The US military’s senior-most uniformed leader warned on Wednesday that the spark of the US’ next major war could be a sneak attack against US space assets - a critical vulnerability for US forces around the globe. The rhetoric has long been used to justify the creation of the Space Force by claiming China and Russia pose such a threat.
“Space as a domain, for example, is critical. There is an argument to be made, and many have made it in various unclassified writings, that a country might try to seek a first move or advantage, for example: to blind the United States. The next Pearl Harbor could happen in space, many people have written,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Brookings Institution during a Wednesday webcast.
The real Pearl Harbor incident was a sneak attack by Japanese air forces against the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The strike destroyed or disabled many of the ships moored at the base, including several battleships, and brought the US into World War II on the side of the Allied Powers.
“So if you took out, say, a series of satellites that were key to our communications systems, our command and control systems, or our navigation systems - precision, navigation, and timing systems - that could potentially have a devastating effect and could encourage some country to try to do something like an ‘electronic Pearl Harbor,’ with either electronic warfare systems or attack in space,” Milley added.
The possibility that US space assets could come under attack and that both the US military and US society at large would be paralyzed by such an attack has underpinned the dramatic expansion of military assets directed toward space, including establishment of the USSF in December 2019.
The Trump administration has cited incidents, including the testing of anti-satellite missiles (ASATs) by China and Russia, as provocative and threatening, demanding greater action be taken to protect US space assets. However, as Sputnik has reported, it was the Pentagon that pioneered a slew of space weaponry, including ASATs and the electromagnetic weapons Milley mentioned.
In one notorious test on July 9, 1962, called “Starfish Prime,” the US detonated a 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon 250 miles above Johnston Atoll - space begins just 62 miles up - which created an electromagnetic pulse that seriously damaged six satellites - one of them Soviet - and even electronics in Honolulu, Hawaii, 900 miles from the blast.
In May, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told Zvezda TV that Russia was “doing everything possible to prevent” the US and its NATO allies from “trying to turn space into a combat zone and battleground for possible clashes between our nations.”
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang has accused the US of trying to spark a new arms race that would “negatively affect global strategic stability.”
“So we recognize those threats, we recognize those vulnerabilities, and we are moving at a very, very quick pace and putting a lot of money into shoring up those defensive systems and redundancy, protecting them, hardening them, and also training,” Milley told the conservative think tank. “We are assuming that we are going to operate in an electromagnetic spectrum that’s degraded,” which he said is “almost a certainty.”
At an Air Force Association forum last month, Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the USSF’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), noted that for the past three years, the Space Force’s budget has grown, and he expects it to continue to do so in the future. In fiscal year 2021, the USSF got $15.4 billion from the Pentagon budget, but Thompson promised the service’s budget pitch for fiscal year 2022 would be “plussed up … significantly to address users’ needs.”