US mulls proposal to ban tampering with national security satellite C2 systems

Kinetic ASATs could create huge amounts of hazardous space junk. (Image: National Center for Space and Intelligence)

WASHINGTON: The United States sees its new proposed limited anti-satellite weapons test ban (ASAT) as a first step toward a broader set of international standards to limit national security space activities — and has already developed concepts for a number of other measures, a senior State Department official said.

This includes a potential proposal to refrain from “deliberate interference” with the command and control systems of national security satellites, said Eric Desautels, acting assistant assistant secretary for control, verification and compliance. armaments.

“We recognize that our ASAT commitment does not cover all ASAT threats, including space-based ASAT systems. But we think it’s important to take a first step in dealing with the most pressing threats,” he said during a webinar sponsored by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and the Third Nuclear Age. Project from the University of Leicester, UK.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who chairs the National Space Council, on April 18 announced a unilateral U.S. ban on destructive ground-launched anti-satellite missile testing and called on other nations to follow suit. not to keep the heavens safe.

Desautels presented a handful of other ideas that the United States hopes to see discussed by the UN in the next round of meetings to develop principles and standards to reduce the risk of conflict triggered by dangerous military activities. and/or threatening in space.

The Biden administration has pledged to be a leader in the UN process, which was led last year by the UK and supported by a large majority of the UN’s 193 member countries. Last December, Harris tasked the National Security Council with leading a US interagency effort to present a set of proposals.

The UN group, officially called the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Reducing Threats from Space through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviour, will hold its first round of discussions from May 9. in Geneva.

Besides a ban on tampering with C2 national security satellite systems (which could be particularly dangerous if the satellites involved are those used for nuclear C2), Desautels said Washington would be interested in:

  • “to improve communication,
  • “develop best practices or responsible behaviors regarding the safe and professional operations of national security satellites to avoid potential collisions or other harmful interference, and
  • “develop responsible behavior best practices that avoid simulating or testing a set of weapons at or near another state’s satellites.”

Finally, he said, it “will be important” for the UN working group to take steps to ensure that whatever is agreed “does not in any way limit the peaceful uses of space technology by developing countries”.

The issue of protecting the rights of developing countries is in fact one of the keys to the success of the working group, agreed other experts speaking on the panel. Most developing countries are members of the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM, electoral bloc within the UN – the largest in the system. And any recommendations from the OEWG for new standards must be approved by consensus.

“We wouldn’t want a repeat of what happened to the EU code of conduct,” said Bleddyn Bowen, associate professor at the University of Leicester. “Hopefully one of the strengths of the UN General Assembly process is that it will hopefully be more inclusive and multilateral than other things.”

The EU’s proposal for a voluntary international code of conduct for space, despite broad consensus on the value of the standards it advocates, went down in flames on the international stage in 2015, largely because NAM saw the process as Western-centric and felt that the concerns of developing countries were not being taken into account.

“For me, consensus and inclusive approach is very important,” said Raji Pillai Rajagopalan, director of the Center for Security, Strategy and Technology (CSST) at the Observer Research Foundation in India. “The benefits of having a large number of states to agree on a set of principles, standards outweighs … having the most ideal document.”

Dino J. Dotson