Part 1 of 2 Parts
Nuclear deterrence depends on being able to detect the launch of nuclear missiles from an enemy as quickly as possible. Long range radar can provide some warning but the best detection system depends on satellites. The military also expects to rely on satellites for global command, control, and communication to coordinate military activities. Analysts say that these two critical satellite systems are vulnerable in the short term.
A few weeks ago, the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and the MITRE Corporation distributed a report that said, “when it comes to nuclear modernization, NC3 [nuclear command, control and communications] is the least expensive, yet perhaps the most critical.” Regardless of the number of nuclear warheads possessed by the U.S. as compared to the nuclear arsenals of Russia and China, if our military satellites are destroyed, we would be deaf, dumb and blind. This would not be of any assistance in convincing an enemy that we have a functional system of nuclear deterrence.
The report also says that the, “most disturbing and profound [vulnerability] is the end of space as a sanctuary domain – space is likely to be a battleground, with space assets vulnerable to attack.” A year ago, U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson visited the Mitched Institute. At that time she commented that the big Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites that provide early warning on missile launches are vulnerable to electronic and kinetic attacks. Air Force Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) which are critical for military communications in a nuclear-disrupted environment are also vulnerable.
The SBIRS and AEHF satellites constellation consist of only six satellites each. They are big as school buses and very expensive at almost two billion dollars each. New versions of both of these types of satellites are in the planning stages and are scheduled to be launched around 2030. This means that the current constellations of SBIRSs and AEHFs must be protected from kinetic and electronic attacks for the next decade.
In 2007, China successfully tested its ground-based direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT). China also launched a missile to simulate an ASAT flight profile that flew almost to geosynchronous orbit. This is worrying to the U.S. because the U.S. SBIRS and AEHF satellites constellation are in geosynchronous orbit.
Just this week, India made a surprise launch of an ASAT that successfully destroyed an Indian satellite. It was a direct kill kinetic weapon that collided with the target satellite, causing it to disintegrate. Such actions increase the orbital debris field.
In the early 2020s, Russia, China, the U.S. and the E.U. will be launching orbital robots for peaceful missions that include removing space debris from orbit and maintaining satellites. The problem with this is that these maintenance satellites could also be used to rendezvous with a U.S. military satellite and disable or destroy it. So the U.S. must have ways to protect its military satellite constellations from such automated maintenance systems.
Please read Part 2
U.S. Military Satellites Are Vulnerable To Attack - Part 1 of 2 Parts
Part 1 of 2 Parts