Intelligence agencies and analysts have warned about China and Russia developing missiles that could strike US satellites in low-Earth orbit, raising concerns within the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency (SDA), which plans to deploy a network of satellites that falls in the range of those missiles, reports SpaceNews.
Derek Tournear, Director of the Space Development Agency, said that the agency has looked at potential threats to its satellites and is less worried about missile strikes than it is about cyberattacks and intrusions into the supply chain.
SDA intends to start launching satellites to Space in 2022, with a goal of having hundreds in orbit by 2024 for communications and missile detection purposes.
Tournear added that these satellites “will not be invulnerable” to ground-based weapons such as ballistic missiles. But having a proliferated network of hundreds of satellites makes the system resilient to these types of attacks.
He noted that an adversary would have to launch a barrage of missiles to disable such a large constellation and would face significant retaliation. According to reports, the relatively low cost of SDA’s satellites would make them unattractive targets, compared to the more exquisite billion-dollar satellites that DoD has in orbit. Tournear estimates that it would cost more to shoot down a satellite than the satellite itself, “so we’ve completely changed the equation on that.”
Even if one or a handful of satellites were destroyed, a proliferated network of hundreds could continue to function. A cyber-attack, on the other hand, could be devastating, Tournear said.
Tournear added, “Cyber and supply chain are two threats that I’m concerned about.”
Tournear described cyber and supply chain problems as “common mode failures” which means that even if just a few components or portions of a system are attacked, the whole network would be out of service.