Space Force Moves Guardians to the Pacific Amid Rising Threats from China
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The Space Force dispatches Guardians to the Pacific to offer support to both allies and the other branches of service in space as tensions between the US and China rise.
On Tuesday, the service announced that 21 civilians and guards with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command or INDOPACOM to be stationed in Hawaii. It is the first deployment outside of the continental US for the newest branch of service and the first time Guardians have been part of a regional combatant command. The move comes as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has repeatedly pointed out that China poses a notable threat, particularly in space.
"Secretary Austin reminds us of the pace challenge every day, and that's China." General David Thompson, vice chief of space operations, told reporters Tuesday. “We very consciously chose INDOPACOM first because we want the nation, the Department of Defense, this combatant command and everyone who wishes us harm in this region to understand that we are paying attention every day.”
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Just last month, during an event at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Arlington, Virginia, Thompson said China is developing and deploying a wide range of technologies, such as jammers and lasers, that could harm America's satellites. Though he didn't go into detail about all of the Space Force's capabilities, he said China's growing capabilities should be alarming.
"Are they better than us? Are they not as good as us? Will we win? Will they win? Are we level? I can't say," Thompson said at the time. “I can only say that they represent a serious challenge. You are a serious threat. They are serious about what they have to do.
In the 2022 National Defense Strategy released last month, the Pentagon said China is "deploying counterspace capabilities that can target our Global Positioning System and other space-based capabilities that support military might and everyday civilian life."
But the strategy did not address how the military would respond to an attack on a commercial satellite.
Some policy pundits in Washington believe the Space Force is unequipped to deal with space threats from China and Russia.
The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, said in its annual assessment of the military, released Oct. 18, that the new service has not shown "that it is in any way prepared to support defensive and offensive counterspace operations in the to the extent he intended Congress when it authorized the formation of the Space Force." The Foundation classified the Space Force as "weak."
Thompson said the U.S. Space Force's new Indo-Pacific Command will help service branches in the region — such as the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Force, Pacific Army Command and Pacific Marine Corps — know what space capabilities are available to them , and will also help partner nations use space to defend against enemies.
Space Force officials are hoping to increase their budget to deal with many of these looming threats. The service is asking for $24.5 billion in its 2023 budget request, a 40% increase from last year, a figure likely only to rise in subsequent years as the nascent arm expands.
Gen. Bradley Chance Saltzman, the new chief of space operations, said during Tuesday's activation ceremony for Space Forces INDOPACOM that the creation of the new entity is a historic moment for the armed forces and a necessary moment as the conflict with China blossoms.
"I would be remiss if I didn't emphasize the historic nature of today's ceremony. This is the first service component of the Space Force to rise up in a regional combatant command," Saltzman said during his speech. "The Space Force must be ready, and not just the U.S. support Space Command, but all combatant commands. Because a possible battle against [the People's Republic of China] will not be a single-commander command show.”
Thompson told reporters Tuesday that the Space Force will likely send Guardians to South Korea and US Central Command "sooner rather than later," and the service also plans to deploy units in Europe at a later date.
These additions follow North Korea's reported ICBM tests. Thompson said the growth in both the Space Force's budget and its overseas presence bodes well for the service.
"I think you've seen our budget increase year over year, which I think reflects everyone's understanding of the need for more capability and the delivery of it," Thompson told reporters. "I think it's a reflection of an understanding, not just from INDOPACOM, but from the leadership of the nation, that we need more capabilities in space, without which we cannot operate effectively."
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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