WASHINGTON — The Secure World Foundation on April 2 released its annual report, “Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment,” that sheds light on the growing space arms race between the United States, Russia and China.

The report, compiled from publicly available information, details the counterspace capabilities — essentially space weapons — being developed by a dozen countries. Notably, it finds that Russia and China are rapidly catching up to the United States in key areas like electronic warfare and space domain awareness.

Both Russia and China have made significant strides in developing space-based electronic warfare tools that can disrupt or disable enemy satellites, the report found. This includes technologies like electronic jamming systems and directed energy weapons using lasers or microwaves.

The two countries have also caught up in the space domain awareness arena with advanced inspector satellites capable of maneuvering alongside orbiting spacecraft for up-close monitoring or attacks.

Russian seeking to regain Soviet-era dominance

Russia in particular has ramped up its space warfare capabilities over the last decade as it seeks to regain Soviet-era military advantages that were lost after the Cold War ended, according to the report.

While Pentagon and defense officials have raised alarms for years, the SWF report provides more granular details into the specific counterspace weapons being developed by Russia and China.

The SWF in its report briefly mentioned recent rumors of a new Russian program to develop nuclear-powered satellites that could slam the U.S. with electromagnetic pulses, potentially crippling huge portions of the military’s space asset fleet. It noted that details of this threat remain largely unknown. 

For China, space weapons development is being driven by a desire to counter U.S. military superiority and increase its own regional clout, the report states. Beijing views the ability to nullify American space systems as key to deterring potential future conflicts.

It’s unclear if China intends to use offensive counterspace capabilities or just have them as a deterrent, the report says. 

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...