China’s recent test of a missile designed to shoot down satellites in low-earth orbit highlights a growing threat of space weapons, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command said on Tuesday.
Adm. Cecil D. Haney, head of the Omaha-based nuclear forces command, also voiced worries about the strategic nuclear forces buildup by Russia and China, and said as commander he must assume North Korea is correct in claiming to have miniaturized a nuclear warhead for its missile forces.
Haney also warned about the use of sophisticated cyber attacks by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS or ISIL.
“And clearly in the case of that group, being able to use it to recruit, use cyber to threaten, and those kind of things… we see more and more sophistication associated with that,” he said.
The U.S. Cyber Command, which is part of Stratcom, is looking “very, very closely” at the terrorist cyber threats, “on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Asked about a recently released list of 100 U.S. military personnel targeted by IS, Haney said the list of names did not originate from Defense Department networks.
He suggested the information may have been culled from social media.
“We do have a campaign where we practice and train on operational security, but not just with the members, but also alert the families, in terms of this business of using social media,” Haney said.
On China’s space weapons buildup, dubbed “counterspace” arms by the Pentagon, Haney said the United States needs to be ready to deal with attacks on satellites in a future conflict.
“The threat in space, I fundamentally believe, is a real one. It’s been demonstrated,” Haney said, noting China’s 2007 anti-satellite missile test against an orbiting satellite that created tens of thousand of debris pieces.
“They’ve repeated this kind of test last summer, and during that test, fortunately, they did not do a hit-to-kill kind of thing,” he said, noting that no further debris was created.
“But just seeing the nature of these types of activities show how committed they are to a counter-space campaign,” Haney said. “So we have to be ready for any campaign that extends its way into space.”
The July 23 test of the anti-satellite missile was identified by defense officials as the DN-1 anti-satellite interceptor missile. China also has a second anti-satellite (ASAT) missile called the DN-2 that was tested in 2013 and is designed to hit satellites in high-earth orbit—the location of intelligence, navigation, and targeting satellites.
China, which is publicly opposing the development of space weapons, did not identify the test as an anti-satellite missile. Instead, the Defense Ministry described the test as a “land-based anti-missile technology experiment.”
Haney said the July test was similar to the 2007 ASAT test.
“The only difference this time [is that] it did not impact another satellite,” he said. “I’m not convinced that was their intention. But quite frankly, just the whole physics and the demonstration and everything that they did, I’m sure they collected data in order to further make this an operational capability. … This was also a test for capability in low earth orbit.”
Haney was asked what steps the United States is taking in response to the space weapons threat and declined to provide specifics.
The president’s budget for fiscal 2016 contains adequate funding for investments in space protection capabilities, he said.
Haney described space defenses as mainly passive efforts, including “space situational awareness,” or intelligence on space threats, as well as developing tactics, techniques, and procedures for space defenses, and undefined “resiliency” of space systems.
Asked about developing offensive U.S. space capabilities, Haney said: “I will leave it at we are working for our space protection program.”
In 2008, the Pentagon used a modified Navy SM-3 anti-missile interceptor to shoot down a National Reconnaissance Office satellite that was falling from orbit. The test was widely viewed as an indication the interceptor could be used in the future as part of an anti-satellite weapons systems.
Rick Fisher, a China military affairs expert, said China appears to be building an extensive space combat capability that includes ground- and space-based lasers, ground-launched anti-satellite missiles, and co-orbital weapons.
“The remainder of this decade will likely see China continue to test ground-launched ASATs and begin to test air-launched ASATs,” said Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“However, Chinese sources indicate that laser-armed space platforms may not be ready until later in the 2020s,” he added. “By this time China will also have lofted a dual-use space station and may have tested dual-use space planes.”
On the nuclear and strategic threats, Haney said: “Today’s threat environment is more diverse, complex, and uncertain than it’s ever been, against a backdrop of global security environment latent with multiple actors, operating across multiple domains.”
Haney warned that the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal and infrastructure can no longer be taken for granted as safe, secure, and effective in the future without modernization, which is threatened by budget cuts.
“For decades, we have sustained while others have modernized their strategic nuclear forces, developing and utilizing counterspace activities, increasing the sophistication and pervasive nature of their cyber capabilities and proliferating these emerging strategic capabilities around the globe.
Haney singled out Russian President Vladimir Putin for “provocative” actions, along with Russian modernization of nuclear missiles, bombers, submarines, and industrial base.
The provocative actions included demonstrating nuclear capabilities during the Ukraine crisis and penetrating U.S. and allied air defense zones with long-range strategic bombers. He also mentioned Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty.
China also is building up strategic forces. “China has developed a capable submarine and intercontinental ballistic missile force, and has recently demonstrated their counterspace capabilities,” Haney said.
On North Korea, Haney noted Pyongyang’s claim to have miniaturized a warhead capable of being fired from the new KN-08 road-mobile long-range missile.
“As of yet, I don’t see any tests yet that associated with this miniaturized claim,” he said. “But as a combatant commander, as commander of your Strategic Command, it’s a threat that we cannot ignore as a country.”
Iran recently launched a space vehicle that “could be used as a long-range strike platform,” he said.
U.S. nuclear forces remain in urgent need of modernization, he said.
“As a nation, we cannot simply afford to underfund our strategic capabilities, Haney said. “Any cuts to the president’s budget, including those imposed by sequestration, will hamper our ability to sustain and modernize our joint military forces and put us at real risk of making our nation less secure and able to address future threats.”