US seeks space hegemony via militarization

China Military Online
Li Jiayao
2024-03-22 19:40:25

By Wang Qiang

According to foreign media reports, the US National Reconnaissance Office and SpaceX signed a classified cooperation agreement worth USD 1.8 billion for joint development of the Starshield military satellite system. The deployment of this system will greatly enhance the combat capabilities of the US space forces, further strengthen the control of the US over its allies relying on this system, and make the space technology development more prominent in the security field. These warrant high vigilance from the international community.

First, we should be mindful of the US' endeavors to strengthen space technological hegemony by taking its advantages in small microsatellite constellation.

The US' space version of Heartland Theory puts forth that "One who controls the Earth orbits, controls Near-Earth space. One who controls Near-Earth space, controls the Earth." The Starshield system has accelerated the militarized transformation of low-orbit satellites of the US, highlighting its ambitions to assert dominance over outer space orbit resources and subvert the existing combat systems. The Starshield system can perform various missions depending on the types of payloads. For example, the system installed with advanced sensors enables the US military to conduct round-the-clock real-time monitoring of sensitive targets. For non-designated targets, the large scale deployment of probes of the Starshield can rapidly identify the characteristics and types of targets through artificial intelligence and big data analysis, empowering the US military with further asymmetric information combat advantages.

From Starlink to Starshield, it can be evidently seen that the US is trying to build remarkable unilateral space military superiority over its opponents. The successive emergences of Starlink and Starshield have established the low-earth orbit (LEO) small and microsatellites as a primary arena in the pursuit of space dominance for the space powers and different camps. Russia has clearly announced an orbital Internet satellite cluster plan involving 288 satellites, trying to secure the upper hand in the spectrum realm instead of relinquishing the limited low-orbit satellite resources. A new round of space expansion and combat preparedness has actually already commenced.

Second, we should be cautious about the US strengthening military hegemony in space under the cover of remote sensing and communication satellites

Space is a domain of combat highly valued by the US military. Due to the restrictions of the Outer Space Treaty and other international laws, the US military has not made any conspicuous moves to deploy combat space weapons. However, the introduction of the Starshield system has probably altered the situation.

The US military publicly claims that the Starshield system is taken as a small and micro-satellite constellation cluster with intelligence communication functions that a defense contractor provides for the government. However, apart from the installations of the optical sensor synthetic aperture radars and the laser communication payloads for high-speed data exchange between satellites, the system also has an important function known as the "classified payloads."

The classified payloads are defined solely by the US military. It is speculated that the US military will take this opportunity to install an interceptor for intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) defense onto the system. Moreover, featuring orbital maneuverability and LEO flight, the Starshield system satellite can even be directly transformed into a kinetic energy interceptor to perform large-scale swarm-type direct collision and intercept against ICBMs when necessary, thereby expanding the missile defense battlefield to outer space. This combat capability is disguised within the facade of small and microsatellites as communication and remote sensing installations. The difficulty in distinguishing their military functions and civilian attributes leads to a dismantlement of the barriers of space militarization for the US.

Third, we should be wary of the US shaping space alliance hegemony by relying on its space system capabilities.

In recent years, the US has been advocating the establishment of the so-called resilience for space systems, that is, using cutting-edge commercial space technologies characterized by flexible responsiveness and manageable costs to meet the US military needs and secure comprehensive and integrated space superiority. The technological barriers generated by these integrated space advantages have also become a new tool for the US to bind its allies. After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, several commercial space technology companies of the US provided satellite remote sensing and communication technology support to the Ukrainian military under the endorsement of the US military. On this ground, the US began to urge its European partners to upgrade weaponry systems and promote military data interface standards, thus further tying the European countries to the chariot of NATO.

The current Starshield contract allows the US military to deepen space military cooperation with other NATO countries and its allies in a more dignified manner. Both the recent Defense Space Strategy issued by the UK Ministry of Defense and the overarching Space Policy published by NATO emphasize the real-time sharing of space-related information and the interoperability of space combat capabilities with the US and other allies. It can be anticipated that the space militarization alignment between the US and its allies will inevitably pose challenges to space security and stability and the global military pattern.

(The author is a Chinese national security strategy research scholar.)

Editor's note: Originally published on, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

Related News