The UK pavilion at the 2023 Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, advertised its space services.

The UK pavilion at the 2023 Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, advertised its space services. Defense One / Marcus Weisgerber

Allies Want Space Defenses Too, US Official Says

As friendly countries buy and develop their own satellites, they’re increasingly worried about protecting them, an Air Force leader said.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado—U.S. allies, once satisfied with buying satcom terminals and GPS gear, are now launching their own constellations—and worrying about how to protect them, a top Air Force official said.

“One thing that we're certainly seeing as a trend, especially with some of our closest allies, is that they're really interested in developing robust space industries within their countries,” Kelli Seybolt, deputy Air Force undersecretary for international affairs, said Tuesday at the Space Symposium.

That includes “counter-space capabilities,” said Seybolt, who oversees international policy for the Air Force and Space Force. “When you think about the types of things that the adversaries are doing, I think that those are areas that partners are interested in in order to just protect and defend their assets as well.” 

While Seybolt declined to name specific counter-space tech, there’s increasing concern about satellites being vulnerable to attack. Russia, China, India, and the United States all have anti-satellite rockets. Russia has reportedly jammed American GPS satellites used by Ukrainian forces.

Earlier in the day, Gen. James Dickinson, who leads U.S. Space Command, displayed a slide of a Chinese satellite that can sidle up to another satellite and take it under tow. China says the Shijian-21 is meant to collect space debris, but others fear it could be used to disable foreign satellites.

“We're seeing a shift and interest now with numerous partners looking at counter-space capabilities that we may be able to provide by foreign military sales,” Seybolt said.

The Air Force is conducting studies and analyses for “several partners as they're looking to acquire [an] entire constellation of capabilities to support their joint forces.” Those studies will “help them figure out what the right answer is for them.”

Much military space technology is highly classified, but Seybolt said there could be ways for U.S. allies to take advantage of it.

“It's possible that some of our companies will be able to sell turnkey systems where the partner would have ownership of the system, but they never have to actually take custody of the satellite itself,” she said. “It could be like delivery-on-orbit, which opens the possibility, I think, for partners, and it could create areas where some of those exportability issues aren't as difficult for us to navigate.”

Air Force officials are also establishing “the position is for exportability of space capabilities” in hopes of speeding up the foreign-sales process, Seybolt said.