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Pentagon leaders discuss China’s space ambitions in classified meeting

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WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders convened a key advisory group this week to discuss China and Russia’s advances in space and the U.S. military’s efforts to protect and retain access to its assets in orbit.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said the classified meetings on Sept. 6-7, announced in an official notice as discussions of potential space-based weapons development by adversarial nations, were also focused on China’s growing reliance on space for intelligence, data relay. and communications.

Like the United States, Kahl said at the Sept. 7 defense press conference in Arlington, Va., that China is “double-dipping” on using space for warfare.

“It’s hard to treat China as the raving threat and not have a conversation about space,” he said. “It’s one of the areas where the competition is fierce and the stakes are the highest.”

The meeting follows China’s demonstration last year of a hypersonic vehicle and fractional orbital bombardment system, a capability that can remain in orbit as long as a user determines, then de-orbit as part of its flight path. The technology, which the Soviet Union first demonstrated in 1969, followed by China in the 1970s, is difficult for early warning systems to track.

While many details of the 2021 Chinese protest are unclear, Lt. Gen. Chance Saltzman, the Biden administration candidate for the head of the Space Forcecalled the system last year “very cutting-edge technology.”

Kahl said the FOBS demonstration raised key strategic questions about whether U.S. early warning systems could be evaded by this type of technology.

“In our case, we don’t believe that’s the case,” he said. “We believe there is nothing China has developed that undermines the foundation of our nuclear deterrent, for example.”

Yet, according to Kahl, the United States must continue to invest in its space-based missile warning and tracking systems. Space Force plans to spend $24.5 billion over next five years to improve these skills. Its fiscal year 2023 budget included $3.4 billion to continue development of next-generation airborne persistent infrared satellites and ground systems and $1.2 billion for satellites to track hypersonic missiles, which can travel at speeds greater than Mach 5.

Kahl declined to provide details on how the fiscal year 2024 budget would prioritize these systems, but he said concerns about adversarial US advances in hypersonic and ballistic missile technology are driving the department’s investment strategy in this area.

“We need missile warning, missile tracking and integrated air and missile defense that takes all of these into account. [developments]that is why we are making significant investments – not just in things like updating our interceptors for ballistic missiles or cruise missile defense, but also significant investments in space missile warning and tracking” , did he declare.