Military Could Deploy Swarms Of Small Satellites As ‘Insurance’ For A Space War

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

A major strategic think-tank suggested that assuring U.S. victory in a space war requires the military to develop a network of small satellites capable of rapidly replacing destroyed space assets.

During a Wednesday discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, military experts and space industry representatives suggested the U.S. invest in the technology to launch swarms of small satellites into orbit as an insurance policy for larger military satellites in the event of a conflict in space.

Developing the capacity to rapidly launch small and cheap satellites would create a “layer of resiliency,” preventing any disruption to space assets by quickly replacing any destroyed satellites.

The current network of large U.S. military and intelligence satellites provide a major war-winning advantage over other countries, but “was really built in an uncontested environment,” Steve Nixon, vice president for strategic development for the satellite firm Stratolaunch, told SpaceNews. “It’s no longer resilient to threats and probably cannot operate through a contested military environment.”

The military relies on a network of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to provide precision navigation, communications, weather monitoring and to find intelligence assets. But those satellites could be vulnerable to Chinese and Russian weapons, according to General John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

“We believe that for just one percent of what we spend on national security space, you could add this layer, both in terms of satellites and launch systems,” Nixon said. “One percent is your insurance or deterrent capability that preserves the rest of your architecture. It seems like a really good deal.”

Nixon’s company is developing technology to launch satellites into space from small aircraft, which could be done much more rapidly than a full rocket launch.

Experts believe the threat against satellites has been obscured in today’s asymmetric warfare against terror cells that lack the ability to target U.S. space assets, according to a report published in August by the U.S. National Academies.

China successfully destroyed one of its own satellites in 2007 and likely tested a ground-based missile launch system to destroy orbiting objects in 2013.

“Despite world interest in avoiding militarization of space, potential adversaries have identified the use of space as an advantage for U.S. military forces, and are actively fielding systems to deny our use of space in a conflict,” Hyten wrote in a white paper published in July.

The Trump administration seems interested in maintaining space dominance. The Air Force requested $7.75 billion, a 20 percent increase, in their space budget from last year. The service could spend upwards of $10 billion on space operations from combined public and classified budgets last year, according to The Air Force Times.

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