Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, head of US Strategic Command, says that the chief concern from China’s anti-satellite test is the debris. He told members of the House Armed Services Committee last week that an ASAT test is not unprecedented—the US and Russia have both run such tests, but with more care. Cartwright explained: “When we tested in 1985, we tested at the lower end of what is considered the low Earth orbit belt. … It took over 20 years for that debris to come down out of space and burn up in the atmosphere. The recent test [by Beijing] was in the upper area of the low Earth orbit belt. That means that material, over the next 20-plus years, will have to migrate down through all of the … appropriate users of the low Earth orbit regime.” There now is great concern for the International Space Station and all the LEO satellites, such that STRATCOM will “have to make significant adjustments” to mitigate collisions—or “conjunction opportunities”—between debris and viable spacecraft, either in orbit or transiting the LEO regime.
While some of the Air Force's newly announced changes will happen quickly, it may take most of Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin's tenure in the job to accomplish the rest, he said in a Brookings Institution event Feb. 28.