On-orbit Deception

US space systems may be sharing the orbital commons with other nations’ satellites that aren’t what they seem, said Gen. Robert Kehler, head of US Strategic Command. “They can all look like communication satellites, but that may not be their purpose,” Kehler told Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel during an oversight hearing. Kehler didn’t elaborate, saying only “we get into difficulty in determining . . . what’s their real purpose.” But the implication was that some foreign spacecraft might be designed to degrade or disable US space capability in a conflict. This potential threat is one reason why it’s so important to have better situational awareness of what’s going on in space, said Kehler. It’s also a reason why “we have to design the satellites differently. In some cases, they’re pretty well protected today from a lot of things, but they’re not protected against everything,” he said. Kehler testified before the panel during a June 3 field hearing in Bellevue, Neb., near STRATCOM’s headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base.