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China and Russia’s ‘Space War’: Where Is The US?

Written by Judith Bergman

Space-based threats from China and Russia have grown exponentially in recent years, according to a new report on the issue by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), published April 12.

“Evidence of both nations’ intent to undercut the United States and allied leadership in the space domain can be seen in the growth of combined in-orbit assets of China and Russia, which grew approximately 70% in just two years,” noted Kevin Ryder, DIA senior analyst for space and counterspace. “This recent and continuing expansion follows a more than 200% increase between 2015 and 2018.”

“Space is a warfighting domain now,” said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in April.

"China's long-standing and extensive modernization program is the greatest challenge... Although China is the Department's pacing challenge, we also regard Russia as an acute threat."

Space has already become the scene of an ongoing “shadow war” in which China and Russia conduct attacks against U.S. satellites with lasers, radio frequency jammers, and cyber-attacks every day, according to General David Thompson, the U.S. Space Force’s first vice chief of space operations. The attacks are “reversible” for now, which means that the damage to the attacked satellites is not permanent, but they amply demonstrate the intentions and abilities of the two main competitors of the United States in space.

“The threats are really growing and expanding every single day. And it’s really an evolution of activity that’s been happening for a long time,” Thompson said in November 2021. “We’re really at a point now where there’s a whole host of ways that our space systems can be threatened.”

China leads by far over Russia. “The Chinese are actually well ahead [of Russia],” according to Thompson. “They’re fielding operational systems at an incredible rate.” Some of those systems are ground-based, such as anti-satellite missiles (ASAT) and lasers intended to blind, damage, or destroy satellites. Others are space-based, such as orbiting “killer” satellites programmed to attack other satellites at a certain point in time, whether with blinding lasers, robotic arms or other means meant to destroy or incapacitate. According to the Pentagon’s 2021 report to Congress on China’s military capabilities:

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About the author

Judith Bergman

Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.