As the space domain has become more congested, the potential for intentional and unintentional threats to space system assets has increased. Space is also becoming another domain of conflict due to enhanced militarization and weaponization of space. There has been enhanced testing of Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) and space weapons designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes.
Although no ASAT system has yet been utilised in warfare, a few nations have shot down their own satellites to demonstrate their ASAT capabilities in a show of force. Only the United States, Russia, China, and India have demonstrated this capability successfully. The roles include: a defensive measure against adversary’s space-based nuclear weapons, a force multiplier for a nuclear first strike, a countermeasure against adversary’s anti-ballistic missile defense (ABM), an asymmetric counter to a technologically superior adversary, and a counter-value weapon.
China continues to develop a variety of capabilities designed to limit or prevent the use of space based assets by adversaries during a crisis or conflict, including the development of ground-based direct ascent missiles that can physically destroy a satellite, directed-energy weapons and satellite jammers. Since 2005, China has conducted eight anti-satellite tests. Tests conducted in 2010, 2013, and 2014 were labelled “land-based missile interception tests.” China has conducted a series of tests of on-orbit proximity and rendezvous operations, Brian Weeden director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, said, although the publicly available evidence “does not indicate they are explicitly aimed at offensive capabilities.”
Chinese military strategists see military space capabilities and operations as a key component of strategic deterrence, critical to enabling the PLA to fight informatized local wars and counter U.S. military intervention in the region and essential for supporting operations aimed at protecting China’s emerging interests in more-distant parts of the world, says RAND report.
Russia flight tested its Nudol system in April 2020, a ground-launched, mobile ballistic missile that has been in development since 2010. No intercept appears to have been attempted, according to the available facts. The Nudol is a mobile ASAT missile launcher that can reach satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Russia’s satellite constellation, of which military apparatuses account for two-thirds, is the world’s third-largest. On another front, Moscow is working on a new Anti Ballistic Missile system: the A-135 anti-ballistic missile system will be replaced by A-235. Experts suspect this will serve an anti-satellite purpose. There are multiple reports of Russia using GPS jammers in Eastern Ukraine, and , and also resurrected an airborne laser dazzler system known as the A-60.Russia has also done a series of its own on-orbit proximity and rendezvous operations demonstrations, both in low-Earth and geosynchronous orbits. “Russia has been designing an airborne laser to disrupt our space-based system. And it claims to be developing missiles that can be launched from an aircraft mid-flight to destroy American satellites, ” said Vice President Mike Pence.
Russia and China are engaged in robust efforts to fight wars in space, developing technology and weapons designed to take out U.S. satellites that provide missile defense and enable soldiers to communicate and monitor adversaries, according to US reports.
On 27 March 2019, India successfully conducted an ASAT test called Mission Shakti. The interceptor was able to strike a test satellite at a 300-kilometre (186 mi) altitude in low earth orbit (LEO), thus successfully testing its ASAT missile. The interceptor was launched at around 05:40 UTC at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur, Odisha and hit its target Microsat-R after 168 seconds. The operation was named Mission Shakti. The missile system was developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)—a research wing of the Indian defence services. With this test, India became the fourth nation with anti-satellite missile capabilities. India stated that this capability is a deterrent and is not directed against any nation.
The testing of ASAT weapons is driving nations whose military is highly dependent on space to launch their military space strategy and operationalize space command to protect their space based assets. US President Donald Trump has launched a new Pentagon command focused on warfare in space. It comes as US military chiefs see China and Russia making advancements in the military final frontier. Trump, in a recent speech said that “space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea. We may even have a space force. We have the Air Force; we’ll have the space force.” The primary aim of establishing a sixth armed service—the others being the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy—is to accelerate the development and deployment of new technologies for space warfighting, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters.
Under Space Policy Directive 4, the role of the US space force will be to organise, train, and equip military space forces of the nation to operate in space and to perform offensive and defensive space operations, and joint operations in all domains. During his speech at the White House signing ceremony Trump said: “We are investing in new space capabilities to project military power and safeguard our nation’s interests, especially when it comes to safety and defence.
