Pentagon, military, and intelligence officials outlined plans on Wednesday for warfare in space and warned China not to attack U.S. satellites in any future conflict.
"The threats are real, they’re technologically advanced and they’re a concern," said Air Force Lt. Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, in testimony before a House subcommittee. "We are quickly approaching the point where every satellite in every orbit can be threatened."
Douglas Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said that the threat of attacks on satellites in orbit is no longer a theoretical concern.
"Quite frankly, it’s one thing to anticipate an imaginary threat," Loverro said. "It’s another thing to see that threat develop, watch it be exercised as with the Chinese on several occasions, recognize what it can do to our capability, and react to that. And that’s what we’re doing right now, is reacting to it and making it very clear we have no desire to have a conflict extend to space."
Loverro said the Pentagon wants potential adversaries such as China to understand that if warfare extends to space "the U.S. will be prepared to defend our space assets."
"Attacking our space assets is not a way to get the United States to back off of a fight. We are going to make sure that space assets are there to support" the U.S. military, he said.
Raymond, Loverro, and other officials testified before the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, outlining plans to spend $5 billion over the next five years to bolster defenses against attacks on satellites from threats that include ground-based anti-satellite missiles, laser weapons, and small maneuvering killer robot satellites.
It was the first time Pentagon officials expressed public alarm about Chinese and other space weapons capabilities and outlined programs for countering the threats.
The officials testified a day after Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters at the Pentagon that a recent Chinese anti-satellite test highlighted the growing threat of space warfare.
China in July conducted a test of an anti-satellite missile called the DN-1 that, unlike a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test, did not cause large-scale space debris.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.) said U.S. national security in space is facing "many serious challenges."
Rogers said space systems are very expensive and require doing business "smarter, without sacrificing capability."
"We have systems in orbit that we’ve invested billions of taxpayer dollars in, that we are still not fully using because of delays in ground systems and user terminals," Rogers said. "We must do better for the taxpayers and the warfighters."
Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of the Air Force Space Command, said his warfighters are closely integrating both space and cyberspace capability in preparing "to create decisive battlefield effects to achieve victory."
Hyten outlined several programs designed to defend space systems from attack, including what is called Space Situational Awareness—sensors in low earth orbit and in deep space that track objects and threats.
The next step is developing what he called Joint Space Operations Mission System that can better track objects or satellites that "move unexpectedly," Hyten said, and send the data to a new command for space warfare set up in November called the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, which can take action if needed.
China is among the most advanced at developing weapons designed to nullify the U.S. strategic advantage of using satellites for communications, intelligence, and targeting as part of military power projection. Russia also is building space warfare weapons, including anti-satellite missiles.
Another new sensor system is being set up to provide intelligence in geosynchronous orbit, some 23,000 miles from earth. Two satellites for the system were launched in July and are undergoing checks, Hyten said.
The Air Force also is developing a small satellite launcher that can quickly fire satellites into space. The concept is that the launcher could be used to launch small replacement satellites into orbit in a future space conflict that involves the destruction of key satellites.
Another system being developed for space warfare is called the space fence, an advanced ground-based sensor system that will "greatly increase our ability to understand the battlespace and inform warfighter decisions," Hyten said.
To better defend satellites during a conflict in space, the military is developing what it calls "resiliency"—such as the dispersal of space capabilities on multiple satellites to make it harder to target. "Ultimately, we do not want to be in a position where the disruption or elimination of one satellite denies our forces the advantages of the warfighting capabilities derived from space," he said.
Other methods being developed include hardening of satellites against attacks and unspecified defensive operations, Hyten said.
"Resilient architectures also include new technologies for enhanced survivability in order to give future operators options to dynamically respond to threats," he said.
Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, known as NGA, warned that space could become so crowded with small satellites that it will limit the U.S. government’s ability to analyze intelligence because of the flood of data from hundreds of satellites.
"The challenges of taking advantage of that data are daunting," Cardillo said. "We cannot afford to store it all and we cannot afford the manpower to exploit it all. We have to go to a service model where we acquire only what we need, when we need it."
"The skies will ‘darken’ with the hundreds of small satellites to be launched by U.S. companies and as procedures are developed to allow safe operation of unmanned aerial vehicles in civil airspace," Cardillo said.
Betty Sapp, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, testified at the hearing that her agency is working to better defend satellites in a future conflict.
"The NRO fully recognizes that space is an increasingly contested and congested environment," she said. "Foreign nations understand our country’s reliance on space and seek means to deny our space advantage. For that reason, the NRO is committed to making its entire mission architecture more resilient, and we have made significant investments to that end."
NRO is known for building multi-billion dollar satellites used for intelligence gathering, mainly imagery.
It is believed to be building back-up satellites that could be launched to replace satellites destroyed by space weapons.
Sapp revealed that NRO has been involved in a counter-improvised explosive device program called Red Dot.
"Red Dot leverages multi-Intelligence sources to provide an integrated IED-risk situational picture that can be delivered directly to the warfighter in harm’s way," she said. "From 2012 through 2014, Red Dot warnings resulted in the removal of more than 700 IEDs from the battlefield, saving countless lives and limbs."
Loverro, the Pentagon’s space policy official, was asked about the Obama administration’s efforts to reach an international code of conduct for space that critics say could constrain U.S. military space activities.
Loverro said he has been consulted by the State Department on the efforts and noted, "We will not sign a code that we cannot live with."