The looming threat from China in space

Satellite space
Getty Images
Satellite space

With much of the world’s focus fixated recently upon China because of the coronavirus pandemic that originated there, this is an opportune time to direct attention toward another threat emanating from the communist nation: its militarized space program that could affect the well-being of the United States and the rest of the free world.

China has ended its lockdown of Wuhan, where the virus first was detected, and like the rest of the world will begin the difficult work of trying to get the country back to business. In the United States, where most of the country remains under shelter-in-place orders, millions of people are filing unemployment claims and worried about a COVID-19 recession that has begun to take hold. 

As Americans wonder about the state of our nation — and the world — post-pandemic, it may be a perfect time to contemplate a United States where we could suddenly lose all communications, blindside our military, and send our banking system back to the Stone Age. Yes, China’s military-controlled space program has been war-gaming those potential outcomes

China and Russia understand that no nation is perhaps more dependent upon its satellites, in near and geosynchronous orbit, for its survival than the United States. As such, for years they have been identifying which of our satellites to target and how best to take them offline, or to outright destroy them. These are issues I worked on for three years at the Pentagon while advising and assisting our ballistic missile defense program, and have continued to address since in the private sector. 

The fact is, China’s space program already has the capability to take out our satellites if needed.

As outlined last November in a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report to Congress: “China views space as a critical U.S. military and economic vulnerability and has fielded an array of direct-ascent, cyber, electromagnetic, and co-orbital counter-space weapons capable of targeting nearly every class of U.S. space asset.” The report also states, “It may be difficult for the United States to deter Beijing from using these weapons due to China’s belief the U.S. has a greater vulnerability in space.”

Another report, “Challenges to Security in Space,” released by the Defense Intelligence Agency last year, indicates that China has a massive upper hand in the militarization of space. So the logical question is: Why would it wait for the United States to catch up?

As a country that strategizes in terms of years or decades, China also has set its sights on establishing military bases on the moon. Its leaders evidently understand that humankind will continue to venture into space, perhaps seeking ways to permanently do so. And if that natural progression happens, the Chinese military would have command of the ultimate “high ground.”   

It’s logical, then, for the United States to guard now against allowing China’s military to take out the satellites that our nation depends upon for national and economic security.

If all this sounds far-fetched, remember that only a few months ago, none of us was worrying about a contagious virus placing the world under lockdown.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration. He is the author of “The Forty Days: A Vision of Christ’s Lost Weeks.”

Tags China Militarisation of space Pandemic Russia Satellite
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