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News | Aug. 21, 2020

Space Challenges Prompt DOD Response, Space Superiority

By David Vergun DOD News

U.S. Space Command operations in space deter conflict; deliver space combat power for the joint force, allies and partners; and defeat aggression if necessary, a leader of that command said. These are just some of the challenges being met and overcome to maintain space superiority.

Rocket lifts off.
Falcon Launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft, launches from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, May 30, 2020, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Photo By: NASA photo
VIRIN: 200530-A-AB123-001C

Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Tim Lawson, mobilization assistant to the commander, U.S. Space Command, spoke via video remote from Colorado Springs, Colo., to the National Defense Industrial Association in Washington, D.C.

For decades, the U.S. has been the most dominant space power, he said. But that dominance has been challenged, most notably in 2007, when a Chinese anti-satellite missile struck a weather satellite, sending 3,400 pieces of debris into orbit, most of which are still in orbit creating a hazard, he said.

Then beginning in 2017, Russian threats in space emerged with a series of anti-satellite testing, Lawson said.

"Adversaries don't have to dominate space, they merely need to have the capability to disrupt space operations," he said. That's worrisome because warfighting operations in the land, air and maritime domains depend on space superiority for GPS, navigation and communications.

Airmen adjust a communications satellite system.
Satellite System
Air Force Master Sgt. Mickey Shaffer, left, and Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Shrift, both radio frequency transmission specialists with the 271st Combat Communications Squadron, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, adjust a satellite system attached to a small-scale communications suite in order to provide the strongest possible signal at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich., July 27, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Jarvis, Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200727-Z-FS150-001
A satellite terminal stands outside a building.
Satellite Communications
The 374th Communications Squadron’s Operating Location C’s AN/GSC-52B satellite communications terminal stands outside building 771 at Camp Zama, Japan, July 24, 2020.
Photo By: Winifred Brown, Army
VIRIN: 200818-A-IT218-008

Some of the emerging threats to space assets that he listed include jamming communications, high-energy anti-satellite lasers, capabilities for attacks on ground stations and possible nuclear detonations in space.

In response to these threats, U.S. Spacecom has been working closely with industry partners to put numerous small satellites in orbit so that an attack will most likely fail to take them all out, thereby ensuring resiliency, he said.

Additionally, Spacecom is partnering with inter-government agencies like NASA, the Commerce Department, the State Department and the National Reconnaissance Office. "These partners are critical," Lawson said, because Spacecom is fully integrated with these agencies and their agency representatives participate in military exercises with Spacecom.

Airmen move a satellite.
Satellite Work
Airmen from the 315th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., work to move a satellite that will be launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Photo By: Air Force Sr. Airman William Brugge
VIRIN: 200716-F-GG444-1003C

The other big collaborative effort, he said, is working with allies and partners. For instance, allies such as Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France and Australia are currently working side by side in command centers. Strength is gained through partnering.

Of note, while it is common knowledge that the U.S. Space Force stood up last year, it is less widely known that France and Japan also stood up their space forces.

Summing up, Lawson said Spacecom is about ensuring the access and freedom to navigate in space to advance. national security as well as global security and economic prosperity.