Report Warns on Threats to US Space Systems

Screenshot from CSIS's Space Assessment 2018 report.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies Friday released a report calling on officials to urgently pay attention to threats against US space systems and ground stations.

The report, Space Assessment 2018, reviews open-source information on the counterspace activities of other countries, especially China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, as well as examining the counterspace activities of some other countries and of some non-state actors.

China, the report notes is a “rising space power that is progressing steadily in the development and testing” of anti-satellite systems using weapons launched to intercept a satellite or attacking the target from orbit, as well as having advanced jamming, cyberattack, and other capabilities “that can threaten a variety of US space systems.”

Although Russian space systems have deteriorated since the fall of the Soviet Union, that country is now modernizing its space capabilities, according to the report, “and has revived or developed new counterspace weapons of nearly all types.”

North Korea and Iran are behind Russian and Chinese capabilities, the report says, but “each is making quick progress thanks to technology transfers from other countries and their own ballistic missile programs. “

The report says that the main North Korean and Iranian threat seems to be from such nonkinetic forms of attack as jamming and cyber attacks—as opposed to kinetic weapons such as missiles—which generally are less expensive, require a lower degree of technological sophistication, “and are already within the reach of some non-space actors as well.”

The report says deterrence against nonkinetic weapons can be difficult because they can be harder to detect and attribute and their effects can be reversible.

Saying it is too easy to take space capabilities for granted, the report says “growing threats against US space systems and the ground stations that support them require immediate attention and action from policymakers.”