How the U.S. Space Force views threats from Russia and China

Russia’s continued attacks on Ukraine have been under constant satellite surveillance, a reminder of their importance and how vulnerable they are to cyber and other attacks.

U.S. Space Force officials have said that China and Russia are able to conduct cyber attacks on 37 GPS satellites operated by the U.S. as well as many commercial and weather satellites and an unknown number of satellites operated by the U.S. Defense Department monitoring events on the ground in Ukraine and elsewhere and continually coordinating air and ground military operations including nuclear missile control.

 Russia has the ability to use at least one of its satellites to physically and virtually attack other satellites in orbit, proven last year when it fired a missile from one of its satellites to destroy another of its satellites, creating a massive debris field.  China has a satellite equipped with robotic arm offering the ability to grab another satellite with a claw, according to reports. It isn’t clear if the U.S. has a similar offensive capabilities to those of Russia and China, a point raised in a new NBC report.

Rising threats against U.S. commercial and military satellites are one reason for a 25% increase in President Biden’s latest budget request for the U.S. Space Force and Space Development Agency. His budget calls for $773 billion for all of Defense in fiscal 2023, starting Oct. 1, with $24.5 billion for the Space Force and Space Development Agency, about $5 billion above what Congress approved in 2022. That $24.5 billion nearly rivals the NASA 2023 budget request of $26 billion.

“Space is vital to U.S. national security and integral to modern warfare,” the White House wrote in a budget summary.“The budget maintains America’s advantage by improving the resilience of U.S. space architectures to bolster deterrence and increase survivability during hostilities.”

DoD said its overall budget request allows it to “develop, procure and modernize capabilities to ensure combat-credible forces across all domains to ensure combat-credible forces across all domains to address the pacing challenge from the People’s Republic of China and to address acute threats from Russia.”

DoD said its space and space-based systems requests are $27.6 billion, including $1.8 billion for two GPS Enterprise satellite systems, $4.7 billion for space-based Overhead Persistent Infrared systems and $1.6 billion for six launch vehicles. DoD is also seeking $11.2 billion to provide cyber resiliency, with $3 billion for Space Force readiness.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said anti-satellite capabilities of Russia and China require DoD to make investments. “This budget is driven by the threat,” he told reporters, according to Space News.  There was a time when the U.S. could “put up expensive systems in space and not worry about them. That era is over, it’s been over for a while.”

U.S. satellites are under constant attack with jamming, blinding lasers, and cyber attacks, said U.S. Space Force General David Thompson, second in command, in an interview last November, according to The Washington Post. “We’re really at a point now where there’s a whole host of ways that our space systems can be threatened.”

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