China has launched 150 satellites so far this year to bring its total to 650 and is expected to develop an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon targeting geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) systems, a top Pentagon official said on Dec. 6.

“China has the operational direct ascent ASAT missile intended to target low Earth orbit satellites, and the intelligence community assesses that China probably intends to develop a similar system to target satellites up to geosynchronous Earth orbit,” Travis Langster, the principal director of DoD Space Policy, told an Atlantic Council forum on U.S. preparation for future space contingencies.

“China has extensive electronic wafare capabilities intended to deny satellite communications, radar systems, and GPS navigation, and it’s developing laser weapons to dazzle sensors and potentially destroy satellite components,” Langster said. “China has also launched an experimental satellite with robotic arm technology which could be used for grappling other satellites.”

Over the last decade, China has ramped up its space program, at least in part to allow the nation to use satellites for military purposes.

In that time, China has doubled its launches per year and its satellites in orbit, “launching over 150 satellites in 2022 alone, bringing China’s total to over 650,” Langster said. “Among these many satellites are advanced communications systems able to transmit large amounts of data; improved positioning, navigation, and timing capabilities; and increasingly sophisticated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [ISR] technologies; and techniques improving what China can collect from space.”

“As the 2022 NDS [National Defense Strategy] puts it, increasingly sophisticated and proliferated space-based ISR networks and improved command and control systems have greatly improved the precision and accuracy of missile systems the PRC [People’s Republic of China] will employ to deter and counter U.S. forward presence and operations, especially in the western Pacific region,” Langster said. “China has been writing about strategic integrated deterrence since at least 2001, but as the PLA’s [People’s Liberation Army’s] conventional forces grow and modernize, the PLA is increasingly integrated in space, counterspace, cyber and electronic warfare capabilities in support of conventional joint operations to include long range fires to challenge our ability to project power.”

Space industry analysts have said that the United States is in a new Cold War era in space (Defense Daily, Nov. 2, 2021).

Russia is also a top concern. Last Nov. 15, Russia launched a Nudol direct ascent ASAT missile against a defunct Russian satellite–a test that created 1,500 pieces of trackable debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller debris. As a result, U.S. Space Force called on industry to develop new sensors to track that debris (Defense Daily, Nov. 29, 2021).

Sam Visner, a technical fellow at MITRE Corporation, has said that China worries him more than Russia because of China’s integrated, global strategic approach and how it could extend to space. Visner believes China is working to make its surveillance state global. China sees cybersecurity as the protection from outside information, versus protecting information, he said.

John Huth, chief of the Office of Space and Counterspace for the Defense Intelligence Agency, has stressed China’s focus on information, cyber and space. He pointed to China’s creation of the Strategic Support Force in 2015 as the fifth branch of the military, centralizing space, cyber, and electronic warfare capabilities.

Some differences between the Cold War and the present appear to be the lack of some consensus on national “red line” behavior today and the lack of knowledge of a potential adversary’s intent and of machine-to-machine intent.