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Defense Intelligence Agency Briefing on Challenges to Security in Space – 2022

TODD BREASSEALE: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. Today we're going to discuss the Defense Intelligence Agency's release of its latest, unclassified, foundational report, “Challenges to Security in Space 2022.” 

This is the second edition of DIA’s series of reports designed to inform the public on key challenges and foreign military threats in space. DIA’s foundational reports foster informed dialogues between America's leaders, the national security community, warfighters, academia, allies and partners about key national security challenges facing the United States. 

We're joined today by DIA’s foremost experts in the space field, Dr. John Huth, DIA’s Defense Intelligence Officer for Space and Counterspace, and Mr. Kevin Ryder DIA Senior Defense Intelligence Analyst for Space and Counterspace. Gentlemen, I'll hand it over to you.

DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER DR. JOHN F. HUTH: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss DIA’s report that we're releasing today, “Challenges to Security in Space 2022.” This is an unclassified report and it's a follow-on to the first “Challenges to Security in Space” DIA released in 2019. Like its predecessor, this report examines the space and counterspace programs that pose or potentially pose a significant challenge to U.S. or partner interests by China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. 

The second iteration addresses increases in the pace and scope of competitive space operations since early 2019, which you're about to hear have been dramatic. DIA produces reports that provide both broad overviews of country military capabilities known as the Military Power Series, and more narrowly focused functional threat reports such as “Challenges to Security in Space” and “Global Nuclear Landscapes.” 

These are designed to help the public achieve a deeper understanding of key challenges and threats to U.S. national security. This new edition of “Challenges to Security in Space” provides an updated unclassified overview of current threats to U.S. space-based capabilities. Particularly from China and Russia, but also to a lesser extent, those emerging from North Korea and Iran. This edition examines the expansion of space operations and details Earth-focused space services, as well as growing efforts to explore the moon and beyond. And it also includes an expanded assessment of impacts of space debris. 

Space-based capabilities impact many day-to-day aspects of the American way of life. They enable functions that affect our homes, transportation, electric power grids, banking and communications. From watching television, to predicting weather patterns to avoiding traffic on our daily commutes, satellites enable many real-time conveniences that have become integral to our daily lives. On the national security front, space-based capabilities afford the United States and our allies with crucial ability to project combat power to areas of conflict and instability. They enable our armed forces to collect vital intelligence on foreign threats, navigate and maneuver rapidly, and communicate with one another to support global military and humanitarian crises. 

Meanwhile, Russia and China, our primary strategic competitors, are taking steps to undercut the United States and our allies in the space domain. Both nations view space as a requirement for winning modern wars, especially against Western nations, and look to prove themselves as world leaders.

Since early 2019, competitor space operations have increased in pace and scope across nearly all major categories — communications, remote sensing, navigation, and science and technology demonstration.

SENIOR DEFENSE ANALYST KEVIN RYDER: And China and Russia value superiority in space. And as a result, they'll seek ways to strengthen their space and counter-space programs and determine better ways to integrate them within their respective militaries. Both nations seek to broaden their space exploration initiatives together and individually with plans to explore the moon and Mars during the next 30 years. 

And if successful, these efforts will likely lead to attempts by Beijing and Moscow to exploit the moon's natural resources. Beijing and Moscow have integrated space-based capabilities into their individual, national and warfighting strategies with the intent of denying the United States a space-enabled advantage. 

Evidence of both nations’ intent to undercut the United States and allied leadership in the space domain can be seen in the growth of combined in-orbit assets of China and Russia, which grew approximately 70% in just two years. This recent and continuing expansion follows a more than 200% increase between 2015 and 2018. 

China has launched a robotic lander and rover to the far side of the moon, and an orbiter lander and rover in one mission to Mars. It has also launched multiple missiles, capable of destroying satellites, and deployed mobile jammers to deny satellite communications and GPS. Moscow on the other hand, has developed a suite of counter-space weapons capabilities, including electronic warfare, to deny, degrade, and disrupt communications, and to not - to deny the use of space-based imagery. 

Russia is also developing a mobile missile that is able to destroy satellites and crewed space vehicles. Now as the number of spacefaring nations grow, and counter-space capabilities become more integrated into military operations, the U.S. Space Posture will be increasingly challenged and orbit assets will face new risk. A secure, stable, and accessible space domain is crucial as challenges to the United States and our allies’ space capabilities continue to increase. 

“Challenges to Security in Space — 2022” offs the insights from top intelligence experts on current threats to the United States Space Posture posed by our strategic competitors, and key space issues through 2030 and beyond. Thank you for your time, we will now take questions. 

MR. BREASSEALE: So, if you have a question for these gentlemen, please just raise your hand and I'll call on you. And you can please state your name and outlet for which you're reporting. I saw your hand first. Yes, ma'am. 

