A new report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies alleges that, despite maintaining the largest military on the planet, the United States is facing an uphill battle when it comes to defenses beyond it. While America may currently possess the broadest and most capable satellite infrastructure, to include control over the global positioning satellites the world relies on for GPS, it lacks sufficient means of defense against the increasing prevalence of anti-satellite weapons technologies.
Last week, India became the fourth nation in history to demonstrate the capacity to destroy a satellite in orbit by way of ground-launch missiles. NASA says the debris field created by the anti-satellite test placed the International Space Station in danger, further escalating tensions between the globe’s burgeoning space powers. The United States, while having a significant head start in the field of orbital operations, now finds itself in the difficult position of needing to defend its assets despite what some argue is a half-hearted orbital effort led by the United States Air Force.
The Air Force has had plenty of time to know this had to be done. If they could make themselves do it, they would have,” Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, told reporters last year. “Unfortunately, because space is one of the 11 other missions they have, it is always going to be subordinate, but worse it’s going to be a pay-for, which is what’s happened over these years. We’ve seen repeatedly where the Air Force has reached into space program funds to put them against fighter jets, bombers, tankers. That has exacerbated this already-bad problem that we have with space.”
Those claims seem substantiated now by the CSIS report, including a forward written by another congressman from the other side of the political aisle.
The United States is not the leader in anti-satellite technology,” Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper writes in the CSIS report’s forward. Congressman Cooper has crossed party lines on the topic of orbital defense, championing the need for a space-specific branch of the armed forces in order to address orbital threats. “We had naively hoped that our satellites were simply out of reach, too high to be attacked, or that other nations would not dare.”
All of the information discussed within the report was based on publicly available information pertaining to space endeavors tied to the national governments of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. While these nations have not invested as heavily as the United States has in space over the decades, they have instead been able to focus their funding and program development on finding ways to counter America’s space-based advantages.
However, Todd Harrison, the director of CSIS Aerospace Security Project and one of the authors of the study, warns the report is not a conclusive analysis of the orbital threats the United States finds itself facing. There may be classified programs within the nations listed above, as well as other programs conducted outside of those states, that could feasibly pose threats to America’s space-based operations.