OMAHA, Neb.– The U.S. government knew well in advance of China’s plans to destroy one of its own satellites early this year but made a conscious decision not to try and dissuade Beijing from going through with the test despite concerns about the orbital debris it would create, according to a senior U.S. Air Force official.
Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space, told reporters during an
Oct. 11 briefing here that
the United States remained silent as China went ahead with the anti-satellite demonstration in order to protect its intelligence-gathering sources and methods. The Jan. 11 test, in which China used a ground-based missile to destroy an aging weather satellite, created thousands of pieces of debris in an orbit heavily populated with operational satellites.
At a luncheon speech during the Strategic Space and Defense conference here Oct. 10, Payton noted
NASA had to maneuver the international space station as well as an environmental monitoring satellite to avoid debris created by the
Payton said the test highlighted the need for the Air Force to develop better space situational awareness, particularly the ability to monitor tiny satellites and pieces of space debris.
One way of improving space situational awareness
synthesize information better from the various ground and space-based sensors that perform this mission today, according to Fred Ricker, vice president and general manager for military space at Northrop Grumman Space Technology.
Some systems, such as the space-based Skywalker sensor built by Northrop Grumman, deliver information to users only upon request, and often in isolation from other systems, Ricker said during an Oct. 10 panel discussion here. He said Skywalker provides “insight at geosynchronous orbits.”
A better solution would be to have a constant flow of data from space- and ground-based
delivered to users in a combined format, Ricker
said in a brief interview
During the interview, Ricker declined to discuss the details of the Skywalker system due to classification restrictions. He said only that it had been in orbit for “quite a while.”
Payton said he was not aware of the Skywalker sensor.
Payton said the U.S. military needs to lay the groundwork now for protecting its space systems against future threats and should shun any treaties that could limit its ability to do so. The military also needs to develop policies, rules of engagement, and operational procedures to protect the space-based capabilities that have become critical to U.S. forces.
“We cannot and will not deny our obligation, and duty, to defend ourselves and our allies in the domain of space, as we do in the air, on the land, and at sea,” Payton said during his
. “Space is one of our key advantages, and we will not surrender it.”
The U.S. military does not plan to monopolize space, Payton said. Rather, it remains committed to preserving free use of space.
“However, any interference with that right can and will be countered with all the capabilities available to the United States,” Payton said.
Payton noted that some have seized upon China’s
that the United States
should pursue new
treaties to prevent an arms race in space. He said, however
that the United States would not take any of its own options off the table and that
such treaties would not be verifiable. Unlike,
Cold War-era arms control agreements, Payton said, the Pentagon “cannot verify the true intent or capabilities of foreign space or ground-based systems.”
stresseed the improvements to U.S. space systems over the years and the advantages these have given the military, and said potential enemies have noticed
“Established power breeds asymmetrical threats,” he said. “The Germans couldn’t face the Royal Navy with battleships, so they built submarines; the motorized Blitzkrieg reacted to the horrors of trench warfare; [and] the Japanese couldn’t face the American Navy toe-to-toe, so they used carrier strikes.”