What’s New: A thoughtful, as usual, opinion piece by Brian Chow. He mentions how folks in Space Force are talking about a Space Pearl Harbor and how to prepare.
Why It’s Important: Space, especially GPS and space-based PNT, is far more critical to the US than it is for our adversaries.
- We have the ability to make space-based PNT a much less attractive target by building (relatively) inexpensive complementary and backup systems on the ground.
- This seems to us to be a great way to “deter and defend.”
- Making GPS a less attractive target does not seem to be one of Space Force’s or DOD’s goals.
What Else to Know: We like the question posed in the 2001 Rumsfeld report:
- Whether the U.S. will be wise enough to act responsibly and soon enough to reduce U.S. space vulnerability. Or whether, as in the past, a disabling attack against the country and its people—a ‘Space Pearl Harbor’—will be the only event able to galvanize the nation and cause the U.S. Government to act.
In 2007, China succeeded in an anti-satellite (ASAT) test that alerted the U.S. about the broad vulnerability of its satellites. Since then, the Pentagon has focused on developing resilient solutions to space threats of the 2030s and beyond, while neglecting the rendezvous spacecraft threat that could result in a Space Pearl Harbor in the 2020s. This article proposes a strategy for the Pentagon to improve its current public discourse for deterring this catastrophic attack.
In 2008, China started testing dual-use spacecraft capable of rendezvous and proximity operations. By January 2022, Beijing had successfully docked a rendezvous spacecraft with its own dead satellite in a geosynchronous orbit and maneuvered it to a higher orbit, less than two years behind the U.S. doing the same. The combination of China’s rendezvous and robotic advances and rapid small-satellite manufacturing capability could yield about 200 rendezvous spacecraft capable of forcibly docking and disabling U.S. critical satellites as early as 2026; this army of agile spacecraft is well suited to serve as a “shock and awe” precursor to its military campaign to seize Taiwan.
Back in 2001, the Rumsfeld Commission issued a prescient warning: “Whether the U.S. will be wise enough to act responsibly and soon enough to reduce U.S. space vulnerability. Or whether, as in the past, a disabling attack against the country and its people—a ‘Space Pearl Harbor’—will be the only event able to galvanize the nation and cause the U.S. Government to act.”
Now that such an attack could turn the free world into a hellscape under the thumb of an authoritarian regime in a few years, how well has the Pentagon assured the U.S. public, as well as the international public, that the U.S. will have the capability in time to deter and defend against this fateful assault?