WASHINGTON — Technology designed to give nations an edge in space is already in use on Earth, underscoring the rapid developments of operational weaponry the Pentagon must counter and surpass.
Developments are making the space environment “more dynamic and uncertain—a trend that is likely to continue in the coming years,” a just-completed study says.
“In the last year, more states are considering the development of offensive and defensive counter-space capabilities to protect space systems from attacks,” according to Space Threat Assessment 2020. “Nations are moving to reorganize their national security space enterprise, as the United States did in 2019, to better address the growing uncertainty and threats in the space domain.”
The study was conducted and released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Aerospace Security Project.
“Electronic counter-space weapons continue to proliferate at a rapid pace in both how they are used and who is using them. Satellite jamming and spoofing devices are becoming part of the every-day arsenal for countries that want to operate in the gray zone. The jamming and spoofing of satellites has become somewhat common, and without strong repercussions these adverse activities could gradually become normalized,” the report says.
China and Russia are the leaders in the development of the space and counter space hardware and abilities, with nations like North Korea and Iran having much more targeted, limited capabilities. Several nations more friendly to the U.S — India, German, France and Israel — also show steady development, the report says.
“The situation we confront today was inevitable,” the report says. “Capability is always met with counter-capability.”
On Wednesday, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and Chief of Space Operations General John “Jay” Raymond plan to discuss the current status of the Space Force and its operational priorities over the next year at a virtual event hosted by the Space Foundation.
Among the use of new technology in real-time:
China has deployed military-grade truck-mounted jamming equipment in its buildup of military installations in the man-made islands in the South China Sea. It also is increasing development, testing, and fielding of non-kinetic physical and electronic counter-space weapons, such as lasers, the report says.
“The operational deployment of lasers capable of dazzling or blinding U.S. satellites seems imminent if it has not occurred already. Furthermore, China is growing bolder with its electronic jamming and spoofing capabilities and may be using these technologies to hide activities on its own coast or in the South China Sea,” the report says. It may also use it even to deter protests in Hong Kong, the report says.
Russia has become “one of the world’s greatest perpetrators of electronic counter-space warfare,” jamming and spoofing signals in conflict zones, nearby territories, and within its own borders. “Although difficult to verify, Russia is also almost certainly capable of targeting satellites and associated ground stations through vulnerable computer networks,” the report says.
Iran’s space capabilities are relatively minimal and need to acquire technology and resources from Russia or China. However, “Iran has growing electronic and cyber counter-space capabilities and continues to demonstrate successful jamming and hacking attacks against foreign governments and civilian systems,” the report says.
North Korea has demonstrated growing capabilities in electronic and cybe and improving its electronic warfare capabilities, as demonstrated in continued GPS jamming and spoofing operations, and is continuing to use cyberattacks against a variety of targets worldwide, the report said.
Many parts of the world have become test grounds, the report says.
Last year civil and commercial marine GPS users reported the consistent loss of GPS signal in the Mediterranean Sea, from the coast of Libya to Greece and Egypt’s Suez Canal. The increased instances of GPS jamming prompted captains to suppress their automatic identification system data and switch to receive only, which led to a decrease in situational awareness on the sea, the report says.
And then there is the journey of the Basle Express, a cargo ship outfitted with GPS receivers that left Hamburg, Germany on a research mission equipped with receivers designed to pick up on e levels of jamming and spoofing in different areas of the world.
While traveling around Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, the ship’s crew detected strong interference “at some of the world’s largest seaports, including Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and less often, on the open sea,” the report says.