Q: Hi, Tara Copp with Defense One. I was wondering if you could both talk about the extent to which China has been watching Russia's invasion of Ukraine and how it's shaping what counter-space capabilities it's pursuing? And what sort of - is it gathering lessons learned? Will it make it more difficult in future conflicts based on what we've seen happen over Ukraine?

DR. HUTH: So, as far as the scope of the document really doesn't cover that, that's fairly new, and I’ll say, evolving information. So, really don't have a whole lot to – to add on that right now.


Q: Brian Everstein, Aviation Week. This report obviously comes at a time when the U.S. is ramping up its space-based capabilities, with many, many launches planned. Can you talk a little bit about what the insights and the reports say for what resiliencies are needed? Are you - is maneuverability required? Cyber hardening? What are some of the critical capabilities? 

MR. RYDER: So, I will say that, from a DIA perspective, what we do is we provide information on the threats and the challenges that are posed by our adversaries. And we provide that to our policymakers and our warfighting planners to make those determinations on the type of systems and mitigation strategies that are needed. 

DR. HUTH: And certainly, the acquisition community, the NRO [National Reconnaissance Office], SDA – Space Development Agency, et cetera. But as Kevin said, that's really for us to inform them. It's for them to figure out, based on that threat information, what they want to do.

MR. BREASSEALE: Let’s take a caller, Theresa Hitchens, from Breaking Defense.

Q: Hi, there, thanks for doing this. My question is on the new section or expanded section on Moon and Mars and sort of ex-GEO [Geosynchronous Earth Orbit] activities. And I wondered if you could tell us whether you actually have evidence that operators or there - or having evidence that maybe Russia or China actually have ambitions to create military capabilities in that region of space? 

Because what we see in the public domain is primarily interest from many countries in exploitation, for economic reasons and exploration. Can you address that question? Thank you. 

MR. RYDER: Sure, that’s - that's a very good question. So, what we've seen so far has been more civilian in nature. However, China emphasizes in their writings, civil-military integration and dual-use purpose space capabilities. So, we - while we do understand that right now, it is civil in nature, we continue to monitor for any possibility of military activity.

Q: Are you saying that the moon has strategic military value? And if you are, what exactly do you think that would be?

DR. HUTH: So as far as the strategic military value that wouldn't be us for - to assess. Again, we would advise on what the adversary is doing or might be doing. Certainly, the moon has a lot of valuable minerals, resources; it is the high ground. So those might all be considerations. But again, it wouldn't be us to assess that strategic value other than to inform on what our adversaries may or may not be doing.

Q: And if I could follow up then, can I ask it a different way. What do - what value - strategic military value does China or Russia believe that the moon holds? Do you have a read on that?

MR. RYDER: So, I wouldn't want to speculate to - on what their thoughts are, on what it might value right now. All we – all we know right now is that it is possible that because of their philosophy on dual-use capabilities, that it may have some interest in the future.

DR. HUTH: Technologies that are used for scientific purposes to get somebody to another body, i.e., the moon, could also have that dual purpose or that military civil fusion aspect that could translate into military capabilities. But we're not seeing that right now. 

Q: Thank you, John Harper, with FedScoop. Would you assess that China and Russia are ahead of the U.S. now, when it comes to counter-space capabilities? How would you kind of compare each of those countries to the U.S. in that regard? 

DR. HUTH: So again, our job is really to inform on foreign military capabilities not really do what I would call a U.S. comparative assessment. But within the building here, Office of Net Assessment, the Space Force or Space - Space Command would be better - they'd be better to answer that question than us.

MR. BREASSEALE: Tony Cappacio.

Q: Thank you, Tony Cappacio with Bloomberg, got a couple of questions, one on the methodology of the report. So, it's top heavy with footnotes to publish articles and to speeches. Is it fair to assume that DIA felt all those footnoted articles - articles were credible, and thus, part of the mosaic that you based your report on?

MR. RYDER: So, when DIA does analysis, there are varying levels of confidence that we put into those particular sources. So, but usually, when we do write a product, the bulk of the sources have some credibility. And if not, we identify the level of confidence in that source, whether we think it's credible or not.

Q: Fair enough. That's a good, that's a decent, that's a useful answer. So, assessing the China 20 - the July 21st, '21, fractional orbital test. You have it in there, it captured the world's attention, need to ask you this. Do you assess that that was a one-off demonstration that will be tough to, replicate for a number of years? Or did that indicate an operational capability they have today, that could be launched tomorrow if they felt necessary? 

DR. HUTH: So, we see China - both China and Russia expanding their space and counter-space capabilities. As far as details on what we expect next, we can't – we can’t address any more details than what's in the report.