But the intent is not to militarize space; rather it is to avert a potentially disastrous conflict, said Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. If the United States leaves its satellites vulnerable to new Russian and Chinese weapons, the likelihood that these weapons will be used increases, he argued. The United States is probably the world leader in on-orbit proximity and rendezvous operations, he said, and there have been a lot of rumors about the U.S. considering developing more offensive capabilities to “defend” its satellites or take out Russian and Chinese satellites.
Speaking at the UK Space Conference in Newport, Andrew Ash from the space team at DSTL, said the government is planning for the ‘increasing militirisation’ of space and the possibility of a conflict within the next 15 years. But countries including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are developing anti-satellite missiles, jammers, high-power microwaves, robots, lasers and chemical sprayers which could bring the country to a standstill. Britain currently has more than 50 satellites in orbit, and also relies heavily on international systems such as GPS, telecommunications networks and weather monitoring services.
To counter growing threats arising from China’s growing space capabilities, India organised its first ever simulated space warfare exercise. The development is significant as it comes after India constituted an all-new tri-service Defence Space Agency in March following a successful launch of an anti-satellite missile under “Mission Shakti.”
The purpose of the exercise is to understand the possible challenges in space warfare and to counter China’s growing influence in this domain, which poses a major threat to India’s national security interest. “The main aim is to assess the requisite space and counter-space capabilities that are needed by India to ensure we can protect our national security interests in this final frontier of warfare,” the daily quoted a senior official as saying.
US Space Force
US launched a new National Space Strategy in March 23 2018 is intended to outline how the administration will protect American interests in space, fitting into a broader “America First” theme of policies by the current administration. The strategy features four “essential pillars” that constitute “a whole-of-government approach to United States leadership in space, in close partnership with the private sector and our allies,” according to the document.
One of the steps US took to implement its Space strategy was launching a new Pentagon command focused on warfare in space. Space Command was established on 29 August 2019, with a reemphasized focus on space as a war-fighting domain. Under Space Policy Directive 4, the role of the US space force will be to organise, train, and equip military space forces of the nation to operate in space and to perform offensive and defensive space operations, and joint operations in all domains.
The NDAA created a Space Force within the Department of the Air Force, the same way the Marine Corps is a separate service within the Department of the Navy. But Congress set conditions. Out of concern about bureaucratic bloat, Congress established the Space Force by renaming the Air Force Space Command, directing the Defense Department to form the new branch with existing Air Force resources. The Space Force will be by far the smallest of the military services with a projected size of 16,000 people. By comparison the Marine Corps has about 180,000.
The NDAA directs that the Space Development Agency, currently under the oversight of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, be moved to the Space Force by 2022. According to a draft proposal, one of the options being considered is to create a U.S. Space Force Systems Command to absorb the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and the SDA.
The commander of U.S. Space Command, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, was sworn in Jan. 2020 as the first chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force. Raymond said a key goal of the U.S. Space Force will be to deter a conflict from extending into space. China and Russia have embarked on ambitious programs to develop offensive space control capabilities, which prompted the United States to declare space a warfighting domain. “We want to deter conflict from happening,” he said Dec. 20 at the Pentagon. “The best way I know how to do that is from a position of strength.”
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has taken the lead in organizing the new “Space Development Agency (SDA),” which from all accounts seems like a mini-DARPA focused on space technology development. DARPA received its marching orders to establish the SDA from Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, who champions establishing this new agency. Griffin envisions the SDA as accelerating innovation in military space programs and bringing emerging technologies from the private sector into the Department of Defense (DoD).
Gil Klinger, vice president, space, cyber and intelligence, Raytheon, says the first challenge is changing the mindset of the Defense. “Throughout the Cold War until the last 15 or 20 years, space capabilities and services had a war time role, which was supporting the war, and that remains the case. But now, space assets must become fighting capabilities because the domain is almost certain to be part of combat operations. That is part of the mindset change,” he explains.
To accomplish this change, the space community must recognize the need to fully incorporate all the space U.S. space forces into warfare. It’s not just keeping the satellites operating, he says. Supporting operations also must include harmonizing, integrating and becoming part and parcel of the operational capabilities that U.S. forces bring to bear in other domains. “We need to develop a joint-smart space force and a space-smart joint force,” Klinger proposes.
