The US Needs to Take Action to Deter Near-Peer Rivals in Space
Earlier this June, the Department of Defense released the unclassified summary of its 2020 Defense Space Strategy, which openly designates space as a “distinct warfighting domain,” a distinction that only recently gained national policy acceptance. With this document, the DoD now has the authorization to begin preparing to deter potential space adversaries, and should deterrence fail, to win a conflict that extends into space.
This important update to the near-decade-old National Security Space Strategy follows an April announcement by U.S. Space Command that Russia conducted a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile test that is purportedly capable of destroying low-Earth orbit satellites. This test stands in stark contrast to Russia’s frequent claims that it has tried to prevent an arms race and avoided introducing weapons into space.
Unlike its 2011 predecessor, the 2020 Defense Space Strategy explicitly calls out Russia and China as representing the “greatest strategic threat due to their development, testing, and deployment of counterspace capabilities.”
The addition of the Russian threat is a crucial distinction. In the last decade, Russia has reactivated some of its Soviet-era counter-space weapons programs. Meanwhile, China has continued to refine and develop its own counter-space capabilities.
Russia is reportedly developing three DA-ASAT systems that could target low-earth orbit assets: Nudol, a ground-launched ballistic missile; Kontakt, an air-launched interceptor; and the S-500, the latest iteration of its exoatmospheric ballistic missile defense system. At this point in time, none are believed to be fully operational.