The United States Space force now has offensive power, though it might not be the massive orbiting weapons system that you're envisioning.
The new weapons system delivered to the space force is a jammer type array that can prevent military or intelligence combatants from accessing their military satellites. This functionality allows the space force to neutralize orbiting satellites in a matter of minutes.
How the new weapons work
The new weapons are technically called Counter Communications Systems (CCS) Block 10.2. Delivered to the 4th Space Control Squadron of the newly created space force, they're a welcome addition to the military branch's capabilities.
The program manager for the new weapons system, Maj. Seth Horner of the United States Space Force had this to say about the new CCS.
“The Counter Communications System is a transportable satellite communications system that provides a ground-based capability to reversibly deny adversary satellite communications. CCS has had incremental upgrades since the early 2000’s, which have incorporated new techniques, frequency bands, technology refreshes, and lessons learned from previous block upgrades. This specific upgrade includes new software capabilities to counter new adversary targets and threats."
A more concise definition of what these new machines can do is that they are mobile satellite communication jammers that can be attached to planes or mounted to ground transports. The tweet below should give you a better idea of just what these weapons systems look like.
SMC’s CCS B10.2 is putting the “Force” in Space Force reaching IOC, Monday, March 9th, marking the first offensive weapon system assigned to the @SpaceForceDoD. A ceremony is scheduled on March 12th @PeteAFB to commemorate this historic event. (Courtesy Photo by @L3HarrisTech) pic.twitter.com/EoH9nxkfQ8— SMC (@AF_SMC) March 11, 2020
One of the biggest potential benefits of having the CCS as an offensive weapons system is that it now gives the US the ability to block enemies' abilities to get warnings about incoming missile strikes.
US #SpaceForce acquires its first offensive weapon, the Counter Communications System #CCS, a jammer. Here is the link to the announcement and a video of it in action.https://t.co/gylonMdPtf#Spaceballs #NotStarWars #WarOfTheFuture pic.twitter.com/bATKUQfnka— Frank Yue (@feyue) March 17, 2020
The system was first designed and introduced in 2004, but it has been in constant development since, now having reached the new Block 10.2 standard module that the Space Force received. The updates to the system over time essentially allow it to block more frequencies than it ever has been able to before.
Understanding in theory how the new weapons system works is simple, it blocks signals, but understanding in actuality is a closely guarded secret. The Global Counterspace Capabilities Report notably said this about the CCS.
"There is no public information on any technical characteristic of the CCS, such as frequency ranges, power levels, and waveforms. However, it is reasonable to conclude that CCS can likely jam most of the major commercial frequencies (particularly C and Ku) and the most common military frequencies (X-band), with a possible capability in the increasingly popular Ka-band. Also, it is likely that the CCS is targeted mainly at geostationary communications satellites (COMSATs), given that they are currently the primary source of satellite communications." - pg. 73, CCR
After receiving the system, the Space Force undertook a series of trainings and tests to ensure that the new weapon's systems could be successfully operationally deployed.
Lt. Col. William Sanders had this to say about the successful operational tests after delivery:
“The upgraded CCS system is a game-changer for deployed ground forces. Today, deployed forces benefit from a similar quick reaction capability providing direct operational support daily. With the operational acceptance of CCS, we can employ greater effects for the combatant commands.”
As for how or when the Space Force plans to use the new weapons system in combat? They're not entirely sure yet, but they are excited about their new offensive capabilities as a strategic space command. Lt. Col. Steve Brogan said that the “CCS is the only offensive system in the United States Space Force arsenal. This upgrade puts the ‘force’ in Space Force and is critical for Space as a warfighting domain.”
How militaries use and rely on satellites
Satellites, as you can likely already infer, are a vital part of modern military forces' communication capabilities. Satellites are the underpinnings of the world's communication systems.
One might think that the best way to take down an enemy's communications capabilities would be to just shoot down their satellite, but it isn't always as simple as that. Shooting down a satellite creates a significant debris problem. This debris can cascade and unintentionally take out more satellites in orbit as well. Not to mention, blowing up a satellite is fairly expensive and fairly permanent.
The new CCS weapons system allows the Space Force to temporarily block communications, a much more manageable way to have the same effect.
Another problem with shooting down military satellites is being able to actually reach them. Compared to standard satellites, military satellites orbit further up to allow one singular satellite to reach a greater portion of the earth.
This means that it would take quite the missile/rocket to reach these satellites and take them down. Jamming the signal then becomes the far preferable solution.
The U.S. now joins Russia in its ability to jam communications between the ground and satellites. Russia's weapon's system is known as the Tirada-2S and it's speculated that it's fairly similar to the U.S. Space Forces' CCS, according to Popular Mechanics.
Considering that Russia has already had this weapon's system in place, it comes as no surprise that the Space Force is excited to have the CCS at their disposal.
China is also working on developing its own satellite jammers, but they haven't publically announced any completed project.