The United States has long relied on satellites to help the grunts on the ground win fights. Whether it’s enabling reliable communications, guiding weapons, or even telling troops just where in the world they are (though Carmen Sandiego’s precise location still eludes us), satellites play an essential role.
It’s a huge advantage, to put it mildly. Space is the ultimate high ground in warfare today, and America has controlled it. Now, that control may be at risk. According to a report by the Washington Free Beacon, both Communist China and Russia are close to being able to knock out these satellites, which would leave American troops blind, lost, and unable to guide weapons onto targets.
This assessment of Chinese and Russian technologies comes from the Joint Staff intelligence directorate, also known as J-2. This is the entity responsible for providing the Joint Chiefs of Staff information about the capabilities of other countries and non-state actors. The warning from the J-2 directorate mirrors a similar alarm from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last May.
“Ten years after China intercepted one of its own satellites in low-earth orbit, its ground-launched ASAT missiles might be nearing operational service within the [People’s Liberation Army],” Coats told Congress.
The United States did test the ASM-135 ASAT missile, an anti-satellite weapon system launched from F-15 Eagles, in the 1980s, but it was canceled after one test due to protests and other political reasons. In 2008, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) destroyed a failed satellite using a RIM-161 Standard SM-3 missile.
The satellites that are vulnerable to the Russian and Chinese systems orbit anywhere from 100 to 1,242 miles above the surface of the earth. Russia’s anti-satellite capabilities include missiles used by the S-300, S-400, and S-500 air-defense systems, while China has at least four systems, two of which are reportedly road-mobile.