Why the US is Risking a Pearl Harbor in Space

This article appeared on September 12, 2020 in the NY Post written by Brandon J. Weichert.

For the last decade, Beijing and Moscow have both reorganized their militaries — and developed weapons — to wage a space war against the United States. The situation is now so precarious that America could face a Pearl Harbor in space.

As far back as 2007, China shocked the world when it launched an antisatellite (ASAT) weapon into low-Earth orbit and decimated a derelict weather satellite. ASAT technology is not new but the way China deployed it was both irresponsible and aggressive. Traditionally, countries have publicly announced when they planned to conduct ASAT tests, because they could damage satellites passing by the test site. China told no one. Then, China’s ASAT test created the largest debris field in human history. It also signaled to the West that China was ready for a new form of combat.

China has invested heavily in lasers powerful enough to blind American satellites. Beijing has also developed the ability to “spoof” American GPS satellites, which could confuse American military units and weapons in times of war. On Sept. 3, China surprised the world when it launched a reusable spacecraft that, before returning to Earth three days later, released a smaller object that still remains in orbit today. There is concern that this device is an offensive “space stalker” designed to covertly tailgate American satellites and push them from their orbits.

Russia has nearly identical counterspace capabilities. As recently as July, the US and UK governments accused Russia of illegally testing a space stalker in orbit.

This is all deeply worrying. Either Beijing or Moscow could use their technological might to rewrite the geopolitical order in their favor. US forces patrolling the South China Sea, for example, could find themselves under attack from China but unable to call for reinforcements or coordinate a viable defense — simply because their critical satellites have been destroyed before the siege began.

Similarly, Russia could disable NATO forces charged with defending an Eastern European state — simply by nudging US satellites out of orbit.

All this explains why President Trump created the United States Space Force and charged it with ensuring American dominance in the cosmos. The goal of America’s newest (and smallest) military branch is to provide adequate protection of our sensitive satellites and ensure that the United States — not China or Russia — controls the vaunted strategic high ground. Sadly, American leaders for 20 years have known these vulnerabilities existed, and because they dithered, we are no longer the dominant superpower in space. President Trump is the first to have responded at the strategic level, but the changes he has shepherded are coming very late in the game.

Critics have lampooned Trump’s Space Force because they either feel that it is wasteful (it’s not) or they simply opposed it for petty political reasons (Orange Man Bad). Without the Space Force, though, America’s satellites would be left completely open to attack. Meanwhile, other branches of the military — most notably the Air Force — are reticent to champion the new Space Force out of fear this highly technological branch would cleave much-needed money from their organizations. This is ridiculous, though, seeing as Space Force’s first budget request for 2021 was a paltry $15.4 billion, compared to the Air Force’s $153.6 billion budget ask for the same year.

Even though Congress approved the creation of Space Force, it has not adequately resourced the new branch, and in-fighting at the Pentagon has helped stunt what should have been a more seamless birth of the program.

Space Force will need considerably more support if it is to succeed — and it must happen in relatively short order. Washington cannot allow petty politics and bureaucratic squabbling to ensure America’s defeat anywhere on Earth or beyond it.

Brandon J. Weichert is the author of “Winning Space: How America Remains A Superpower” (Republic Book Publishers), available now on Amazon. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s