China is well on its way to developing capabilities to hijack and sabotage enemy satellites, as part of efforts to become the pre-eminent power in space by 2045, according to leaked US documents.
The intelligence comes from the recently leaked Pentagon trove traced to a 21-year-old cyber official at the US Air National Guard.
Read more on the Pentagon leaks: US Scrambles to Investigate Military Intel Leak.
The classified CIA document states that Chinese efforts are focused on capabilities allowing it “to seize control of a satellite, rendering it ineffective to support communications, weapons, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems,” according to the FT.
To do so, such a system would aim to impersonate legitimate signals that satellites receive from the ground and each other, tricking them into either being hijacked for remote control or to malfunction during combat, the report claimed.
Such efforts would go some way beyond anything seen before. Russian has sought to jam the signals from low orbit Starlink satellites used by the Ukrainian military, and it also compromised Viasat routers ahead of its invasion in February 2022.
In a sign of the growing strategic and military importance of satellites for communications during conflict, the Kremlin also recently warned that any cyber-attack on its own systems would be treated as an act of war.
Last month, US Space Force chief of space operations, Chance Saltzman, testified to Congress that China is likely developing anti-satellite technology that could be weaponized during a war.
He reportedly claimed that the Chinese military has launched 347 satellites, including 35 in the past six months, capable of targeting US assets, including “grappling” satellites that could pull US spacecraft out of orbit.
The news of China’s growing capabilities in space will also be of concern to Taiwan, which assumes that its larger neighbor will seek to disrupt its ability to communicate during a predicted invasion in the coming years.
The FT reported in January that the island nation, which China claims as its own, is looking to establish its own network of satellites and receivers to mitigate the threat and maintain internet connectivity during any conflict.