US Space Force considers joint hotline with China

The US Space Force is contemplating setting up a direct line of communications with China’s space agency to help deal with potential interplanetary emergencies – and keep tabs on any of Beijing's nefarious activities in outer space.

The idea, which is only an internal agency discussion at present, could be valuable to de-escalate the rising tensions between the two nations, according to US Space Force Commander General Chance Saltzman.

The Commander told Reuters Monday that the agency has not yet approached Beijing about the possibility, assigning President Joe Biden and the State Department as the ones to take the lead on the matter.

"What we have talked about on the US side at least is opening up a line of communication to make sure that if there is a crisis, we know who we can contact," Saltzman said.

A direct line of communication with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) may also counter aggressive actions by the Communist regime, or what is known as 'grey zone activities' such as jamming satellite signals for neighboring Indo-Pacific nations.

Currently, China has over 500 satellites in low-earth orbit but has pledged to launch tens of thousands more in the near future in an effort to compete with Elon Musk's SpaceX constellation fleet of about 3,500 satellites.

SpaceX plans to increase its Starlink constellation, which currently provides internet connection services to about 60 nations worldwide, to 12,000 satellites by 2027.

China has admitted to researching how to disable or destroy Musk’s satellites if the nation-state deems them a threat to national security.

Just last week, the German government nixed a deal for a Chinese firm to take over the Berlin-based satellite startup KLEO Connect.

Space strategy

Meantime, the Commander also spoke about the possibility of establishing a local headquarters in Japan.

US Chief of Space Operations Chance Saltzman
US Chief of Space Operations Chance Saltzman in Japan. September 25, 2023. Image by Nobuhiro Kubo | Reuters.

Saltzman held talks about the joint venture with top Japanese defense officials in Tokyo, also on Monday.

US and Japanese leaders have expressed concerns that China could follow in Russia’s footsteps, leveraging the ability to disrupt satellite services to help further its mission to fully integrate the democratically independent Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China.

Russia, which already possesses the capabilities to attack commercial satellites, was blamed for a cyberattack on the Viasat Ka-Sat network on the first day it invaded Ukraine, causing connection outages for thousands of users across Europe.

As with China, the US agency does not have any direct line of communication with its Russian Space Forces counterpart.

A deeper connection with like-minded countries would be crucial in being able to monitor and understand activity in the space domain to deter China, Saltzman said.

"We have to be able to have those indications and warnings and see what they're doing and call them on the intent. Just being hypersensitive so we don't fall prey to grey zone activities," he said.

Last November, the US established a space force branch in South Korea.