on national security considerations. There are threats in space, he said. “The question is: To what level does it rise that it would result in a new command? Whether we add a new command, that decision hasn’t been made.”
The intelligence community, he noted, is in daily coordination with the military, including on issues related to space. “There’s some history of disagreements between some of the agencies in the past,” he said. “We now have a very close working relationship. DoD is a solid partner. Everything is coordinated.”
Asked if the military should step up efforts to monitor space and produce better intelligence, Coats said: “They’re doing a lot already.”