'The biggest threat' in space comes from China

“The biggest threat” in space comes from China


Space has “fundamentally transformed” in a few years, under the effect of an exponential arms race, estimated an American general in Munich, pointing to China as the “greatest threat to counter, in front of Russia. 

“We see a whole range of weapons produced by our strategic adversaries”, explained to three media – including AFP – General Bradley Chance Saltzman, head of space operations within the Air Force. American. “The biggest 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 fundamentally changed. Our way of operating there must evolve, mainly because of the range of weapons that China and Russia have tried and sometimes used, ”he insisted, pointing to directed energy weapons, anti-satellite missiles and other orbital interceptions. .

His remarks, rather expected in view of the military space activities of the great powers, resonate all the more after the tense meeting, on Saturday in the German city, between the heads of American and Chinese diplomacy.&nbsp ;

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

Wang for his part denounced the “excessive use of force” by Washington.

“Essential functions”

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

And at the end of 2021, Russia pulverized one of its own satellites with a missile launched from Earth. A show of force described then as an “irresponsible act” by the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.

And in fact, the satellites potentially armed with bombs and the spaceships with laser fire are no longer just science fiction. “Our adversaries take advantage of space to aim (us) and extend the range of their weapons,” Gen. Saltzman noted. 

Countries are increasingly secretive 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 that the Russia and China had the potential to overtake the United States.

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

“Responsible behavior”

“I will always ensure that I preserve the capabilities of essential functions, such as national command and control or nuclear command and control,” warned the general.

The conflict in Ukraine has also recalled the fundamental importance of space in the war of today and a fortiori that of tomorrow. “Space is important in modern combat,” notes the senior American officer. “You can attack space without going there, via cyber networks and other vectors”.

This military overactivity, accompanied by an equally exponential commercial proliferation, poses the problem of collateral damage, destructive debris and, more broadly, an international code of conduct.

General Saltzman has never had 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,” explained the soldier. “There is a good way to behave, which does not generate debris, which does not interfere, which maintains safe distances, with communication in the event of problems”, he pointed out. < /p>

Because space is getting “more and more congested”. Hence the need for normative rules, via new international treaties, existing texts no longer responding to technological developments.

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

And to add: “if we can operate with a clear understanding of what the standards are, we will be much safer”.