Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 16 February 2024


America’s Space War Vulnerability

Maybe Mike Turner’s national-security threat warning will awaken a complacent Washington, D.C.

Updated Feb. 15, 2024 7:01 pm ET

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) PHOTO: POOL/REUTERS

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner created a stir in Washington this week when he warned of a new security threat, and credit the Ohio Republican for doing a public service. America is sleepwalking into a new age of military and homeland vulnerability, and political leaders need to tell the public the uncomfortable truth.


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Biden Administration leaks to the press say the threat concerns a Russian program that would target U.S. satellites, perhaps with a nuclear explosion. Satellites are vital to nearly every aspect of modern American life and commerce, as well as national defense. Destroying those would send the U.S. into a communications blackout with untold damage.

Other leaders were quick to downplay or dismiss the threat, saying it’s not imminent and there’s no need to start building a shelter or laying in the canned goods. House Speaker Mike Johnson said “we just want to assure everyone: Steady hands are at the wheel, we’re working on it, and there’s no need for alarm.” Whose steady hands is he talking about—81-year-old President Biden’s, or those in the currently dysfunctional House?

Some GOP critics say Mr. Turner is sounding an alarm about Russia to drum up more support in Congress to pass the weapons package for Ukraine. But the Russian threat Mr. Turner cites either exists or it doesn’t. He asked President Biden to declassify information on the threat so the public can judge for itself, and that’s a good idea. That would be more reassuring than relying on those who told us that the Afghan government wouldn’t fall if the U.S. withdrew its troops from the country.

All the more so because the military threat in space is real and growing. Russia and China are working hard to develop space weapons. A Pentagon official told Congress last year that “Russia has fielded several ground-based lasers that can blind satellite sensors and has a wide range of ground-based electronic warfare systems that can counter the Global Positioning System,” satellite communications, radars, and space-enabled weapons guidance.

China “has already fielded ground-based counterspace weapons, including electronic warfare systems, directed energy weapons, and direct-ascent (DA) anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles designed to disrupt, damage, and destroy U.S. satellites,” the same Pentagon official told Congress last year.

Nina Armagno, a U.S. Space Force official, told a Sydney conference in 2022 that “the progress they’ve made has been stunning, stunningly fast.”

That sounds as if an alarm is justified, yet the Biden Administration thinks this can all be handled with U.S. restraint and arms control. In 2022 Vice President Kamala Harris announced a unilateral U.S. anti-satellite test ban, if you can believe it.

“The United States seeks to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space,” the White House said in a fact sheet. This seems to have worked as well as President Biden’s effort to deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine.

The unhappy reality is that U.S. satellites are large and vulnerable to attack. Military officials have known this for some time, and their strategy is dispersal and hardening. Details are classified, but in general terms this means relying on more and smaller satellites and making each one better able to withstand an enemy’s anti-satellite lasers or blast weapons.

This takes money, and the Senate’s fiscal 2024 defense spending bill increases space investments by 9%. The bill funds 15 national-security space launches this year, five more than in 2023, plus money for a variety of space monitoring and satellite protection purposes. If Congress fails to pass the bill and instead lapses into a continuing resolution, the Space Force would lose $2.8 billion in spending. That’s nearly a tenth of its budget.


Space has already become the next theater for military competition—the new battlefield “high ground,” as strategists have long predicted. The only question is whether the U.S. is going to cede dominance in space to our adversaries, or treat it like we would any other military theater. The risks of space vulnerability are worse than losing a land battle because the U.S. homeland is threatened.

Political complacency about space war is part of a larger refusal by American elites to educate the public about U.S. vulnerability to new military technologies. The liberal internationalists in the Biden Administration don’t want to highlight growing threats on their watch—and in any case think they can be meliorated with treaties. The GOP’s isolationist wing wants to spend less on defense and cede global spheres of influence to Russia, China and Iran.

Thanks to Mike Turner for trying to wake up the sleepwalkers.

Wonder Land: If you were an adversary looking at a U.S. uncertainty about its global leadership, what would you do? Answer: Up the ante—which is exactly what Iran, Russia and others are doing. Images: AP/AFP/Getty Images/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the February 16, 2024, print edition as 'America’s Space War Vulnerability'

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