Q: Well, I mean was it a one-off test? Or do you - do they have now an operational capability for fractional orbital launch? 

DR. HUTH: I don't think I could address that in any more detail, in this - in this venue. 

Q: (Inaudible) determine, but you can’t address it here. As I just wanted to get a sense of that. Is there any...

DR. HUTH: Yes, sir. And anything we would assess for future capabilities or assessments on future tests, et cetera, would be classified.

Q: OK, fair enough. Thanks.

MR. BREASSEALE: I want to go to the phones real quickly. Bill Gertz, Washington Times.

Q: Yes. Hi. I want to follow up on Tony's question on the fractional orbital launch. Can you say whether this is a nuclear system, or it's a conventional system? And it is reported in the report as part of space weapons that are used to hit targets on the earth, on the sea and in the air. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

MR. RYDER: Could you repeat the question? I'm sorry. 

Q: Yes. The fractional orbital launch is described in the report as being part of space weapons that are going to be used to strike targets from space on the ground, on the sea, and in the air. Can you elaborate on whether this hypersonic glide vehicle will be used conventional or nuclear or both?

MR. RYDER: So, I will say, as the report states, this is the first time we've seen this tested. So, it's a little early right now to be able to determine its full set of capabilities. And those that we have determined, I will reiterate my colleagues' comments, can't be discussed in this forum.

MR. BREASSEALE: Let me go back here real quick.

Q: Thank you for doing this. When you were talking about how Moscow had developed all of the additional counter-space abilities, the mobile missile that could strike satellites, I know that didn't Russia hit one of its own satellites just a few months ago, in November? One of its defunct Soviet satellites. 

So, my question is, have they used any of these new capabilities against the U.S? Have you seen any evidence that they've been trying to target these new capabilities towards U.S. assets?

DR. HUTH: So, I think, again, the level of detail we have in the report about their ASAT [anti-satellite] weapon systems, the testing that's been reported in the press as of a couple of months ago, is about what we can talk about here. That's the level of detail.

Q: Can you elaborate on what it says in the report, just to have the visual?

DR. HUTH: Well, I think in the report, we talk about Russia developing a ground base, ASAT capability.

MR. BREASSEALE: (Inaudible).

Q: Just to follow up on the fractional orbital test, is it the DIA’s assessment that this vehicle was military in nature? There are some disagreement in the academic community that thought it was not military in nature, it was maybe space exploration in nature.

MR. RYDER: So, I don't – I don’t have an answer for you on that one. I'll have to get that through our public affairs. 

Q: And then secondly, in the – in the report, you also found that China has - is pursuing being able to capture satellites or other sensors, partly to be able to affect precision guided munitions. And I was just wondering to the extent to which that's occurring. 

And I know, Ukraine happened after this is published, but to the extent that that is occurring on the current battlefield, what sort of guidance are you providing, or helping shape future U.S. defenses for future potential conflict?

DR. HUTH: So again, I'd say the report, and the information from an intelligence perspective stands as it is. So those types of things are what we provide to our customers, for them to consider as they are acquiring new capabilities with the understanding that both China and Russia are expanding their kit, if you will, in counter-space capabilities. And those are all factored into design of U.S. systems.

MR. BREASSEALE: Let's go to the phones again. Poonam Sharma from Global Straits.

Q: Hi, my question has been answered. Thank you. 

MR. BREASSEALE: You're welcome. Brian Bender from Politico.

Q: Hey, there, thanks for doing this. I was hoping to draw you guys out a little bit more on how much in building this report, you looked at intent on the part of the Chinese and the Russians? You threw out a bunch of percentages of growth in their space capabilities in recent years. 

Obviously, the United States still has, presumably, an edge, or at least in numbers more systems than they do. Give us some insight, if you can, about how you go about trying to understand why they're doing this? Why are they so aggressively trying to catch up, if you will, in these kinds of capabilities? 

MR. RYDER: Well, I'll start by saying there is a perception that the U.S. is heavily reliant on space-based capabilities for military operations, and that they provide us a strategic advantage. Countries like China and Russia are seeking to undercut that, so they are seeking to determine ways to counter that perceived advantage that we have in space.

DR. HUTH: And certainly, they have observed how we leverage space capabilities in the last few wars we've been in, they see how we advantage those. That certainly is a factor – a driving factor. But regarding your intent question, clearly, they're not just creating capabilities, they have their own space forces. 

So, you can read into that or not what you want, but now you have a space force or space forces, you have capabilities. And they are including them into their combined arms fight, where the intent is to provide that or pull that into the combined arms fight. 

So, I think that's about all I can say on intent. But I think it's pretty clear to us.

Q: Thank you, John Harper, again. Of the various counter-space capabilities that were documented in the report, is there one in particular that most concerns you or that you feel like is the greatest threat to U.S. space systems? 