The second problem the U.S. military and intelligence community must solve is determining the material and nonmaterial measures, actions, investments, research and development, training, doctrine and strategy needed to confront the new threats. “The first challenge is in thinking; the second is providing the systems, services, capabilities, hardware, software and accompanying concepts of operations and tactics, techniques and procedures to effectively realize our objectives in this changed environment,” he states.
Russia’s Aerospace force
In 2015 Russia actually merged its space force with the air force in an attempt to consolidate command authority and replicate the traditional U.S. approach. The Russian Aerospace Forces, as the branch is now known, is in many ways a three-branch service combining elements of the space forces, air forces, as well as air and missile defense forces under a single command. Beyond following the American example, Russia’s justification was that space is increasingly integrated, rather than separated, from everything else.
Announcing the merger in 2015, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the merger “makes it possible […] to concentrate in a single command all responsibility for formulating military and technical policy for the development of troops dealing with tasks in the aerospace theater and […] to raise the efficiency of their use through closer integration.”
“The reason for Russia’s integration, is that the ISR capabilities required for air defense, missile defense, and anti satellite missions are closely related and multirole,” says Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the Virginia-based CNA think tank. “Their mission definitions and the boundary between them is entirely contrived and artificial.”
China’s PLASSF combines strategic space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare missions and capabilities
China established the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force (SSF) (zhanlue zhiyuan budui, 战略支援部队) in late 2015 as part of a sweeping military reform that overhauled the PLA’s organizational structure, command and control systems, and operational paradigm. At its core, the reform aimed to improve the PLA’s ability to fight informationized conflicts (xinxihua zhanzheng, 信息化战争), and enhance joint operations and power projection capabilities in support of China’s strategic aims (Xinhua, January 1, 2016).
PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF), a theatre command-level organization designed to combine “the PLA’s strategic space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare missions and capabilities.” The PLASSF is an infrastructural organisation to create synergies in functions that were previously dispersed across a number of departments. Under the aegis of military reforms, the PLASSF is directly under the Central Military Commission and is responsible for centralised support to the PLA. The aim as given in the ibid White paper was “seeking to achieve big development strides in key areas and accelerate the integrated development of new-type combat forces, so as to build a strong and modernized strategic support force.”
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force intends to expand its presence into space as part of its plan to become a world-class force, a senior officer said in Nov 2018. Senior Colonel Wang Zhonghua, head of the Planning Bureau of the PLA Air Force’s Equipment Department, said at a news conference in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, that the Air Force spares no efforts in handling all threats, and is gearing up to extend its reach beyond the clouds and into space. He said the Air Force is undergoing revolutionary changes that will generate a system that can function in future warfare scenarios. Lieutenant General Xu Anxiang, deputy commander of the Air Force, outlined a multiphase road map for building a strong, modern air force. First, a strategic force will be established by 2020. It will have integrated air and space capability and balanced strength in both defensive and offensive operations.
Space Systems Department (SSD) is responsible for executing the SSF’s space mission. The SSD has consolidated nearly every aspect of China’s military space operations, including space launch, telemetry, tracking, and control (TT&C), satellite communications, space intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and space-related R&D and support. They also appear to have administrative responsibilities for China’s astronauts. Before the reform of 2015/2016, these space-related responsibilities were held under the GAD, and to a lesser extent, the GSD.
Shinzo Abe says new unit will defend Japan from space tech threats
Japan’s prime minister said in Jan 2020 that his country will form a space defense unit to protect itself from potential threats as rivals develop missiles and other technology and the new unit will work closely with its American counterpart recently launched by President Donald Trump. The Space Domain Mission Unit will start in April as part of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, Prime Minister Shinzo Abesaid in a policy speech marking the start of the year’s parliamentary session.
He said Japan must also defend itself from threats in cyberspace and from electromagnetic interference against Japanese satellites. Concerns are growing that China and Russia are seeking ways to interfere with, disable or destroy satellites. “We will drastically bolster capability and system in order to secure superiority” in those areas, Abe said.
