Fig. 1: Comparison of Russian ASAT-generated debris fragment trajectory envelope (orange trajectories) with CSSI debris model representative fragments (white dots) 62 minutes after intercept.

WASHINGTON — The risk that conflicts on Earth will extend to space will grow as China and Russia step up developments of ant-satellite weapons, the U.S. intelligence community warns in its annual report on worldwide threats released March 8.

“As states such as China and Russia increasingly see space as a warfighting domain, multilateral space security discussions have taken on greater importance as a way to reduce the risk of a confrontation that would affect every state’s ability to safely operate in space,” says the 2022 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

 “Beijing is working to match or exceed U.S. capabilities in space to gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that Washington has accrued from space leadership,” the report says.

China’s military will continue to integrate space services — such as satellite reconnaissance and positioning, navigation, and timing — and satellite communications into its weapons and command-and-control systems to erode the U.S. military’s information advantage, says the threat assessment. “China has counter-space weapons intended to target U.S. and allied satellites. The PLA is fielding new destructive and nondestructive ground- and space-based anti-satellite weapons.”

Russia also seeks to challenge the United States in space, says the report.

“Moscow will focus on integrating space services — such as communications; positioning, navigation, and timing; geolocation; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance — into its weapons and command-and-control systems,” the assessment says. These capabilities would allow Russia “to more quickly identify, track, and target U.S. satellites during a conflict.”

Moscow would use its civil and commercial remote sensing satellites to supplement military dedicated capabilities that reduce U.S. ability to perform sensitive military activities undetected, says the report.

“Russia continues to train its military space elements and field new anti-satellite weapons to disrupt and degrade U.S. and allied space capabilities,” it adds. “It is developing, testing, and fielding an array of nondestructive and destructive counter-space weapons, including jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based ASAT capabilities to target U.S. and allied satellites.”

The intelligence community also notes that Russia is investing in electronic warfare and directed energy weapons to counter western on-orbit assets. These systems work by disrupting or disabling adversary communications networks and disrupting GPS, tactical and satellite communications, and radars.

Russia also continues to develop ground-based direct ascent ASAT weapons capable of destroying space targets in low Earth orbit. 

The report says the intelligence community’s assessment is current as of January 21 and was completed just as Russia was preparing to attack Ukraine with well over 100,000 troops massed near the Ukraine border. 

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...