The Space Attack ((FULL))
U.S. Space Force's General David Thompson, the service's second in command, said last week that Russia and China are launching "reversible attacks," such as electronic warfare jamming, temporarily blinding optics with lasers, and cyber attacks, on U.S. satellites "every single day." He also disclosed that a small Russian satellite used to conduct an on-orbit anti-satellite weapon test back in 2019 had first gotten so close to an American one that there were concerns an actual attack was imminent.
The Space Attack
Thompson, who is Vice Chief of Space Operations, disclosed these details to The Washington Post's Josh Rogin in an interview on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum, which ran from Nov. 19 to 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada. The forum opened just four days after a Russian anti-satellite weapon test involving a ground-launched interceptor, which destroyed a defunct Soviet-era electronic intelligence satellite and created a cloud of debris that presents a risk to the International Space Station (ISS). That test drew widespread condemnation, including from the U.S. government, and prompted renewed discussion about potential future conflicts in space.
Thompson's assertion that these kinds of attacks are occurring with extreme frequency is new. It underscores the rapid development and fielding by Russia and China, among others, of a wide variety of anti-satellite capabilities, something the U.S. military has called increasing attention to in recent years.
The systems that Russia and China are known to be developing or have already fielded include destructive and non-destructive types that are deployed from Earth, such as ground-based jammers, lasers, or interceptors, as well as small "killer satellites" positioned in orbit. A killer satellite able to maneuver close to its target could use various means to try to disable, damage, or even destroy it, such as jammers, directed energy weapons, robotic arms, chemical sprays, and small projectiles. It could even deliberately smash into the other satellite in a kinetic attack.
Beyond the clearly very serious implications of the 2019 incident itself, the Vice Chief of Space Operations' comments underscore the challenges the U.S. military and the rest of the U.S. government face in deterring hostile actors or actually responding to acts of aggression in space. In recent years, American officials have increasingly pointed to the policy and other problems caused by the extreme secrecy that surrounds U.S. military activities, as well as those conducted by the U.S. Intelligence Community, outside the Earth's atmosphere.
In another prime example of the secrecy issue, when asked, Thompson could not confirm or deny whether any American satellites had actually been damaged in a Russian or Chinese attack. Beyond that, he told Rogin that even if such a thing had occurred, that very fact would be classified.
You would have to be careful about what we declassify, but there is much more classified than what needs to be," Barbara Barrett, who became Secretary of the Air Force in October 2019 after Wilson stepped down, said later that year. The lack of an understanding really does hurt us in doing things that we need to do in space."
Even reversible attacks against any of this space-based infrastructure could have major impacts on the U.S. military's ability to effectively conduct combat operations. The U.S. military has been very open about its efforts to develop and field new and improved space-based capabilities, as well as explore new concepts, such as distributed constellations of smaller satellites and ways to rapidly deploy new systems into orbit, to help reduce vulnerabilities to anti-satellite attacks, in general.
Details about the U.S. military's own so-called "counter-space" capabilities, on the other hand, are extremely limited, as its ability to conduct what it has termed "orbital warfare." To date, the only publicly acknowledged offensive counter-space weapon it has is a variant of the Counter Communications System (CCS). At present, Space Force operates the Block 10.2 version of the CCS, but a Block 10.3 type is now in development that is reportedly "more modular and scalable," according to Janes. Official budget documents released last year revealed that the Block 10.3 system is one that had previously only been identified by the nickname Meadowlands.
At the end of the day, what this means is that the U.S. government is faced with a serious predicament when it comes to warning off adversaries in space and otherwise protecting critical assets in orbit, including ones the very existence of which are classified.
From what we know now from General Thompson's comments, it would seem that the U.S. military has decided that reversible attacks do not warrant direct retaliation. At the same time, from what we understand about the veil of secrecy over the U.S. government's operations in space, classified retaliatory actions may occur regularly. Russia, China, or any other hostile actor could easily be equally disinclined to publicly announce attacks on counter-space capabilities that they don't admit they possess.
Regardless, if Russia and China are conducting reversible attacks against U.S. government satellites every day, it certainly shows that the threshold for doing so is low and that those countries view the consequences, whatever they might be, as manageable and very unlikely to lead to an open conflict. That non-destructive attacks have no potential to cause direct human fatalities and the ease with which they could be denied only further lows that bar. All of this also raises questions about what those countries might be doing in space that is directed against smaller nations that have little or no ability to respond directly.
That being said, Russia's recent anti-satellite weapon test has prompted renewed calls for arms control agreements to ban anti-satellite systems, which present threats to military and non-military systems in space. This includes the indirect risks that come from the debris produced by the destruction of satellites in orbit.
Vice Chief of Space Operations Thompson's new comments only reinforces the dangers that the current environment presents, where at least reversible attacks in space have become an everyday occurrence.
The NATO communique reads: We consider that attacks to, from, or within space present a clear challenge to the security of the Alliance, the impact of which could threaten national and Euro-Atlantic prosperity, security, and stability, and could be as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack.
While nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are banned in space, there are few constraints on the deployment of space-based weapons systems or systems that can destroy satellites from the ground.
Though US astronauts aboard the Apollo 11 left behind a plaque on the moon in 1969 with the inscription "We came in peace for all mankind," in the intervening decades, space has become militarized as major superpowers now rely on satellite communications.
The US military relies on space-based operations for everything including communications, coordination, navigation, and surveillance, Peter Singer, a senior fellow at non-partisan think tank New America and the author of "Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War," told Business Insider.
China and Russia also rely on space systems for numerous functions, but the US is more heavily dependent. Chinese and Russian jets still use analogue systems in their older jets and tanks and boats, and could operate better without satellites.
In response to the growing space threat, the House of Representatives passed a National Defense Authorization Act with money set aside for a proposed sixth military branch, the Space Corps. While the Space Corps seems unlikely to make it through the Senate, the Senate version of the NDAA does set aside extra money for increased space operations.
Space debris from destroyed satellites clutters the domain and makes it harder for sensors and trackers to operate. In a worst-case scenario, the debris could potentially get into a very fast orbit around the earth and end up smashing holes into existing space systems.
With enough high-velocity debris flying around, the entire upper atmosphere of Earth could become unsuitable for satellites, possibly resetting technology back decades before the proliferation of space systems.
You can't end your movement in an occupied space, as the rule you quoted says. When you move in 5e, you are free to spend your "feet of movement" how you like during your turn. This does not exempt you from the clause that states you cannot end movement in an occupied square. The full order of actions would be:
Your move speed is effectively how many squares you can move on your turn and you can break it up between other actions you take (multiple attacks as part of the Attack action and/or free actions like dropping a held object) thus when you stop moving to do something you are "ending your move." Because the same section of rules you quote starts off saying you can move through non-hostile creature space.
If you take an action that includes more than one weapon attack, you can break up your movement even further by moving between those attacks. For example, a fighter who can make two attacks with the Extra Attack feature and who has a speed of 25 feet could move 10 feet, make an attack, move 15 feet, and then attack again.
The rules permit you to insert your action into your movement anywhere and prohibit you from willingly finishing your movement in another creature's space. They are silent on using your action while within another creature's space so we should adopt this tweet:
The Space Force, established by Congress and the Trump administration two years ago as the sixth independent branch of the U.S. armed forces, is responsible for keeping space safe for military, civilian and commercial operations.
Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly...More by Sandra Erwin