The space unit will be added to an existing air base at Fuchu in the western suburbs of Tokyo, where about 20 people will be staffed ahead of a full launch in 2022. The role of the space unit is to conduct satellite-based navigation and communications for other troops in the field, rather than being on the ground. Abe’s Cabinet in December approved 50.6 billion yen ($460 million) budget in space-related projects, pending parliamentary approval. The unit will cooperate with the U.S. Space Command that Trump established in August, as well as Japan’s space exploration agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Abe has pushed for Japan’s Self-Defense Force to expand its international role and capability by bolstering cooperation and weapons compatibility with the U.S., as it increasingly works alongside American troops and as it grows concerned about the increasing capabilities of China and North Korea. Abe, in marking Sunday’s 60th anniversary of the signing of a Japan-U.S. security treaty, vowed to bolster Japan’s capability and cooperation with the U.S., including in the areas of space and cyber security.
UK space strategy and Space command
The National Space Council was set up in 2020, which highlights its importance; not only is it a cabinet-level committee but it’s also chaired by the Prime Minister, which reflects government’s prioritisation of space. UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed the launch of the nation’s first Defence Space Strategy designed to protect UK operations against emerging space-based threats. UK has also launched Space directorate Space Directorate, that is, ” doing the strategic thinking, policy, cross-government coherence, being an international touchpoint with all our partners and allies, and the reach into the space sector – effectively, what we’ve been colloquially calling ‘defence’s belly button for space”. according to its space director Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth.
It has also established space command with the responsibility for command and control of military space operations in order to defend the interests of the country in space. “Whilst Space Command will sit under the Royal Air Force (RAF), it is a joint command, and it is a Space Command that’s delivering space for the whole of defence. In many ways the model is similar to our Joint Helicopter Command, which sits under the army, but is delivering helicopter capability for the whole of defence,” said Smyth. UK StratCom has a very clear mandate as UK defence lead for all multi-domain integration, ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], PNT [positioning, navigation, and timing] and communications.
RAF chief of air staff Sir Stephen Hiller said: “I am determined to ensure that the RAF’s leadership of military space operations transforms our ability to address the growing threats and hazards. “In doing this, it is essential that we work jointly across defence and with partners across government and internationally.”
The strategy also calls for leveraging private industry for latest space technologies. UK Defence Minister Guto Bebb said: “Space is a vital part our economy, with an industry worth £14bn a year. “With the launch of this strategy, we are setting our aspirations much higher to ensure that our industry continues to benefit from this growth in satellite technology. We are investing millions into Britain’s most innovative companies to help us launch forward in the space domain.” The UK’s Defence Space Strategy will examine how the country can work in collaboration with its Nato allies in order to protect and defend their mutual space interests.
The UK Ministry of Defence is preparing for a space war within the next 15 years, and has awarded £1.5 million to companies who can devise ways to protect UK satellites. “One of the things when discussing the future of space that we start to see is increasing move towards the normalisation of space as a war-fighting domain. “There could be a space conflict that has actually occurred within this time frame. When we start to think about conflict in space, we look at how we can enhance our space situational awareness systems so that we can understand what other nations are doing – are they actually aligning with the international norms of behaviour? – so we can start to build things like deterrents.”
Projects to be funded include an infra-red system for spotting approaching threats, designed by MDA Space and Robotics based in Harwell, Oxfordshire. Oxford Space Systems is also developing a method of changing the signature of a satellite using origami techniques, to confuse attackers. The money is for initial development and further investment is expected next year. Dr Matthew Broadhead, Principal Advisor for the Space Programme at DSTL said: “Characterising space objects and their intent is a massive challenge when things are 36,000km away. “We’re trying to leverage the best of space technology for defence advantage and drive that innovation where we think its absence.”
The MOD signed a $500 million contract for a new communication satellites Skynet 6, Alpha phase, that will be launched in 2025. In November 2020 , the Prime Minister announced a £16.5bn – $22.5bn – increase in spending on defence in the next four years. Space was one of the top three priority areas to get some of that. The Global Navigation Satellite System GNSS programme concluded in September, and it’s being built on by the Space-Based Position, Navigation and Timing (SBPNT) programme, looking at providing position navigation and timing to the UK.
Indian Space doctrine and strategy
Open sources reported that the NDA Government in April 2019 has given approval to set up the DSA. The DSA is to amalgamate the two erstwhile agencies dealing directly or indirectly with space based military capabilities. These agencies are Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) located at Delhi and Defence Satellite Control Centre (SCC) located at Bhopal.
