The US Air Force (USAF) is looking for ways to develop space defence and protect satellites from attack by foreign powers. GPS, remote sensing, communications and other tech used by the military are extensively reliant on satellites in orbit, which could also come under threat.
"There's nothing we do today, there's not a sailor, soldier, or marine that operates in their domain that isn't using space capabilities to conduct their mission," said General John W "Jay" Raymond, commander of Air Force (AFSPC) in an interview with Popular Mechanics.
These space capabilities include everything from communications to GPS-based location services and even a way to set drop zones and call in air strikes. The Space Command has up to 80 satellites to keep these systems running. Google Maps is also maintained by the AFSPC and has between 24 and 33 satellites dedicated to it.
In 2007, the Chinese were reportedly able to shoot a Chinese satellite out of orbit using a missile fired from the ground. The Russians have also been researching space defence technology since the 1980s, as such the threat of losing a satellite to a potential adversary is real and present, notes the article.
While other countries are catching up, the US does not intend to lose its domination of space that it has held for over 50 years. "Space is foundational to our way of war," General Jay said, "and it's foundational to our way of life."
The AFSPC has also been working closely with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the agencies are reportedly working together to develop a fleet of spacecraft by 2030, which could detect, deter, and if needed even destroy threats.
"I'm not going to talk about that," General Jay said, when asked whether the US intended to hold ordnance in space for defensive or offensive missions. However, the Popular Mechanics report speculated the possibility of a space-based missile or rocket system is either in the works or already in orbit.
Defending US satellites from an attack is something that the AFSPC is concerned with and it is reportedly "working on being able to protect and defend capabilities (US satellites and space assets) from everything from low-end reversible jamming all the way up to the higher-end kinetic activities," said General Jay.
While that might seem like the AFSPC is preparing for war, its work as "space traffic control" is reported to be just as important. "We act as the space traffic control for the world," said General Jay. "It's not in anybody's best interest to have large debris fields."
Satellite collisions can result in a chain reaction that could kick off a field of swirling junk that could be just as bad as a missile striking a US satellite.
That makes the mission of the Space Command a balance between handling defence from space and making sure the planet's orbital plane remains congestion free by acting as the world's "orbital police".
Earlier, Daniel Coats, director of National Intelligence, in a congressional testimony on worldwide threat assessment had noted that "Both [Russia and China] will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness."
There have been several undisclosed launches over the last few years that fuel speculation on whether the US is working on space-based defence. The most recent one was reported in October when SpaceX was preparing to launch "Zuma" for a "government customer". Another launch that is still shrouded in mystery is the US Air Force's secret X-37B space plane that spends years in orbit and then lands in secret, only to take off again.