China is developing anti-satellite missiles and other exotic weapons that can destroy or disrupt vital U.S. military and commercial communications, space warfare experts told Congress on Tuesday. “The current and evolving counterpace threat posed by China to U.S. military operations in the Asia Pacific theater and outside is extremely serious,” said Ashley J. Tellis, a former State Department and National Security Council strategic specialist. “And the threat ranks on par with the dangers posed by Chinese offensive cyber operations to the United States more generally,” said Tellis, now with the Carnegie Endowment. China’s growing space warfare capabilities were the subject of a hearing at the House Armed Services joint subcommittees on strategic forces and seapower. Robert L. Butterworth, a former chief of strategic planning at Air Force Space Command, said China’s growing space weapons include cyber weapons, electronic jammers, laser, both high- and low-earth orbit ASAT missiles, and recently the launch of small maneuvering satellites capable of attacking or grabbing U.S. satellites. China’s military is preparing for a future military conflict with the United States, and as a result its counterspace weaponry is being developed to limit U.S. joint warfighting that currently is very reliant on satellites for communications and the maneuvering forces over long distances, Butterworth said. “For the near term, at least, I think [China] will probably favor systems to achieve mission kill by attacking U.S. satellites directly, either from orbit or on the ground,” said Butterworth, now head of the consulting firm Aries Analytics. As part of preparations for future space warfare, China is seeking to determine what U.S. satellites to kill, and in the future may covertly place sensors in space near key U.S. strategic satellites to assist in targeting for future attacks, he added.
Butterworth said many U.S. war plans currently assume military satellites will be functioning normally in a future conflict. He said war planners must now prepare for the loss of satellites as Chinese space weaponry advances. China and the United States are engaged in a “long term military competition,” and China regards neutralizing U.S. satellites as a key warfighting priority, he said. To counter the anti-satellite threat “will require real capabilities” that will require high financial costs, he said. The Chinese space threat “won’t be moderated by proselytizing space norms, or deterrence by demarche, or a code of conduct for good guys in space,” Butterworth said. War with China is not inevitable, but stepping up efforts to counter China’s space warfare capabilities militarily would help ensure China is dissuaded from conducting attacks in space, he added. Michael Krepon, a strategic analyst with the Stimson Center, said he regards the space debris caused by China’s 2007 ASAT test as a major concern regarding space warfare. Krepon said he opposes developing dedicated space weapons to counter the Chinese space threat because current capabilities, like anti-missile defenses, have some space warfare capabilities. Krepon said he backs a “multilayered approach” to the threat combining strategic deterrence of space attacks, with adding more and smaller satellites that are difficult to target and working out an international code of conduct with China and other space-faring nations for space. More