Hawaii Military Plans for Space Defense Race

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.S. has 849 satellites in orbit -- 167 of which are military -- while China has 284. Russia has 152 and other countries combined have 672. (Getty Images)
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.S. has 849 satellites in orbit -- 167 of which are military -- while China has 284. Russia has 152 and other countries combined have 672. (Getty Images)

U.S. military officials like to say that space is increasingly congested and contested.

The Defense Department already tracks over 20,000 objects in space, and that number is expected to increase dramatically as new sensors come online that are able to detect smaller objects.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the United States has 849 satellites in orbit -- 167 of which are military -- while China has 284; Russia, 152; and other countries combined have 672.

That sky-high communications crossroads may be the next battlefield, and the United States and other nations are now acting with haste to protect their space-based assets.

That priority was highlighted at a Chamber of Commerce Hawaii Military Affairs Council annual meeting Thursday at the state Capitol.

President Donald Trump in June directed the creation of a Space Force as a new service branch.

The Hawaii Air National Guard is seeking to add one of four offensive space electronic warfare squadrons to its mission set.

The Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing Site already has the nation's largest optical telescope designed for tracking satellites and missiles, with visible and infrared sensors to collect data on near-Earth and deep-space objects.

An approximately $1 billion Homeland Defense

Radar-Hawaii planned for Oahu will watch for enemy missiles hurtling through space -- capable of discriminating warheads from rocket boosters and other parts.

A "space fence" radar is in place on Kwajalein Atoll to detect smaller micro-satellites and space debris, primarily in low-Earth orbit.

"For decades, the United States has effectively reaped the benefits of operating in space to enhance our national security, civil and commercial sectors," said a government "space policy directive" issued in June. "Our society now depends on space technologies and space-based capabilities for communications, navigation, weather forecasting and much more."

A Pentagon report to Congress last August said the United States now faces "rapidly growing threats" to its space capabilities.

"China and Russia, our strategic competitors, are explicitly pursuing space warfighting capabilities to neutralize U.S. space capabilities during a time of conflict," the report said.

A 2007 test of a Chinese anti-satellite missile against one of its own weather satellites left over 3,000 pieces of debris dangling in low-Earth orbit.

At Thursday's meeting an Air Force film portrayed the notional launch of an enemy anti-satellite missile, detection of it, maneuvering the U.S. satellite out of the weapon's path, and a devastating U.S. missile response on one of the firing country's ground stations.

"Any attack against our space capabilities will be met with a deliberate response," the film's narration stated.

During and after a breakout session titled "Space: The Final Frontier Is Here," Brig. Gen. Ryan Okahara, commander of the Hawaii Air National Guard, said Florida, California and Colorado already were selected as sites for space electronic warfare squadrons.

"Hawaii currently doesn't have a space mission in the Air National Guard. We are in pursuit of one," Okahara said. The decision was already made to base a fourth squadron in the Pacific, and whether it comes to Hawaii may be decided in the next two months, he said.

Support for Hawaii as a location for one of the units, with about 88 personnel, has come from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Lt. Col. Erik Stockham, with the Maui Optical and Supercomputing Site, said characterizing space debris, a derelict satellite or active interference from another nation are among capabilities the facility possesses.

Stockham said observing the flight path of a rocket heading into space in the direction of a satellite can be used to gauge intent.

"Some of intent is very simple," Okahara said. "You have no business being next to our highly sensitive, classified military satellite. Why are you moving to us?"

The Missile Defense Agency, meanwhile, provided an update on its plan to install the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii on Oahu, which will be used to detect incoming missiles at long distances.

The approximately 8-story-tall-by-8-story-wide radar may go in at Kaena Point adjacent to another asset used for space-based missions: the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, which makes 50 to 60 satellite contacts per day.

An environmental impact statement is expected to be done at the end of 2020, and construction is slated to start in 2021, the agency said.

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This article is written by William Cole from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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