U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Director of Intelligence Rear Admiral Mike Studeman said during a webinar that China is indeed developing ASAT weapons. "[From] dazzling to jamming, to kinetic kill-from-the-ground, from space – all that, they're on the march," he said.
Studeman added: "They take a look at our space capability and want to equal and exceed those – and be able to dominate to guarantee themselves the maneuvering they need to be able to secure their objectives if they're in a fight."
Studeman's remarks served as the most recent assessment of China's counter-space capabilities. According to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, China's capabilities were a recurring "top challenge" for U.S. defense planning and spending.
Threats coming from China and Russia served as the primary justifications cited by American officials for establishing the U.S. Space Force (USSF) and U.S. Space Command during the Trump administration. Previously a command under the U.S. Air Force, former President Donald Trump spun off the USSF as an independent military branch in December 2019.
Studeman nevertheless commented that the U.S. recognizes the threat and has a "substantial amount of activity going on." He added: "It will be a game of measures, countermeasures and counter-countermeasures for some time to come." One such weapon in the U.S. arsenal is the Meadowlands system. This ground-based ASAT weapon is designed to temporarily jam but not destroy Chinese and Russian satellites.
The first Meadowlands weapon was deemed operational in March 2020. The USSF said it is building an arsenal of these counterspace weapons over the next seven years, with as many as 48 being planned.
Back in April 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said the Chinese military "will continue to integrate space services – such as timing and satellite communications, satellite reconnaissance and positioning and [satellite] navigation – into its weapons and command-and-control systems to erode the U.S. military's information advantage."
The ODNI mentioned in its annual Threat Assessment Report that Beijing continues to train its military space elements and "field new destructive and non-destructive ground- and space-based ASAT weapons." It added that China has already deployed ground-based missiles for destroying satellites in low-earth orbit. Aside from this, China has also fielded ground-based ASAT lasers for blinding or damaging sensitive space-based optical sensors on satellites.
Apart from ASAT weapons, China has also pursued dedicated programs for military and commercial communications satellites. The Defense Intelligence Agency said in 2019 that China owns and operates about 30 such satellites for civil, commercial and military communications. It added that the communist country also operated "a small number" of dedicated military communications satellites.
The ODNI report echoed a similar warning by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper back in September 2020. He said during a speech that China was using "directed energy weapons" and "killer satellites" against the United States. Esper also said that Beijing was turning space into a "war-fighting domain" to achieve space superiority through sophisticated technologies.
"Meanwhile, in space, Moscow and Beijing have turned a once-peaceful arena into a war-fighting domain. They have weaponized space through killer satellites, directed energy weapons and more – in an effort to exploit our systems and chip away at our military advantage," Esper said that time.
The erstwhile defense secretary continued: "In this era of great power competition, we cannot take for granted the U.S.'s long-held advantages. The [U.S. Air Force] in particular has maintained uncontested air superiority for decades – with persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and precision air strikes anytime, anywhere. However, our near-peer rivals, China and Russia, seek to erode our long-standing dominance."
Given these threats, the ODNI later said developing so-called counterspace operations will be integral to a potential military campaign. The House Appropriations Committee also noted the need to act against ASAT weapons by China.
In a draft report on the fiscal 2022 defense bill, the committee pointed out "the growing threats posed by ground-based lasers capable of damaging or destroying sensitive space sensors in low-orbit." The committee also noted "the lack of a coordinated strategy to understand this threat and develop concepts to mitigate its risks."
Without mentioning China, the draft report directed the Department of Defense to work with the ODNI against these threats. It called on both agencies to "provide a plan to collect, consolidate and characterize laser threat activity data of potential adversaries, and to develop strategies to mitigate these threats."