China has become increasingly reliant on space to win a major conflict with the United States, and it is aggressively launching and gaining through spying the counterspace capabilities needed to do so, according to a new Defense Intelligence Agency space security report released Tuesday. .
In the 80-page report, DIA reports the gains in satellite operations and human spaceflight made by China and Russia, and to a lesser extent North Korea and Iran, over the past year.
The DIA found that “with the increase in the capabilities of China and Russia in the field of space and counterspace, the two countries are working to integrate space scenarios into their military exercises.”
But the report makes it clear that China’s activities are of most concern to the United States, not only because of the country’s rapid growth in space — doubling the number of ISR satellites in space to 250 since 2018 — but also because of its rapid acquisition and pursuit of space combat capabilities.
DIA has found that the PLA is rapidly modernizing through the “overt and covert” acquisition of foreign and counterspace technologies. “China uses traditional technical espionage and electronic espionage techniques as well as network of open source collection, technology transfer organizations, and exploitation of foreign scientists.”
“The People’s Liberation Army may see counterspace operations as a means of deterring and countering US interference during a regional military conflict,” the Defense Intelligence Agency wrote. “China claimed that destroying or seizing satellites and other sensors” would make it difficult for the United States and allied militaries to use precision-guided weapons. ”
DIA also found that China “may be developing jammers dedicated to targeting SAR, including on board military reconnaissance platforms,” referring to advanced synthetic aperture radar systems that allow clear images to be captured even at night or during bad weather.
These jamming devices will be essential to prevent the US and US commercial satellite companies from maintaining a clear image over Taiwan, as they did in Ukraine.
“It is highly likely that interference with SAR satellites will protect terrestrial assets by preventing imagery and targeting in any potential conflict involving the United States or its allies,” DIA said. She noted that Chinese developments in the field of jamming likely also include the ability to interfere with satellite communications “over a range of frequency bands, including high-frequency communications protected by the military.”
In the seven weeks since the war began, while Russia has conducted counter-space operations against Ukraine — including jamming — it has also cut its lines of communication, leaving Russian ground units without direction or logistical support.
Many of their precision-guided munitions have failed, forcing Russian aircraft to rely on dumb bombs. By late March, when Russia was conducting 300 sorties a day, at least 20 percent — and perhaps as much as 60 percent — of its air-launched missiles were down, forcing planes back to base with munitions still attached to their wings, A senior defense official told reporters.
Ukraine was resilient in part because of the commercial satellite companies that provided Ukraine with the ability to fend off Russian cyberwar and disinformation campaigns. Satellite experts warned at a space symposium last week that this is something China is watching closely and likely won’t have much advantage in the fight for Taiwan.
“The Chinese are leaning back and taking notes,” said HawkEye 360 Board Member Lynne Wright, former deputy director of Naval Intelligence and Director of Naval Intelligence Activity. Commercial satellite company Hawkeye 360 helped isolate the location of Russian jammers by providing continuous monitoring for reports of interference. Wright said that China has also watched Russia lose the information war, and “you should expect the Chinese to do a much better job. They will have a faster cycle rate.”
That means the United States has to adapt quickly, too, said Todd Harrison, director of the Space Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The proliferation of satellites “is changing the way we fight and the way the world can see the fight, to be able to see what’s happening on the battlefield. It changes that deterrence arithmetic,” Harrison said. It changes the way countries like China might think about Taiwan. And I think we have to start adapting.”
Wright said that in a potential conflict over Taiwan, or in the South China Sea, there would be no advantage to US military and commercial satellite companies agreeing to protect and not disclose information to the public about Ukrainian military operations.
Instead, Wright warned, US and partner forces are likely to be publicly tracked by satellite-enabled social media that supports China.
In a possible battle with China, Wright said, there would be “far fewer people on our side, in the West, on the side of the democracies in the battle of China.” Capacity will continue to improve. And so some of our air forces are going to be in danger.”