A ship in the Pacific Ocean carrying a high-power laser takes aim at a U.S. spy satellite, blinding its sensors and denying the United States critical eyes in the sky.
This is one scenario that military officials and civilian leaders fear could lead to escalation and wider conflict as rival nations like China and Russia step up development and deployments of anti-satellite weapons.
If a satellite came under attack, depending on the circumstances, “the appropriate measures can be taken,” said Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of U.S. Space Command.
The space battlefield is not science fiction and anti-satellite weapons are going to be a reality in future armed conflicts, Shaw said at the recent 36th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
U.S. Space Command is responsible for military operations in the space domain, which starts at the Kármán line, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the Earth’s surface. This puts Space Command in charge of protecting U.S. satellites from attacks and figuring out how to respond if hostile acts do occur.
Military space assets like satellites and ground systems typically have been considered “support” equipment that provide valuable services such as communications, navigation data and early warning of missile launches. But as the Pentagon has grown increasingly dependent on space, satellites are becoming strategic assets and coveted targets for adversaries.
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of space-based systems to national security,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in a keynote speech at the symposium.