MR. RYDER: So, from my perspective, all of the capabilities are equal in nature. It depends on how and why and when the adversary would tend to use them or choose to use them. 

DR. HUTH: And if I could just reemphasize my last point and pile on what Kevin said. So, it's not just a capability, it's the fact that they have a space force or each have space forces, China and Russia. And their intent is to make space part of that combined arms effort in any conflict.

Q: Can I follow up on that a little bit, on John's question? Which capability are they the most advanced in, that's the most alarming to you?

DR. HUTH: Again, I'm with Kevin. I don't think there's a particular capability that I would pull out and say I'm worried more about this or that, because it's always context dependent. It depends on the particular conflict or stage of conflict. So, I wouldn't pick one of those out, I really wouldn’t.


Q: I want to go from space to more terrestrial. You talk about Russia's - the Russian military views electronic warfare as an essential tool for gaining and maintaining information superiority over its adversaries. So, five weeks into an invasion of Ukraine, does DIA assess that, even though on paper they had these incredible capabilities, they're not executing so well as a force?

DR. HUTH: So, as the report lays out, both China and Russia have a – a pretty good bag of capabilities with regard to electronic warfare. Russia emphasizes electronic warfare. We've seen some reporting in the press on how those are or aren’t being used. But beyond that, I can't address any more details. 

Q: Is this an example of why on paper can say one thing, then operationally can be a totally different picture?

DR. HUTH: Perhaps.

Q: OK. Thanks.

MR. BREASSEALE: What are you getting from this?


Let me go back to the phone. Sandra Erwin with Space News?

Q: Thank you so much. Just a couple of short questions. Does DIA also produce a classified version of this report or just the unclassified? And the second part of the question, in your discussion on China's capabilities, do you consider all Chinese space capabilities military? Or do you make a distinction between civilian space and military space? Thank you. 

MR. RYDER: So, for your first question, while DIA does publish a number of classified documents, “Challenges to Security in Space” is only produced in an unclassified format.

DR. HUTH: I think with regard to your second question, Kevin, and I think I, had already both talked about what the Chinese refer to as civil-military fusion. So sometimes, things can look very distinct as to whether they lay on one side or another, at least for the time being. And that can change because of that, and there's a lot of gray area in there. They - they don't conduct business the way - certainly the way the U.S. or other Western countries do.

MR. BREASSEALE: Yes, ma’am. 

Q: Thank you. Appreciate this. And apologies if I missed this, but I hear you say a lot about how China and Russia are the premier competitors. Can you rank those? Who is the more dominant threat between China and Russia in space?

MR. RYDER: I'll – I’ll put it this way, China has, due to economic - more economic advantages, has increased their capabilities and put more financial and military effort towards developing their capabilities. Russia on the other hand is more streamlined, due to other modern - military modernization efforts for the country.

DR. HUTH: I wouldn’t take my eye off either one.



Q: Hi, I'm Luis Martinez with ABC News. I have two questions. One, how does - in terms of the counter-space activities we're seeing from Russia and China, how does this report compare with what the conclusions from the 2019 report? You know, broad strokes, what's the main difference between those two?

MR. RYDER: Well, as you said, 2022 builds on our 2019 report. It expands a little bit more on some of the future developments. It also takes a harder look at space debris and the causes - the potential impact of that in space. And it also looks at development to get out - exploration out beyond the moon.

DR. HUTH: And I think we go a little bit deeper on space domain awareness and command and control as well in the new report.

Q: And space debris, because obviously, we've had these tests that the Russians have undertaken, which - and the Chinese have undertaken, which has led to...

MR. RYDER: Well, there are a series of things, there's testing, there's battery explosions, and then there's just inadvertent collisions, that all contribute to space debris.

Q: And my second line of questioning has to do with the U.S. lead in space. We've seen this tremendous commercialization even in the last three years. I think there's been tremendous advances in the commercialization of space on the U.S. side. 

Is the U.S. able to maintain - is that something that will allow the U.S. to maintain the lead in the future? Or as these other countries because they continue to do state-sponsored space development, what's the contrast of the two - two? 

DR. HUTH: I think it'd be conjecture on our part, but we have a robust space economy, the commercial space economy. I attended the symposium last week in Colorado Springs, and you only needed to spend about 10 minutes there to see that we do have a robust space economy that supports both commercial and supports the government as well.

MR. BREASSEALE: Yes, sir. Nope? OK, I'll tell you what, let's – let’s go ahead and close this out. I appreciate everyone coming today. Just as a reminder, or I guess, probably letting you know for the first time, we have handouts of the report that are available as you file out if you'd like. So, thanks for coming. Thank you, gentlemen. 

DR. HUTH: Thank you.