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Artist illustration Elements of this image furnished by NASA / Getty Images

Space Force Will Look At How to Hack Targets From Space

“We're laying the groundwork for starting to figure that,” said the leader of Space Operations Command.

Two Space Force troops are helping the Air Force’s information-warfare wing explore the future of offensive space operations, the leader of Space Operations Command said Wednesday.

The Guardians are embedded with the 16th Air Force, which, among other missions, supplies cyber specialists to U.S. Cyber Command, he said. 

“Today, U.S. Cyber Command has offensive cyber capability. And one of the things they think about is how to leverage offensive cyber, cyber for space purposes in the future. Who better to be thinking about that and being the people executing that than cyber Guardians?” Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting said at a Mitchell Institute event. “There's still a lot of work to be done to figure out a timeline moving forward, but we're laying the groundwork for starting to figure that out with these first two exchange personnel.”

Over the next couple of years, Space Force will build a component to U.S. Cyber Command, similar to the one it's already built for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Whiting said. 

Military officials spend less time talking about “offensive space operations”—which include the prospect of using satellites to affect ground targets—than they do discussing the vulnerability of U.S. satellites to hacking from Earth. In December, DHS officials said U.S. satellites had been targeted by APT 28, the Kremlin-run Russian cyberwarfare group best known for hacking Democratic National Committee computers before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In April, the Financial Times revealed a classified CIA assessment that China is seeking to hack satellites.

A classified CIA assessment And of course, simply jamming or interfering with satellite communications can achieve the same destabilizing effects. As the world discovered in February 2022, Russian forces hit modems and routers belonging to U.S. satellite company Viasat on the eve of their expanded invasion of Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Whiting described cyber as “the soft underbelly of the U.S. Space Force and the space enterprise.” 

“We have to defend that cyber terrain, because while countries like Russia and China have demonstrated” through anti-satellite missile tests “that they could take us on in the domain, they would rather try to take us on via cyber because it's cheaper, and it's harder to attribute. And then there's other countries like Iran and North Korea, who have not yet demonstrated the ability to take us on in the domain. So they would rather take us on in cyber as well.”