US launches first military unit for targeting enemy satellites

The US Space Force activated its first targeting unit tasked with informing the military about target satellites, ground stations, and signals between the two: from analysis to physical engagement.

The new unit was named the 75th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Squadron (ISRS), and it was activated under Space Delta 7 ISRS. What’s important about it is that the 75th ISRS is the first so-called “targeting” unit in the Space Force.

According to US Air Force doctrine, targeting is the “process of selecting and prioritizing targets and matching the appropriate response.” While the Space Force is a separate branch of the US military, the nature of the definition smoothly transfers from aerial objects to satellites.

What will the unit do?

The 75th ISRS is tasked with targeting analysis, target development, and target engagement, a statement on the unit’s launch revealed. The ultimate goal of the squadron is to “prepare and present intelligence packages about a target and the system it is a part of.”

The new squadron will consider a spectrum of information about satellites and ground stations and signal the link between the two. A ground station is a critical base from which satellites are controlled, and their data relayed further.

For example, in late 2022, a group of Russian scientists published a paper exploring ways to compromise the Starlink constellation, deducing that physical attacks on Starlink ground stations are the most effective way to deactivate it.

The new Space Force unit should be able to provide intelligence on key enemy ground stations, with the aim to deactivate them in case of a confrontation.

Space hackers beware

The newly launched unit will analyze adversaries’ space force and counterspace force threats. “Space force” are space capabilities that facilitate warfighting, while “counterspace” encompasses means to deny a country using its own space capabilities.

Counterspace measures range from reversible threats to nonreversible threats. Nonreversible measures include anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles that destroy enemy satellites. Reversible measures include electronic warfare and cyberattacks.

“Not only are we standing up the sole targeting squadron in the US Space Force, we are changing the way targeting is done across the joint community when it comes to space and electromagnetic warfare,” Master Sgt. Desiree Cabrera, 75th ISRS operations superintendent, said.

In other words, the 75th ISRS should be equipped to provide the military with precise means to respond if a hostile nation launches a cyberattack that impacts the US’s ability to employ its space assets.

Last year, the head of the US Space Force’s Space Operations Command (SpOC), Lieutenant General (LTG) Stephen N. Whiting, called space cybersecurity a “soft underbelly” of global space networks. A remark which still rings true today, as researchers found out that many satellites are easier to hack than a Windows device.