The youngest branch of the United States military has recently announced a significant shift in its intelligence-gathering efforts and keeps tabs on adversaries’ rapidly growing space capabilities.
According to the service’s senior intelligence officer this week, the United States Space Force is set to concentrate about 75 percent of its intelligence-gathering efforts on China and Russia. This move comes in response to Beijing’s expanding influence in the Indo-Pacific region and Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
US Space Force intelligence deputy chief Major General Gregory Gagnon recently shed light on these developments and highlighted the key factors driving this strategic decision.
The Intelligence Allocation Breakdown
As part of its revamped intelligence strategy, the service has allocated three-quarters of its resources intelligence-wise to monitoring China and Russia. Of this allocation, approximately half is directed toward China, while a quarter is dedicated to Russia. Gagnon emphasized that the ongoing conflict plays a significant role in this distribution.
“From an intelligence perspective … about half of what we do is focused on China. About 25 percent of what we do is focused on Russia, and a lot of that has to do because of the current conflict,” Gagnon said, as quoted by Breaking Defense.
The service has also significantly bolstered its human resources to facilitate this heightened focus. Gagnon revealed that the Space Force now boasts a cadre of “1,500-plus space intelligence professionals.” This influx of specialized talent has already yielded tangible benefits, notably in educating the broader Defense Department about the escalating threats targeting especially US space systems.
Meanwhile, the remaining 25 percent are distributed among other global regions and the commercial sector. This diversified approach ensures that the Space Force maintains situational awareness across the globe, preventing surprises and enabling a comprehensive understanding of emerging threats and opportunities.
Meet Space Force’s Delta 18
The centerpiece of the Space Force’s intelligence operations is the National Space Intelligence Center (NSIC), also known as Delta 18, under the Space Operations Command. Established in June 2022 at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, NSIC is at the forefront of comprehending a broad portfolio that includes China, Russia, other nations, and commercial entities. Gagnon praised NSIC’s role in preventing strategic surprise and enhancing the Space Force’s overall intelligence capabilities.
China’s Space Capabilities, Growing Arsenal
China’s rapid advancement in space capabilities has triggered a heightened need for intelligence monitoring. Gagnon highlighted Beijing’s exponential growth in satellite deployment, noting that their satellite count has nearly doubled from around 400 to almost 800 in just a few years. Its arsenal encompasses an array of “space weaponry,” including anti-satellite missiles, lasers, and jammers. Furthermore, China’s investments in satellite technology enable enhanced sensing, connectivity, and command and control capabilities, positioning them for future conflicts that extend far beyond their shores.
On August 10th, an intelligent satellite, named WonderJourney-1A (WJ-1A), successfully launched from the China Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and entered its designated orbit. #space pic.twitter.com/PQ4e2HjbNB
— China Daily (@ChinaDaily) August 10, 2023
In 2022, China’s significant satellite deployment efforts were particularly evident, with the launch of nearly 200 satellites, over half of which were dedicated to remote sensing, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities. This emphasis on remote sensing reinforces China’s ambition to support its joint military operations.
Challenges and the Role of Commercial Industry
While the US Space Force is bolstering its intelligence capabilities, it faces the challenge of keeping pace with the rapid progress of adversaries. Gagnon stressed that simply adding more analysts to the force structure is not a sustainable solution, highlighting the importance of leveraging the commercial remote sensing industry to bridge the intelligence gap.
“From my perspective, you know, making sure that commercial industry is brought to bear is very important,” Gagnon said, proceeding to applaud the collaboration between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in harnessing the potential of commercial remote sensing.
#40! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/dhmD9vWkhw
— Space Launch Delta 45 (@SLDelta45) August 8, 2023
The senior intelligence officer explained that approximately 200 commercial remote sensing satellites now provide critical products and services to the US Department of Defense and the broader US government. Notably, some companies are even supplying satellite-to-satellite imagery, enhancing transparency and ensuring the integrity of satellite operations.
Space Warfare and Future Preparedness
Earlier this year, General Bradley Chance Saltzman, the US Chief of Space Operations, already raised and underlined the escalating threats posed by China and Russia in space. He noted that the character of space operations has fundamentally changed due to these nations’ testing and operationalization of space weapons. There is growing concern that China could potentially deploy weapons in space capable of targeting adversaries.
“We are seeing a whole mix of weapons being produced by our strategic competitors … The most challenging threat is China but also Russia,” Saltzman told reporters in February.
These evolving threats have prompted calls for the United States to prepare for space warfare. The US Space Force’s emphasis on intelligence-gathering is crucial to this preparation, enabling informed decision-making and strategic planning to counter emerging challenges.
Ensuring Space Superiority in an Evolving Landscape
The recent shift in intelligence allocation by the US Space Force underscores the evolving dynamics of space as a contested domain. With a primary focus on China and Russia, the Space Force aims to closely monitor their expanding space capabilities and military activities. Establishing the National Space Intelligence Center (NSIC) and collaborating with the commercial remote sensing industry further enhance the Space Force’s ability to stay ahead of potential threats. As space warfare becomes an increasingly significant concern, the United States is taking proactive measures to ensure its readiness and resilience in the face of evolving geopolitical and technological challenges.