China and Russia are developing “a suite of capabilities” to threaten American assets in space, according to a top U.S. general who acknowledged the pressure to keep ahead of these adversaries in orbit.
“One of the main reasons why we established the Space Force was to go fast and to stay ahead of a growing threat,” Gen. John Raymond, the chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force, told reporters Thursday.
American strategists are trying “to deter conflict from beginning or extending into space,” Raymond emphasized, but China’s emergence as an aggressive space power was heralded in 2007 by its use of a land-based rocket to destroy one of its own weather satellites. Russia likewise has tested anti-satellite weapons, while arms control talks have failed to gain traction as the major powers can’t agree even on the definition of a weapon in space, stoking fears of a full-blown arms race in space.
“The best way we know how to deter conflict from [the] beginning or extending into space is to do so from a position of strength,” Raymond replied when asked if an arms race is already underway. “We’re prepared to protect and defend our capabilities today. We will remain prepared to protect our capabilities into the future.”
China and Russia have proposed arms control treaties touted as a means to avoid the militarization of space, but U.S. officials regard those as bad-faith proposals crafted by “the two countries that … have turned space into a warfighting domain,” as a senior U.S. diplomat said last month.
“The rapid evolution of such threats requires urgent and pragmatic steps if we are to maintain the safety, security, and stability of the outer space environment,” Ambassador Robert Wood told the Conference on Disarmament.
Raymond continued in that vein on Thursday. “We have seen what China has done with, and Russia, has done in developing a suite of capabilities designed to deny our access to space,” the general said. “Everything from reversible jamming of communications satellites and GPS satellites, to directed energy weapons, to satellites in orbit that are designed to destroy U.S. satellites in orbit, to missiles that are being launched from the ground to destroy satellites like China demonstrated — Russia has the same type of program — and to cyberthreats.”
The Space Force, launched in December 2019, has assembled a force of 6,400 personnel, known as “Guardians,” while trying to organize Pentagon efforts to develop and acquire new technologies to maintain an advantage in space.
“There is still significant work to do, but we’ve got the pieces planned out and in place already making a difference,” Raymond said. “And I will say that we are focused and committed to moving fast and developing the capabilities and the tactical timelines that we need to stay ahead of this growing threat and remain the best in the world.”
Those initiatives don’t obviate the need for allied cooperation, in Raymond’s telling, as the general echoed President Joe Biden’s emphasis on partnering with other democracies to counter threats from China.
“I look at the challenges that we face, again, with a very congested, very competitive, and very contested domain, I think there’s even more opportunities,” he said. “And the opportunities stem from a commercial industry that’s thriving, that’s innovative, with technology that’s developing rapidly, and with international partnerships that allow us to protect and defend this domain and to establish safe and professional ways to operate in this domain, and primarily to deter conflict and to make sure that the domain is safe for all so economies can flourish, information can flow, and our nation’s security remains intact.”