Space & Innovation

US Intel Chief Warns That Russia and China May Target American Satellites

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declared that the two nations “are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine.”

The United States’ top intelligence official spotlighted the threat of space warfare in a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

In his written testimony in the May 11 hearing, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, reviewed the worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community, noting an appraisal that “Russia and China perceive a need to offset any US military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine.”

Coats reported that both Russia and China “will continue to pursue a full range of antisatellite (ASAT) weapons as a means to reduce US military effectiveness.” [The Most Dangerous Space Weapons Ever]

Some new Russian and Chinese ASAT weapons, including destructive systems, “will probably complete development in the next several years,” Coats added. “Russian military strategists likely view counterspace weapons as an integral part of broader aerospace defense rearmament and are very likely pursuing a diverse suite of capabilities to affect satellites in all orbital regimes.”

China and Russia are advancing directed-energy (laser) weapons technologies for the purpose of fielding ASAT systems “that could blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors,” Coats said. “Russia is developing an airborne laser weapon for use against US satellites. Russia and China continue to conduct sophisticated on-orbit satellite activities, such as rendezvous and proximity operations, at least some of which are likely intended to test dual-use technologies with inherent counterspace functionality.”

Coats also testified that robotics technology designed for satellite servicing and space-junk removal might be used to damage satellites.

“Such missions will pose a particular challenge in the future, complicating the US ability to characterize the space environment, decipher intent of space activity, and provide advance threat warning,” Coats wrote.

Additionally, the global threat of electronic warfare attacks against space systems will expand in the coming years in both the number and types of weapons, Coats noted.

“Development will very likely focus on jamming capabilities against dedicated military satellite communications (SATCOM), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging satellites, and enhanced capabilities against Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as the US Global Positioning System (GPS),” Coats said.

You can read Coats’ testimony here: Unclassified SFR - Final.pdf

Leonard David is author of Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet, published by National Geographic. The book is a companion to the National Geographic Channel series Mars.

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