Spoofing in the port of Shanghai, China. Credit: CSIS Threat Assessment 2020

WASHINGTON — Only a handful of countries — notably the United States’ military rivals China and Russia — are developing space weapons that could physically take down U.S. military satellites. But many nations and non-state actors increasingly are able to interfere with satellite signals using low-cost technologies, experts warn in a study released March 30.

Satellite jamming and spoofing devices that broadcast fake GPS signals from the ground are “becoming part of the every-day arsenal of many countries,” says a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“These adverse activities could gradually become normalized,” says the report. “The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to travel with GPS jamming devices in his motorcade and that China appears to be spoofing GPS signals to conceal illicit activities in its own ports demonstrate how important and integrated these capabilities have become at all levels,” writes CSIS senior fellow Todd Harrison, who co-authored the study with three other analysts.

“One should expect that the rate of satellite jamming and spoofing incidents will only increase as these capabilities continue to proliferate and become more sophisticated in the coming years,” Harrison says.

“Threat Assessment 2020” is CSIS’ third annual assessment of global anti-satellite weapons. The report is based on open-source information about developments by space powers China and Russia, as well as rising ones like France, India and Japan.

One of the takeaways from the research is that the United States military has to take action to protect satellites from a growing array of threats, Harrison said March 30 during a video call with reporters.

“We’re pretty weak against direct ascent anti-satellite weapons,” he said. “Laser blinding is difficult to defend against.”

Most concerning are jamming and GPS spoofing, said Harrison. “That’s a big problem. Even the encrypted military signals can be spoofed.”

SWF counterspace weapons study

In tandem with the CSIS report, the Secure World Foundation on Monday released of its third annual “Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment,” edited by SWF director of program planning Brian Weeden and Washington office director Victoria Samson.

The report looks at counterspace developments in Russia, China, the United States, India, Iran, and North Korea, as well as cyber warfare capabilities aimed at satellites.

“The evidence shows significant research and development of a broad range of kinetic (destructive) and non-kinetic counterspace capabilities in multiple countries,” said the SWF report. “However, only non-kinetic capabilities are actively being used in current military operations.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...