Dean Cheng, the senior research fellow at the Asian Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, joined SiriusXM hosts Rebecca Mansour and Rick Manning on Friday’s Breitbart News Tonight to discuss President Donald Trump’s “Space Force” proposal and compare it to China’s military space programs.
“When we think about modern warfare, what images do we associate? We associate Tomahawks, JDAMs homing in with that nose camera, and it goes dark, and you know you hit that target. What folks don’t realize is all the back-end that fed into that,” said Cheng.
“What was that missile targeting? How did you even know that bunker was there? How did you tell the shooter – it could be a U.S. Navy cruiser or submarine, it could be a B-1 bomber, it could be a ground artillery unit – that it’s supposed to fire? How do you coordinate all those fires? How do you make sure that weapon got to that target, and how did you even pick up that picture? Every one of those things that I just mentioned goes through a satellite,” he explained.
Cheng said everything from GPS navigation to the accurate weather forecasts crucial for pinpoint airstrikes could be disrupted by attacks on America’s satellite network.
“If you don’t have space, all those cool weapons that we have won’t work, certainly not as well as they do today,” he said.
“When you think about the effort the U.S. military goes to avoiding civilian casualties – we don’t carpet-bomb cities anymore. We basically take sniper shots with 250 and 500-pound bombs. That’s only possible because of those satellites that allow us to know where the bad guys are, and as important, know where the bad guys aren’t, and then guiding those weapons to those targets,” he said.
Cheng said America’s enemies have paid “very, very close attention” to the America’s reliance on satellite intelligence and guidance for precision weapons.
“It doesn’t hurt their efforts to pick up information that we have a free society and a free press, and we talk about it and publish about it,” he observed.
“One of the things that they have concluded is that the American way of war is a space-based way of war. Take away the satellites and you cripple the American ability to fight – not just in Afghanistan or Syria, but potentially near China or near Russia,” he said.
He added that the Russians and Chinese are developing both anti-satellite weapons and “a whole array of other abilities to jam satellites, to dazzle satellites, to fire lasers at satellites.”
“The anti-satellite weapons that blow things up are the ones that we pay the most attention to because they generate a lot of debris, and that’s something physical that you can see, but also they’re working on the ability to simply shut down satellites – because at the end of the day that’s what matters, is preventing the information from flowing across all those satellite constellations,” he said.
“That’s what this whole Space Force is about,” said Cheng. “It is about creating a unified command, like Strategic Command or the transportation command or things like that, to basically run the space systems in support of a war.”
“But also they’re standing up a service because our military is kind of funny,” he continued. “The head of the Army doesn’t send the Army to war. The chief of naval operations doesn’t send the Navy to war. That’s all based upon the ‘cocoms,’ the combatant commands, the unified commands, obviously listening to the president of the United States and the secretary of defense.”
“The services exist to train, organize, and equip forces. In other words, they’re sort of the farm team, and the training ground, and spring training and all that for the forces, so that the combatant commands can have those forces available to them. It’s services that buy stuff. It’s services that train people. You need both pieces, somebody to buy and to train, as well as somebody to do the actual war planning and war conducting,” he said.
Cheng feared it will take “quite a while” for the U.S. to secure its assets in space against attack.
“The first thing is, the Pentagon is one of the world’s largest bureaucracies, and no bureaucracy changes quickly, especially when you’re creating new things. You’re always going to have opposition. You’re talking about budgets, you’re talking about resources. There’s always going to be some opposition,” he said.
“Second of all is, while the executive branch, the president, Secretary Mattis can make some changes, they can stand up a space command, creating a service is a legal issue so Congress has to get on board,” he continued. “As you can imagine, getting 535 congressmen and senators to agree on anything these days, including what time it is, is just about a miracle.”
“The third and most scary part is, we’re behind the 8-ball. The Chinese created something called the PLA Strategic Support Force on December 31, 2015. That includes their space forces as well as their hacking units, their electronic warfare units. It’s really China’s information superiority force. They’ve been at it for at least three years. They’ve probably been at it even before they were formally established,” Cheng estimated.
“The Russians created the Russian Aerospace Forces at about the same time, actually a little bit before. Both of our key potential adversaries have been thinking about warfighting in space for three, four, five years. By contrast, we really haven’t been thinking about it that hard. Part of it is that we had a previous administration that often shied away from even using the term ‘space warfare.’ Now we’re trying to play catch-up,” he warned.
Cheng compared the expense of creating a unified space command to safeguard America’s priceless satellites to taking out an insurance policy on an expensive home, or buying health insurance for children.
“You hope you don’t need it, you hope you don’t have to use it – but if you don’t have it when you do need it, you’re in deep trouble,” he said.
“Do you really think that the Russians and the Chinese have our best interests at heart?” he added. “If the answer to that is no, then you have to wonder: why are these two countries, both of which have a significant technology base, why have they created space forces?”
Cheng further encouraged listeners to think about the effect on daily life and commerce if our satellite network is knocked out.
“A lot of folks think, ‘Well, I don’t make calls that need satellites and things. I use a cell phone.’ Maybe you don’t have any family overseas, but when a communications satellite went on the fritz about 15 years ago, all of a sudden half the Midwest couldn’t get gas, because it’s satellites that hooked your credit card to the pump that allowed you to charge your gas,” he said.
“If you order anything from Amazon, how do you think you can track those packages? If you are worried about tornadoes or hurricanes, that’s weather satellites telling you that something is coming. Space is 95 percent dual use,” he noted.
Breitbart News Tonight broadcasts live on SiriusXM Patriot 125 weekdays from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. Eastern.