February 22, 2024

Space Command nominee: U.S. has to prepare to respond to aggression against satellites

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is being challenged to counter China’s rapid advances in space technology, Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting told the Senate Armed Services Committee July 26.

“Our top threat is the growing Chinese counter-space capabilities, both from reversible threats, like jamming, all the way up to direct-ascent anti-satellite and laser capabilities we’ve seen them testing,” Whiting said during a confirmation hearing. 

Currently the commander of the Space Force’s Space Operations Command, Whiting was nominated by President Biden for promotion to general and assignment as the next commander of U.S. Space Command. 

U.S. Space Command, located at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, is a military combatant command responsible for operations in outer space.

During a confirmation hearing, Whiting said a key concern is China’s growing arsenal of anti-satellite weapons that it developed “after really studying the United States and how we leverage space for military advantage.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a joint confirmation hearing for Whiting and for Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot, nominated to be the next commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

In response to questions about China’s capabilities in space, Whiting said “it is our responsibility across the national security space enterprise, but certainly if confirmed at U.S. Space Command, to make sure that we can operate in the face of those threats that we now see.”

Reliance on commercial space

Whiting fielded questions from lawmakers about how the U.S. military intends to work with commercial space companies and provide protections for those assets. 

“That is a topic obviously that we’re focused on very, very keenly,” Whiting said.

U.S. Space Command is tasked “to defend commercial space capabilities if directed. So we understand that importance and have put that hook into that mission,” he said. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown the “growing importance of commercial space capability,” Whiting noted. “So we must continue to partner with those companies … so that if we do need to actively defend them, we have the communication avenues open to be able to do so.”

Space Command expects satellites to be targeted by electronic jammers or by a direct physical attack on a spacecraft in orbit or a ground station, Whiting said.

If confirmed, Whiting will replace Gen. James Dickinson. 

Although several members of the SASC indicated they intend to support Whiting’s promotion, military nominees have not been able to get confirmed by the Senate as Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.)  has placed a hold on general and flag officer nominations — to protest a DoD policy that covers certain abortion-related travel expenses for service members.

Tuberville also is pressing DoD to move forward with the relocation of U.S. Space Command to Alabama. The basing decision for more than two years has been bogged down by political fights.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) during the hearing called out Tuberville for preventing military leaders from getting promotions and assignments.

“Senator Tuberville had some good questions for the two generals,” Kelly said. But Whiting’s and Guillot’s confirmation is “certainly in question because of Senator Tuberville’s holds on these promotions and these positions.”

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