WASHINGTON — Gen. David “DT” Thompson, U.S. vice chief of space operations, said the Space Force is likely to see continued funding increases to counter China’s rapid advances in its space program. 

“You’re going to see a significant increase in the resources for the United States Space Force and other space missions,” Thompson said Oct. 25 at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event in Arlington, Virginia. 

Thompson said the Biden administration understands that more resources will be needed to build more resilient space systems and to meet the U.S. military’s demand for satellite-based communications, data and other services. 

For the Space Force, there is “tremendous opportunity, tremendous need for growth,” he said. ‘Our national leadership understands … that we need to get after all these missions, the pivot that we have to do to more resilient architectures, and the missions that we didn’t do a decade ago, that we now need to do to defend and protect our interests.”

In a conflict in the Pacific, for example, the Space Force expects China’s military to leverage its vast and growing network of satellites, and at the same time attempt to disrupt U.S. satellite networks using jammers, lasers or other weapons.

“They are building and fielding space capabilities at an incredible pace,” said Thompson. In just five years, China has deployed more than 260 imaging satellites and about 50 navigation satellites, he added. “Their space capabilities are still not quite as good as ours, but they are really, really good. And so we have to assume that they are a peer competitor in that regard.”

“Are they better than us? Will they win? Are we in parity? I can’t say that,” Thompson added. “All I can say is that they are a serious challenge. They are a serious threat. Their capabilities are close to ours. We simply need to do what we need to do, continue to resource and field new capabilities, train our forces and be prepared.”

The Biden administration’s 2023 budget proposal for the Defense Department included $24.5 billion for the Space Force, or about $5 billion more than what Congress enacted in 2022. Although funding for military space has  increased every year since 2018, analysts have warned that pace of growth may not be sustainable due to rising inflation and economic conditions. 

Think tanks advocate for space funding

The Space Force’s case for more funding is being bolstered by two recent think tanks reports.

In its annual assessment of U.S. military capabilities, the Heritage Foundation rated the Space Force as “weak.” The report said “there is little evidence that the U.S. Space Force is … ready in any way to execute defensive and offensive counterspace operations to the degree envisioned by Congress when it authorized the creation of the Space Force.”

The majority of Space Force platforms, said the report, have “exceeded their life span, and modernization efforts to replace them are slow and incremental.” The service’s “current visible capacity is not sufficient to support, fight or weather a war with a peer competitor.”

Meanwhile, the Mitchell Institute in a report calls for DoD to consolidate under the Space Force authorities and funding to field an information and data-sharing network for the U.S. military, an effort known as Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2. 

“Congress must approve robust resourcing to enable the Space Force to deliver enhanced space domain awareness and to develop space-based weapons systems that are specifically designed to defend the JADC2 space transport layer against kinetic and non- kinetic acts of aggression,” the report said.

“The comparative military advantage the United States held against China has deteriorated significantly both quantitatively and qualitatively over the last 30 years,” the report adds. “They intend to use space the way they have watched us use it for decades, in addition to building a whole suite of counterspace weapons to deny us.”

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...