On September 16th, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper claimed that Russia and China have both weaponized space and turned it into a war zone, via “killer satellites” and “directed energy weapons”.
He came one step short of simply saying that Moscow and Beijing have built a Death Star.
“China and Russia, seek to erode our longstanding dominance in air power through long-range fires, anti-access/area-denial systems and other asymmetric capabilities designed to counter our strengths,” he said.
“Meanwhile, in space, Moscow and Beijing have turned a once peaceful arena into a warfighting domain. China and Russia have placed weapons on satellites and are developing directed energy weapons to exploit U.S. systems “and chip away at our military advantage,” he said.
Directed energy weapons use converted chemical or electrical energy and focus it on a target, resulting in physical damage. Weapons used by the U.S. military include systems that use high energy lasers.
A US Department of Defense official, Dr. Michael D. Griffin, under secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering said the following regarding energy weapons:
“We often think about directed energy as large lasers, and I’ve certainly been involved with some of that for decades, but we also have high power microwaves which can be very effective as what we call an electronics kill.
That sort of thing—it’s really hard to envision handling swarming attacks by purely kinetic means—so that’s one of the future threats that I think we face.”
According to DARPA’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) project briefing, “Enemy surface-to-air threats to manned and unmanned aircraft have become increasingly sophisticated, creating a need for rapid and effective response to this growing category of threats.
“High power lasers can provide a solution to this challenge, as they harness the speed and power of light to counter multiple threats. Laser weapon systems provide additional capability for offensive missions as well—adding precise targeting with low probability of collateral damage.”
In addition to space, Esper furthermore said that the United States’ adversaries also employ cyberspace (all about all sorts of space) to also attempt and erode Washington’s interests and dominance.
Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and some violent extremist groups also look to exploit cyberspace to undermine U.S. security without confronting American conventional overmatch.
“They do this all in an increasingly ‘gray zone’ of engagement that keeps us in a perpetual state of competition,” the secretary said.
Finally, he mentioned the military guidebook for the future, which is the National Defense Strategy.
The strategy calls on the military to divest legacy systems, reinvest savings in higher priority systems and make the tough choices required to break from the status quo and continue outpacing the competition, Esper said.
The fiscal 2020 Defense Department research and development budget is the largest in history, he said, and it concentrates on critical technologies such as hypersonic weapons, directed energy and autonomous systems.
“In the Air Force, specifically, we are modernizing our force for the 21st century with aircraft such as the B-21, the X-37 and the Next Generation Air Dominance platform,” Esper said. “Equally important, we are transforming the way we fight through the implementation of novel concepts such as Dynamic Force Employment, which provides scalable options to employ the joint force while preserving our capabilities for major combat.”
In order to preserve US advantage, it is necessary for the US armed forces to be able to seamlessly exchanged information among all domains.
“The Department of the Air Force is leading on this front with the advancement of Joint All-Domain Command and Control,” Esper said.
This concept is part of the development of a Joint Warfighting concept that will drive transition to all-domain operations, he said.
“For these breakthroughs to succeed in any future conflict … we must maintain superiority in the ultimate high ground — space,” Esper said.
The military stood up U.S. Space Command a year ago, and Congress created the U.S. Space Force. The command is charged with operations and the USSF looks to man, train and equip the force.
It has a budget request, and its first doctrine called “Spacepower.”
Cyberwar is a distinct possibility and DOD is looking to the department’s Digital Modernization Strategy to improve our capabilities and policies, Esper underlined.
The military is working on game-changing technologies, such as artificial intelligence and 5G, and looks to move the fight into the cloud.
The Air Force is on the leading edge of DOD efforts to harness the power of artificial intelligence. “In collaboration with academia and industry, the Air Force’s AI Accelerator program is able to rapidly prototype cutting-edge innovation,” Esper said.
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