The biggest threat in space comes from China

“The biggest threat” in space comes from China

An American general in Munich estimated that space had “fundamentally changed” in just a few years under the influence of an exponential arms race, describing China as the “greatest threat” to be countered, ahead of Russia.

• Also read: The China Ball incident “must never happen again,” says Blinken

• Also read: China intentionally interfered in the 2021 election, secret documents say

• Also read: Mysterious disappearance of a prominent businessman in China

“We see a whole range of weapons being produced by our strategic adversaries,” General Bradley Chance Saltzman, head of space operations within the US Air Force, told three media outlets including AFP. “The greatest threat comes from the People’s Republic of China, but also from Russia,” he said on Saturday evening on the sidelines of the security conference in Munich.

“Space as a contested domain has changed fundamentally. Our way of operating there needs to evolve, largely because of the range of weapons that China and Russia have tried and sometimes used,” he stressed, pointing to directed energy weapons, anti-satellite missiles and other orbital intercepts. .

In view of the military space activities of the great powers, his comments, which are more likely to be expected, sound all the more like the tense meeting between the heads of American and Chinese diplomacy on Saturday in the German city.

Antony Blinken insisted to Wang Yi that the Chinese balloon affair, which flew over American territory for several days before being shot down, was an “irresponsible act that must never happen again.”

For his part, Wang denounced Washington’s “excessive use of force”.

“Important functions”

The arms race in space is nothing new. As early as 1985, the Pentagon had used a missile in a test to destroy a satellite. Since then, its competitors have proven they have the same skills: China did it in 2007, India in 2019.

And in late 2021, Russia pulverized one of its own satellites with a rocket launched from Earth. A violent demonstration that NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg described as an “irresponsible act” at the time.

And indeed, potentially bomb-armed satellites and laser-firing spacecraft are no longer just science fiction. “Our opponents are using space to target (at us) and extend the range of their weapons,” General Saltzman observed.

Countries are increasingly silent about their military activities in space, but the race is such that in 2019, the year the Pentagon launched its Space Force, a senior US official believed Russia and China had the potential to to overtake states.

General Saltzman dismisses the idea that Washington is late today. But combat has evolved from the idea of ​​destroying satellites with missiles or kamikaze satellites to finding ways to damage them with powerful laser or microwave weapons.

“Responsible action”

“I will always be careful to maintain the capabilities of essential functions such as national command and control or nuclear command and control,” the general warned.

The conflict in Ukraine has also served as a reminder of the fundamental importance of space for today’s war, and even more so for tomorrow’s war. “Space is important in modern combat,” notes the senior American officer. “They can attack space without going there, through cyber networks and other vectors.”

This military over-activity, accompanied by an equally exponential commercial spread, raises the issue of collateral damage, destructive debris and, more broadly, an international code of conduct.

General Saltzman has never held a conversation with his Chinese and Russian counterparts, his entourage told AFP. He spoke in Munich with the Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram and took part in a round table.

“We talked about responsible behavior,” the soldier explained. “There’s a good way to behave that doesn’t create debris, that doesn’t disturb, that respects safe distances, when communicating in case of problems,” he noted.

Because space will inevitably “become narrower and narrower”. Hence the need for normative rules on new international treaties, with existing texts no longer responsive to technological developments.

“We need a safe, stable, secure and sustainable space environment,” the officer concluded. “Whatever the mechanisms (…), if you can’t define that kind of behavior, you can’t blame people for it”.

And to add: “If we can work with a clear understanding of the standards, we are much safer”.