Communist China, according to China Daily, has vowed to become the world's leading space power by 2045. In 2019, China landed its Chang'e-4 lunar probe on the far side of the moon (pictured), something that had never been done before. (Photo by China National Space Administration/AFP via Getty Images)
"China has moved aggressively to weaponize space..." These were the words of U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall at the 36th Space Symposium on August 24.
"Both conventional deterrence and conventional operations depend on access to communications, intelligence, and other services provided by space-based systems. As a result, our strategic competitors have pursued and fielded a number of weapons systems in space designed to defeat or destroy America's space-based military weapons systems and our ability to project power."
Space has become crucial: so much of what happens there now affects life on earth. There are more than 3,000 active satellites orbiting earth today and their services have become indispensable. Among these are US military-operated GPS satellites for positioning, navigation and timing, serving both military and civilian needs -- think Uber, Lyft, Waze, grocery delivery services -- and earth monitoring, including weather and communications, to name just a few. Space satellites have become strategic assets and therefore valuable military targets. "It is impossible to overstate the importance of space-based systems to national security," Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said.
According to the 2021 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, released in April:
"Beijing is working to match or exceed US capabilities in space to gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that Washington has accrued from space leadership... Counterspace operations will be integral to potential military campaigns by the PLA [People's Liberation Army], and China has counterspace weapons capabilities intended to target US and allied satellites. Beijing continues to train its military space elements and field new destructive and nondestructive ground- and space-based antisatellite (ASAT) weapons."
In 2007, China conducted its first test of an anti-satellite missile, destroying one of its own weather satellites, creating the second-largest collection of space debris in history.
China's 2015 defense white paper had already formally designated space as a new domain of warfare. Also in 2015, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) established the Strategic Support Force (SSF), which brought together outer space, electromagnetic space and cyberspace under one command, indicating "the PLA's prioritization of these critical areas of warfare."
The Pentagon wrote in its 2020 report about Communist China's military capabilities:
"The PLA continues to acquire and develop a range of counterspace capabilities and related technologies, including kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, and orbiting space robots, as well as expanding space surveillance capabilities, which can monitor objects in space within their field of view and enable counterspace actions..
"The PRC is developing electronic warfare capabilities such as satellite jammers; offensive cyber capabilities; and directed-energy weapons... China has an operational ground-based Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile intended to target low-Earth orbit satellites, and China probably intends to pursue additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites up to geosynchronous Earth orbit. China is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and is probably testing dual-use technologies in space that could be applied to counterspace missions."
"There is strong evidence indicating that China has a sustained effort to develop a broad range of counterspace capabilities" the Secure World Foundation, a non-profit focused on space, wrote in a report it published in April, "Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment."
"In 2015, China re-organized its space and counterspace forces, as part of a larger military re-organization, and placed them in a new major force structure that also has control over electronic warfare and cyber. That said, it is uncertain whether China would fully utilize its offensive counterspace capabilities in a future conflict or whether the goal is to use them as a deterrent..."
Communist China has vowed to become the world's leading space power by 2045: "China will become an all-round world-leading country in space equipment and technology. By then, it will be able to carry out man-computer coordinated space exploration on a large scale," wrote the China Daily in 2017.
"Beijing has specific plans not merely to explore space, but to industrially dominate the space.... Beijing uses its space program to advance its terrestrial geopolitical objectives, including cultivating customers for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)... China's promotion of... the Beidou global navigation system under its 'Space Silk Road' is deepening participants' reliance on China for space-based services,"
In 2019, China landed its Chang'e-4 lunar probe on the far side of the moon, something that had never been done before. September 28 marked 1,000 days since it landed with a rover, which continues to explore the moon today. China also plans to build a joint science base on the moon with Russia, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). China's lunar ambitions are also raising concerns about "what that kind of activity could yield in terms of future capacity to act and potentially wage war in space" according to a recent article in Air Force Magazine.
Writing about a talk given by Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of U.S. Space Command, at the recent 36th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, SpaceNews reported: "The space battlefield is not science fiction and anti-satellite weapons are going to be a reality in future armed conflicts, Shaw said."
Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.