Picture this: A Chinese fighter jet accidentally crashes into a Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane while attempting to buzz it over the South China Sea, killing all on board both aircraft. Fearing U.S. retaliation, China goes a relatively unexpected route: It uses surface-to-air missiles to shoot numerous U.S. satellites out of the heavens in quick succession.
Very quickly, the Navy is forced to navigate the Pacific with little use of GPS and degraded communications, causing chaos and uncertainty. The Chinese strikes also have knocked out some of the Pentagon’s ability to control its arsenal of precision-guided weapons.
None of this has happened. But the hypothetical scenario points out the reliance the Pentagon has on space and the military technology it keeps in it. Satellites have soared over the earth’s atmosphere for decades, providing the United States with a huge advantage militarily, even at a time when the conventional weapons U.S. rivals have are formidable.
A new report released on Wednesday by the Center for a New American Security highlights the vulnerabilities the Pentagon has in space, and calls for a shift in strategy to safeguard it and prepare for conflict there. It’s written by senior fellow Elbridge Colby, a former member of the presidential campaign staff of Gov. W. Mitt Romney (R.-Mass.), and argues that potential adversaries like China and Russia have noticed the degree to which the United States is reliant on its “space architecture,” and begun to seek ways to threaten it.