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A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, carrying the Arabsat 6A communications satellite, lifts off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida in April. Photo: Reuters

To counter China and Russia, US builds alliances in ‘wild, wild west’ of space

  • US Space Command and Space Force seeking to ‘dominate’ what Pentagon considers the latest military domain
  • Classified project aims to defend future satellite networks against attacks, top general says

The new US Space Command is working with allies in the “wild, wild west” of space and will harden future satellite networks against attacks, the unit’s top general said, as the Trump administration reorganises its military space bureaucracy.

General John Raymond, head of the Space Force created in August, said Washington would work with the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, composed of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the United States.

“We’re working really hard with our Five Eyes partners and with France, Germany and Japan,” he said, adding the United States has agreements to share data and services “with many, many more countries”.

In a speech to an annual conference of the Air Force Association in Maryland late on Tuesday, his first public address since taking on his post, Raymond said he also plans to help secure hundreds of small broadband satellites now in development from interception, part of an effort to counter Russian and Chinese space technologies. He did not give details about the classified project.

US President Donald Trump listens as General John Raymond speaks during a White House event to officially launch the US Space Command in August. Photo: Reuters

“The Outer Space Treaty says you can’t have nuclear weapons. That’s about what it says. The rest is the wild, wild west,” Raymond said, referring to an international agreement signed decades ago by the United States, China and Russia. The treaty does not mention anti-satellite weapons and communication-jamming technologies.

“You have to have a satellite that is defendable. US Space Command will put a sharp focus on that,” Raymond said.

He later told reporters he has met several companies, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellite project, Starlink, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, whose modified Boeing 747 is being offered as a platform to launch satellites into space within 24 hours, should an enemy knock one out of orbit.

SpaceX has won hundreds of millions of dollars in Pentagon launch contracts, using its huge Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is building a heavy-lift New Glenn rocket that it pitched to the Air Force’s next multibillion dollar national security launch programme.

Are we destined to have a space war?

The US military is increasingly dependent on satellites to determine what it does on the ground, guiding munitions with space-based lasers and satellites as well as using such assets to monitor for missile launches and track its forces.

Raymond said Space Command and the Space Force, planned as a new branch of the military, will work in harmony to “dominate” what the Pentagon considers the latest military domain to fend off an outbreak of war in space.

The United States hopes that forging closer ties to its allies in space and talking openly about the steps it is taking to prepare for conflict in space will deter adversaries from attacking US satellites, said Brian Weeden, a space policy director the Secure World Foundation, a group that advocates sustainable and peaceful uses of outer space.

“However, I’m not sure if that will be enough,” he said.