Political News

New Pentagon report warns of Russian and Chinese laser threats to US satellites

Posted February 11, 2019 4:35 p.m. EST

— A new Pentagon report on threats in space warns that China and Russia are both developing capabilities to threaten the US' pre-eminent position, including lasers that could target and destroy US satellites.

"China and Russia, in particular, are developing a variety of means to exploit perceived US reliance on space-based systems and challenge the US position in space," the Defense Intelligence Agency report said.

The report, which was published Monday, is titled "Challenges to Security in Space," and examines Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean space capabilities.

US satellites play a critical role in everything from navigation, weapons targeting and intelligence gathering, including keeping tabs on North Korea's nuclear weapons program and monitoring Russian and Chinese military activity.

They also house sensors involved in detecting enemy missile launches.

The need to help safeguard US satellites has been cited by the Trump administration as a reason why the US needs a Space Force.

The report details Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons, including electronic warfare systems, directed-energy weapons and "kinetic" anti-satellite missiles.

It says both Beijing and Moscow are "likely" pursuing "laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors."

"China likely will field a ground-based laser weapon that can counter low-orbit space-based sensors by 2020, and by the mid-to-late 2020s, it may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites," the report says

It adds that China "possibly already has a limited capability to employ laser systems against satellite sensors."

The reports says that Russia had already delivered a laser weapon to its Aerospace Forces prior to July 2018, which is likely intended for an anti-satellite mission.

"Russia is also developing an airborne (anti-satellite) laser weapon system to use against space-based missile defense sensors," the report says.

The Trump administration is actively considering placing advanced sensors in space as part of its recent Missile Defense Review, which was unveiled last month.

In addition to directed-energy lasers, the report warns that China has an operational missile capable of hitting satellites in low-earth orbit while Russia is in the process of developing one.

The Chinese military "has an operational ground-based (anti-satellite) missile intended to target (low earth orbit) satellites," the report said, adding that "China has also formed military units that have begun training with (anti-satellite) missiles."

The report says Russia is "likely" developing "a ground-based, mobile missile system capable of destroying space targets" in low earth orbit in addition to ballistic missiles.

"This weapon system is likely to be operational within the next several years," the report adds.

The report says Russia and China are also developing "inspection and servicing" satellites that could also be used to conduct attacks on satellites in orbit.