Russia and China's space weapon plans have sparked a U.S. Pentagon meet

The huddle will examine how the countries' space-to-ground weapons could impact "U.S. deterrence and strategic stability."
Deena Theresa
A 3D illustration of a military spaceship shooting down an enemy satellite with a laser beam.
A 3D illustration of a military spaceship shooting down an enemy satellite with a laser beam.


Pentagon will hold a high-level confidential meeting next week to discuss Russia and China's possible quest to develop potent space weapons that could target possibly U.S. satellites.

Scheduled for September 6 and 7, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will preside over the meeting that will discuss "how China and Russia’s potential development of fractional orbital bombardment systems and space-to-ground weapons could impact U.S. deterrence and strategic stability, as well as to consider U.S. response options to the potential development of such capabilities by any adversary," according to a publicly posted agenda reviewed by DefenceNews.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl will also attend the meeting with the Defense Policy Board. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb will brief the board on the Pentagon’s upcoming space strategic review.

Battling it out in space

The meeting comes after key incidents last year that reaffirmed the countries' missions to develop and test new space-based technologies that can weaponize space.

According to the U.S. State Department, last November, Russia destroyed one of its satellites in what is known as a direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) test, creating over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and other hundreds of thousands of smaller orbital debris that led astronauts on the International Space Station to take cover. Russia has also been rapidly developing its space-based weaponry.

The U.S. intelligence community’s 2022 Annual Threat Assessment stated that "Russia continues to train its military space elements and field new antisatellite weapons to disrupt and degrade U.S. and allied space capabilities, and 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."

Meanwhile, in August 2021, China tested a "very fast" missile - it was a new combination of a hypersonic glide vehicle and a fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) that can place weapons in low Earth orbit for as long as the user determines and then de-orbit. The country has also tested anti-satellite concepts and directed energy weapons such as lasers.

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The chief of U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Charles Richard, China successfully tested the hypersonic capability, which was "never before seen in the world". Earlier this month, Richard had spoken at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, stating that the military must overhaul its missile defenses and develop systems to better warn against launches aimed at the U.S.

Evidence is yet to go public

Though several senior defense officials confirmed that the Russian and Chinese FOBS and space-to-ground weapons test took place, the Pentagon hasn't made the evidence public.

"Clearly, the Russians and Chinese are trying to develop systems to get around the missile defense systems the U.S. has been developing," said Kaitlyn Johnson, deputy director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It’s hard to evaluate what that is from the public side of things, what that’s entailed. I imagine that’s what this meeting is about."

In an interview with The Washington Post in 2021, General David Thompson, the Space Force’s first vice chief of space operation, said that the U.S. was at a point where there's a "whole host of ways" in which the country's space systems can be threatened. "The threats are really growing and expanding every single day. And it’s really an evolution of activity that’s been happening for a long time," he said.