China’s Satellite Fleet Poses Threats to US Troops in Potential Pacific Conflict: Space Force Intel Chief

With China’s boosted military intelligence gathering ability in space, the U.S. military no longer holds a monopoly.

China has achieved a strategic breakout in space, now deploying a vast network of satellites capable of targeting U.S. forces, should a conflict break out between the two nations in the western Pacific, according to the U.S. Space Force’s intelligence chief.

“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has rapidly advanced in space in a way that few people can really appreciate,” Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Gagnon, deputy chief of space operations for intelligence, told the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on May 2.

“I tried to think about historical analogies, about rapid buildups. I haven’t seen a rapid build-up like this. … I was thinking about World War II … but even as I was looking more broadly, an adversary arming this fast is profoundly concerning.”

Maj. Gen. Gagnon said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has increased its on-orbit capability by 550 percent since the end of 2015.

China’s military development in space has grown to become a great U.S. national security concern in recent years.

In April, Gen. Stephen Whiting, commander of U.S. Space Command, warned about the CCP’s developing its military capabilities in space at a “breathtaking” pace. In January, a U.S. military report warned that China and Russia are populating space with dual-use satellites, concealing their military applications.

“For the last two years, they’ve placed over 200 satellites in space—both years,” Maj. Gen. Gagnon said. “Of that, over half of them are remote sensing satellites—remote sensing satellites that are purpose-built to surveil, do reconnaissance in the western Pacific and globally.”

By putting up so many remote sensing satellites, China was recognizing the importance of “proliferated architecture,” one that Maj. Gen. Gagnon said makes China’s space infrastructure more “resilient against attack” because of the sheer number of satellites.

“[It’s] an architecture that isn’t designed for efficiency and cost-effectiveness—an architecture that’s designed to go to war and sustain a war,” he added.

With China’s boosted military intelligence-gathering ability in space, the U.S. military no longer holds a monopoly on hitting “mobile targets at extremely long distances,” which to date has been ensured by its leading space capabilities.

Now, China has a similar ability given its fleet of satellites. “That monopoly is over,” the major general said.

“[T]he purpose of reconnaissance and surveillance from the ultimate high ground is, of course, to inform decisions about fire control for militaries,” he said. “It’s to provide indications and warnings of [U.S.] sailors, Marines, airmen, trying to move west, if directed, to defend freedom.”

“They will now—in a way that we’re not comfortable talking about in America—they will be inside a rapidly expanding weapons engagement zone,” he said of U.S. troops, thanks to China’s rapidly equalizing ability in space, much of which is based on stolen U.S. intellectual property and funded by decades of western investment.

The deputy chief also disputed the CCP’s claims about the purpose of its radar satellite in ​​geosynchronous orbit (GEO), which is located about 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth.

“They recently put a radar imager in GEO in August [2023]. It’s designed to look at the Western Pacific, even though they say it’s about agriculture. The Western Pacific that it’s looking at is over the ocean. We kind of know what the purpose is,” he said.

Compared with 2019, the year the Space Force was established, the service is now monitoring far more satellites in orbit, according to Maj. Gen. Gagnon.

“Today, we are now orchestrating the collection of about 1,000 priority targets in space … 1,000 out of 9,500 satellites in space, those are the priorities,” he said.

Consequently, the Space Force is now putting out about 11,000 “maneuver alerts” each month, compared with about six to seven alerts during the early days after the service was established, according to Maj. Gen. Gagnon. The alerts have been generated by U.S. Space Force Guardians and individuals from 11 other countries, he added.

“That’s the scale; that’s profound. That’s a great advancement because of our partnership with the commercial sector, our ability to manage the data in a reasonable way into a United Data Library,” he said.

“We’ve created the opportunity here for other people in other countries to help. And we’re training about six people a month to learn how to do this first-level analysis. We have 100 people trained now, we’ll have 175 in 12 months. They exist on three continents, and because they exist on three continents, we’re gaining 24/7 coverage.”


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