In Bid to Beat Russia and China, US Military Unveils New Space Strategy

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Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off Kennedy Space Center
A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from pad 39A during a test flight to demonstrate the capsule's emergency escape system at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

A recent uptick in Chinese and Russian activity in space orbit coupled with the increased pace of developing new spying and jamming technologies has prompted the Pentagon to outline a new set of objectives that are essential for keeping the U.S. ahead of the pack.

The Defense Department on Wednesday unveiled its Defense Space Strategy designed to "serve as the roadmap to advance our nation's military space power," said Stepen Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Space Policy.

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"I would say we are ahead of [Russia and China] but we are absolutely at risk," Kitay told reporters during the unveiling of the 18-page unclassified version of the report.

The report noted that because the Pentagon has for decades approached space in a support function -- launching satellites, and monitoring them from afar -- rather than a robust battle domain, its national security space blueprint is in need of a transformation.

"The U.S. space enterprise was not built for the current strategic environment," Kitay said.

Kitay cited a Russian operation in 2017 in which the country had launched a satellite that then launched a sub-satellite system. One of the two satellites then launched a high-speed projectile into space. Then, earlier this year, two Russian satellites, Cosmos 2542 and 2543, tailed an American satellite, known as USA 245 or KH-11. Time Magazine reported the Russian satellites loitered within 100 miles of KH-11, activity that Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, the head of U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command, called "unusual and disturbing."

With the creation of Space Command and Space Force, the U.S. has the ability to leverage dedicated resources and personnel to defend space, Kitay said.

The report highlighted a spectrum of events the Pentagon believes need consistent observation, including nuclear detonation detection in space.

"That has been a concern actually and a threat going back to even the Cold War," Kitay said. "The challenge of a nuclear detonation is it creates an electromagnetic pulse in [signals] that then could take out indiscriminately many satellites in space and essentially fry the electronics.

"That goes on a continuum of a range of threats that we have to be prepared for potential adversaries to employ," he said.

The Pentagon will also look to update security classification for DoD space programs, the strategy said.

The report did not elaborate on what this classification update would look like. Kitay repeatedly demurred Wednesday when asked about specific U.S. capabilities in space.

"With China and Russia both actively developing capabilities to negate U.S., allied and partner space systems, we are left with no choice but to ensure we are prepared with the necessary means to protect and defend ourselves from attacks to our systems," he said.

"Whether they be in space, on the ground, or any other domain."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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