US building alliances in 'wild, wild west' of space: General

General John 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.
General John 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.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - 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, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"We're working really hard with our Five Eyes partners and with France, Germany and Japan," he said, adding that 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 (Sept 17), his first public address since taking on his post, Gen 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.

"The Outer Space Treaty says you can't have nuclear weapons. That's about what it says. The rest is the wild, wild west," Gen Raymond said, referring to an international agreement signed decades ago by the United States, China and Russia.

The treaty doesn't 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," Gen Raymond said.

 
 

He later told reporters he has met with several companies, including Mr Elon Musk's SpaceX satellite project, Starlink, and Mr 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. Mr Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is building a heavy-lift New Glenn rocket that it pitched to the Air Force's next multi-billion dollar national security launch programme.

STRENGTHENING ALLIANCES

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.

Gen 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 in order 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 Mr Brian Weeden, a space policy director at 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.