JUST IN: Report Warns U.S. Needs Space-based Weapons to Defend JADC2

By Meredith Roaten

The Space Force needs to deter adversaries from attacking space infrastructure that is critical for data collection and communications, according to a new report from the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Satellites and space-based sensors will be a linchpin for joint all-domain command and control — the Pentagon effort to more quickly and effectively collect and transmit data to warfighters anywhere it's needed. This effort starts with the transport layer of satellites in low-earth orbit that the Space Development Agency will start launching in December, said Tim Ryan, a senior fellow at the institute and author of “The Indispensable Domain: The Critical Role of Space in JADC2.”

Released last week, Ryan’s research found that there is currently no back up for the transport layer satellites, he said. While the satellites in space will be hardened to defend against threats such as jamming and kinetic effects, Congress needs to fund offensive and defensive weapons for the Space Force, the report recommended.

“Without a credible deterrence capability, adversaries may be willing to gamble relatively minimal blowback to attack and permanently take out these essential U.S. space-based capabilities,” Ryan said during a Mitchell Institute event Oct. 24.

However, President Joe Biden’s administration announced earlier this year it would ban destructive anti-satellite testing in space, to prevent space debris and set international norms. Ryan compared the space-based weapons to nuclear weapons and noted developing the weapons with the ban in place could still be possible.

“Just like we don't do nuclear underground testing anymore today, that does not mean we do not have nuclear weapons on alert today as a deterrence to our adversary,” he said. “ While we may say that we don't want to and we stand behind not doing kinetic debris-creating testing, that does not mean that we should not have that capability as we go forward.”

China is working on its own anti-satellite weapons and has created space debris in two destructive tests in the past three years, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies annual space threat assessment report.

The Space Force’s weapons will complement the military’s plan to make the architecture of its satellites more resilient, Ryan noted. A survivable satellite network means varied types of satellites across all orbits to “enhance system resilience, complicate adversary simultaneity of targeting and attack, and provide defense in depth (to include rapid reconstitution),” according to the report.

Ryan added that commercial satellite capabilities could help build the Pentagon’s space architecture. Starlink — a satellite constellation operated by SpaceX — has been lauded as instrumental in the military operations in Ukraine against Russia.

“I don't know that we’ll necessarily start to see the use of Starlink … that we see in the Ukraine today,” he said. “However, pieces that do translate very, very well from lessons that we're seeing in Ukraine is the use of commercial imagery, the use of commercial SATCOM.”

The Pentagon’s huge investment in new sensors and weapons systems will be useless without the defensive capabilities in space, he noted.

“No matter how much the DoD invests in sensors, processing power, [command and control] centers or frontline assets, none of this will matter without the ability of a robust, rapid and resilient space centric communications,” he said.


Topics: Space

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