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The US Space Force Chief Warns That China Could Use 'Satellite Killers'

And stresses a need for greater collaboration.

The US Space Force Chief Warns That China Could Use 'Satellite Killers'
A 3D rendering of a laser destroying an orbital satellite. 3DSculptor / iStock

The final frontier is getting crowded, if you can believe it.

And Chief of the U.S. Space Force Gen. John Raymond warned that security in space will fall under a "full spectrum of threats" from China that will call for substantial international cooperation, according to an initial report from Nikkei Asia.

Whether a clash in space will happen remains to be seen, but, with China, Russia, and the U.S. poised to develop a means to damage one another's satellite networks, it could be a matter of time before rising tensions force the issue to dialogue, or something else.

Space 'underpins' all 'instruments of national power'

Raymond declared that China is building "everything from reversible jammers of our GPS system — which provides navigation and timing with precision [...] to jamming of communications satellites," according to the Nikkei report. "They've got missiles they can launch from the ground and destroy satellites. I'm convinced that these capabilities that they're developing would be utilized by them in their efforts in any potential conflict." As the first appointee to the Space Force in 2019, Raymond's voice carries weight in the recently-formed sixth branch of the military, which is quickly becoming comparable to other services, like the U.S. Navy or Army.

Raymond has spent more than thirty years in the military, primarily in the Air Force, and was stationed in Yokota Air Base (U.S.) in Japan from 2010 onwards, where he served as vice commander for the Fifth Air Force. In the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Raymond was active in Operation Tomodachi, wherein the U.S. military offered help to the population affected by the composite blend of human and natural disasters. To him, future interests of the U.S. in space have to face facts that the final frontier is now "a lot more competitive," he said in the Nikkei report. "Space underpins all of our instruments of national power, whether it's diplomatic, economic, information, and national security."

Knocking out satellite networks could cripple global military logistics

"Great power competition is broader than just competition among the militaries," Raymond said in the report, referring to China and Russia. "It goes across all facets of governments. Space is critical to that." It's hard to deny that satellites are central to many military maneuvers and strategies of the U.S. military, from linking different vessels via communications to tracking the launch of enemy missiles or vehicles. Affirming this sentiment, Raymond added: "Access to space and freedom to maneuver in space are [both] really important."

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Orbital satellites have become so critical to U.S. operations that some officials have criticized the reliance as a potential vulnerability, since, in the event of a clandestine conflict with Russia or China, the most pressing goal for either party would be to knock out the U.S. satellite network. We can't stress enough how crippling this could be to the country's capacity to carry on a fight in the 21st century. And this is why China is especially worrisome, to Raymond's thinking. In addition to "killer satellites" with scary robotic arms that could neutralize other satellites, Raymond thinks China is poised to develop anti-satellite missiles, and even GPS-jamming devices. This would be very bad. But while China and Russia have reportedly pledged their openness to discuss international limits on fielding new space weapons (which would require the U.S. to limit its space-based weapons deployments), but so far officials in Washington have refused all proposals from the two countries. So remember, in the background of the space race, major powers of the world are vying for the conditions of peace in space. And it could be a fragile one.

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