Kristin Burke of War on the Rocks writes that space-to-space jamming, even if only for experiments, potentially leads to misunderstanding, miscalculation, and unintended escalation. She continues:
Most open source researchers following the Chinese military space program are well aware of China’s perceptions of the U.S. Space Force and its public technology and operation plans. However, I was surprised to find the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force discussing their perspectives of U.S. and Russian space-based jamming. This isn’t the typical thing that the People’s Liberation Army includes in their discussion of the former Strategic Defense Initiative. I asked myself, “Is global military space-based jamming normal?” As it turns out, intentional jamming may be more prevalent than the very limited media coverage of it implies. My research shows that the Chinese military thinks space-based jamming is a common practice among space powers. As a result, they claim to have developed an experimental spacecraft to practice signal interference between satellites from geosynchronous Earth orbit.
The People’s Liberation Army researchers described their experimental jammer as targeting communications satellites. Depending on the location and power capacity of the jammer, it could interfere most easily with other nearby communications satellites, or those at lower orbits. This could be detrimental for any country using communications satellites near China, including U.S. partners and allies.
The U.S. military is heavily reliant on satellite communications for power projection, and as such has developed a suite of anti-jamming capabilities. However, an electromagnetic spectrum-enabled cyber intrusion, sometimes called radio frequency-enabled cyber, is still a concern, even in space.
Current space regulations and treaties do not explicitly prohibit space-based jamming, only that which is harmful. The United States and a handful of other countries have raised concerns with it, signaling that some may have experienced instances of intentional, harmful jamming from space. The People’s Liberation Army has only recently written about its perception that the United States and Russia already have space-based jammers. If the United States hopes to influence future behaviors, improved messaging and continued international engagement is needed. […]
The United States and its allies and partners have already raised space-based jamming at international forums, so there is a clear opportunity for the United States to lead deeper discussions. In the U.S. submission to the United Nations, it said that “radiofrequency interference” and “interference with security-related space systems” are among the topics that “warrant additional discussion.” The Department of Defense has also already committed to avoiding “harmful interference” in its Tenets of Responsible Behavior in Space, which the department released in mid-2021. Attributing intentional space-based jamming could also be slowly, but increasingly within reach with the help of new technologies to monitor a spacecraft’s local space weather environment. Increased discussion of the topic could also improve helpful distinctions in the reporting of harmful interference. The Strategic Support Force’s perception that the United States and Russia already have spacecraft capable of space-based jamming could cause miscalculation and escalation, especially without any military-to-military engagement. Working through the United Nations to deepen discussion on space-based intentional jamming would help inform a wider group of states on the threat, and further demonstrate American leadership in space.
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