US 'ready to fight' China, Russia in space race using military means
A US space military official says the United States is left with "no choice" but to fight against Chinese and Russian space aspirations.
The United States is "ready to fight in space," a senior US military official said, confirming Washington's intentions to turn the out-of-orbit technology race into a military conflict, as reported by The Guardian.
Brigadier General Jesse Morehouse at US Space Command - the military arm of the American space program - considered that the United States was left with "no choice" but to respond to China and Russia's aspirations to become space powers by 2050.
“The United States of America is ready to fight tonight in space if we have to,” he said in a press briefing in the US embassy in London.
“If someone was to threaten the United States of America, or any of our interests, including those of our allies and partners with whom we have treaties of mutual defense support, we are ready to fight tonight.”
The US, China, India, and Russia have publicly tested their anti-satellite missile technologies by destroying their own satellites in space with missiles launched from the ground.
Recalling Russia's ASAT in 2007, the general said, “When you create that debris cloud and it lingers on orbit for decades, it’s almost like detonating a nuclear weapon in your own backyard," adding, “You pay the price too.”
A fluid ban
After years of research, the United States tested its first ASAT in October 1959 using an air-launched ballistic missile, becoming the first country to reach this technology. On the other hand, the Soviet Union conducted its first ASAT in 1963, using a different method than that of the US.
While Americans resorted to launching a high-altitude ballistic missile to destroy the targets, the USSR adopted a "co-orbital" approach, releasing a "killer satellite" that would enter the same orbit as the target and closes in on it to destroy it.
But in 1983, the Soviets announced a unilateral moratorium on tests, while the US continued its operations, launching its last test in 2008, right after China successfully tested an ASAT in 2007.
In April 2022, the United States unilaterally banned anti-satellite missile testing, saying the debris it creates in space is dangerous.
US Vice President Kamala Harris announced the self-imposed suspension, claiming that the Chinese and Russian tests are “one of the most pressing threats to the security and sustainability of space,” without mentioning tests conducted by the United States.
However, in her speech, the vice president considered that the development of these weapons by Beijing and Moscow aims to “deny the United States our ability to use our space capabilities.”
“Through this new commitment and other actions, the United States will demonstrate how space activities can be conducted in a responsible, peaceful, and sustainable manner.”
Robin Dickey, space policy expert at the Aerospace Corp, toned down the announced decision, saying that it is “a very specific commitment" and not a “broad ban on ASAT weapons.”
“We’re not even talking about a broad ban on ASAT testing,” he said. “It’s a unilateral commitment to not conduct destructive direct ascent missile tests, which is a specific use case.”
Washington's 2022 ban did not last long, as Morehouse announced that the US will continue developing anti-satellite tech, claiming that it is “not because we want to fight tonight, but because that’s the best way to deter conflict from happening" and adding that it will be done “without engaging in irresponsible tests."
“We have a variety of capabilities we can bring to bear and we’ll continue to develop capabilities that allow us to maintain a credible deterrence posture,” he told reporters.
“Can you develop a capability that can be used to counter satellites, that works very well, and validate that it works without having to create a debris cloud on orbit every time you do so? Absolutely,” he claimed.
In March 2022, right after the start of the war in Ukraine, US billionaire and SpaceX chief Elon Musk announced that he will be supplying Ukrainians with thousands of Starlink satellites in order to help the Eastern European country maintain internet connections during the conflict.
However, SpaceX accused later Kiev of breaking an agreement between the two parties, saying that the tech company's satellite internet technology was weaponized and used for “offensive purposes".
“Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” said Gwynne Shotwell then, the company's president and top senior, second to Elon Musk.
"We know the military is using them for comms, and that's ok. But our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes," Shotwell added.
According to Morehouse, Starlink proved to be a very successful tool in the Ukraine war, arguing that its lower-orbit position allows it to easily update the satellites and use them for space operations.
“It makes no sense for Russia to even try to shoot one down because there’s thousands of them and they don’t have thousands of anti-satellite missiles,” he said.
In November 2022, Axios revealed that commercial satellites have become a "game changer" in warfare as satellites provide communication, combat views, and situational awareness for troops on the ground.
Commenting on Starlink's deployment in Ukraine for military use, Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department for non-proliferation and arms control, told the United Nations in October 2022 that the US and its allies are attempting to use space to impose Western ruling.
Voronstov described the use of civilian hardware to aid Ukraine in the war as "an extremely dangerous trend."
"Quasi-civilian infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike," he told the international body.
"We are talking about the involvement of components of civilian space infrastructure, including commercial, by the United States and its allies in armed conflicts," the Russian official added.
Morehouse stressed that currently "Ukrainians have no organic military space capabilities to attack in any way shape or form."
“But … they’ve been very aggressive in trying to negate those commercial services, which I think is going to be a normal part of warfare in the future. Satellite communications are becoming more and more common across many militaries, and so countering them is something that many nations are interested in.”