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China and Russia launch satellites raising concerns of potential threats to U.S.

China and Russia launch satellites raising concerns of potential threats to U.S. Volodymyr Putin and Xi Jinping (Photo: Getty Images)
Author: Daria Shekina

China and Russia have launched satellites designed for inspection and repair of other spacecraft but could be used for attacks on U.S. assets, reports the U.S. Space Force.

In their first public assessment of space threats, the U.S. Space Force reported that the dual-use nature of some spacecraft, such as the Chinese satellites Shijian-17 and Shijian-21, complicated the detection, attribution, or mitigation of anti-satellite testing or hostile activities.

What is known about Chinese developments

The report mentions that Russia and China are developing and testing anti-satellite weapons to disrupt or destroy satellites and space services. China is also developing, and possibly close to deploying, ground-based lasers capable of damaging, not just temporarily blinding, U.S. satellite sensors.

"They often mask or conceal these activities to avoid international condemnation," the report titled "Competing in Space" states.

What Russia is doing

According to the report, China is developing satellite inspection and repair systems that can function as weapons and has launched several satellites to test orbital servicing and prevent debris formation.

In January 2022, the Chinese Shijian-21 maneuvered a defunct Chinese geostationary satellite into an orbit where it would not pose a threat to other spacecraft.

It is also highlighted that the Chinese Shijian-17 has a robotic arm for capturing other satellites, while Russia has deployed several prototypes of orbital anti-satellite weapons in low Earth orbit, including the Cosmos 2504, 2519, and 2536 models, to test kinetic kill capabilities.

U.S. response

China likely develops jammers for a wide range of satellite communication supporting government and military operations, as its military exercises regularly involve the use of satellite communication jammers, space radars, and satellite navigation systems like GPS.

To counter these threats, the U.S. Space Force launched the first batch of the new early warning satellites, dubbed Silent Barker.

It is designed to track Chinese or Russian spacecraft that could potentially disable or damage U.S. orbital systems.

Russian capabilities are limited

According to the report, China currently employs over 300 remote sensing satellites with various sensors, enhancing the capability of the Chinese military to observe American aircraft carriers, expeditionary strike groups, and deployed aviation wings.

"Although Russia operates some of the world’s most capable individual remote-sensing satellites, it has a limited number compared with the US and China," stated the Space Forces.

China and Russia Cooperation

Earlier, the White House stated that Russia, China, and North Korea, dissatisfied with the existing world order, were strengthening cooperation among themselves.

Major General Vadym Skibitskyi, a representative of the Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense, mentioned that Russia imported most components for its weapons through China's territory, including those produced by other countries. Additionally, Moscow sought to obtain Chinese munitions.

Recently, Reuters reported that Russia had surpassed Saudi Arabia and become the largest supplier of crude oil to China in 2023. The world's largest oil importer challenged Western sanctions and purchased significant volumes of oil at a discount for its refineries.