The DSA could possibly have a mandate to develop capabilities to protect India’s interests in outer space and build adequate deterrence structures and capabilities that may dissuade threats to our space-based assets. As reported, the DSA is also to set up a Defence Space Research Organisation (DSRO). It was reported that the DSRO is to be headed by a senior defence scientist who will lead a larger team of scientists to carry out R&D activities related to building systems and tools for protecting our assets and interest in space from external threats.
The space security of ever-expanding space assets from either attack or interference has become essential. So under broader concept of information dominance the goal of offensive counter space weapons, is to delay or deny an enemy’s capability to collect, process, and disseminate information by disrupting or destroying, as required, the enemy’s space systems.
Space security strategy should consist of four important elements: first is developing full range of military space capability like complementing imagery intelligence (photo and synthetic aperture radar), with signals intelligence (COMINT, ELINT) satellite constellations, early warning for Ballistic Missile Defence, data relay satellites, Microsatellites constellations and Launch on demand.
One of space capability gaps is that we lack capability to detect ASAT launches, like Chinese 2007, ASAT weapon test, when it deliberately hit and destroyed its own aging weather satellites at an altitude of 865 kilometers. India did not have any direct independent assessment of the Chinese test. It had to depend on the delayed US information for it to know that such a test had indeed occurred. Again on May 13, 2013, China reportedly tested ASAT again that reached more than 10,000 kilometers in altitude; still we don’t know what is happening.
Space situational awareness (SSA) is the foundational element of space security, National SSA Programmes should be launched to provide dependable, accurate and timely data regarding space situation (Space debris, Artificial Space objects, Space environment and NEOs) as well as Threat Warning and Assessment for threats like ASATs, Directed energy weapons, and HAND. Comprehensive SSA requires a networked system of radars and electro-optical sensors. Recently the trend is to use space based sensors to provide timely detection, collection, identification and tracking of man-made space objects from deep space to LEO orbits.
India’s counter-space activities organisation Defence Space Agency (DSA) has formally started scouting technologies to enhance its abilities to tackle threats in and from space. The DSA has made proposals to several companies to avail technologies that give complete space situational awareness (SSA) solutions that can assess, recognise and track assets of the enemy, Times of India reported in Feb 2021. It will also be tasked to raise flags over any impending attacks and a request for information (RFI) regarding the same was released in January 2021. Companies have time till March 2021 to respond to the same. Moreover, the DSA is in the lookout for a system that can combine the available surveillance data from different sources into a common operating picture (COP).
These shall be complemented by space- and ground-based space weather sensors monitoring the electromagnetic and sub-atomic particle fluxes incident on the Earth. Our space capabilities are also critically affected by Space Weather and need to be protected in severely degraded space environment due of natural and man-made space weather degradations like HAND events.
The third element is space protection. The numerous threats to our space assets demand that we develop new architectures say in MEOs which are less vulnerable to threats. For example, the U.S. Air Force placed two Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites in highly-elliptical orbits that are more challenging for China to target because of their high orbital speeds as they approach their perigee.
Satellite Clusters or satellite constellation consisting of networked microsatellites in multiple orbits can provide Robust, fault tolerant, flexible and scalable formation architectures for distributed spacecraft communication, control, and sensing. This require development of a Formation Flying Control System which highly autonomous and which optimize the performance of the cluster by cluster reconfiguration based on mission life span, collision avoidance, and mission related requirements such as resolution, observation time, and satellite failures and subsequent performance is desirable.
Of course, the final element is development of space deterrent and we have to develop satellite jammers, directed energy weapons, and ASAT capability. The India can also plan to strike ground nodes of adversary space segment.
It is hoped that over a period of time, the National Space Doctrine would get formulated. This indeed will be a strategic level document that will address macro issues. In the sense of the author, some of these issues could be as under:- India’s national interests in space; Strategic relationship of India with other space-faring nations; Guidelines to build defensive and offensive capabilities to protect our assets in space; The thrust of R&D activities in launch vehicles, satellites, ASAT weapons and more; Position on international treaties related space aspects; Institutional arrangements for budgetary support; and Space education – way to go, writes Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF.
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