Russia-Ukraine war holds key lessons for US Space Command: top official

US Space Command has learned a number of lessons from the Russia-Ukraine war, starting almost as soon as the war began, a top official said last week.

Lt. Gen. John Shaw, the Space Command’s deputy commander, listed three key lessons at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies’ event on space power Thursday.

Shaw’s first takeaway focused on February 2022, when Russia initially invaded Ukraine while affiliated hackers also launched a cyberattack on a satellite communication (satcom) network.

According to Shaw, “there was a significant satcom outage in central and western Europe as a result of a Russian cyberattack.” The breach caused thousands in Europe to lose internet access and created severe communication obstacles for the Ukrainian defense.

Shaw said the incident served as a reminder of how reliable cyber and commercial space domains are on each other — and how vulnerable they can be to enemy forces.

Another feature of the war has been “satcom jamming,” an electronic warfare technique that interferes with communication between satellites. Both Russia and Ukraine have utilized the tactics in the war, according to Shaw.

“That is having a role in their ability to affect the scheme maneuvers of the other [satellites],” Shaw said.

Shaw’s third takeaway from the conflict was the historical scale of navigation war, or NAVWAR, in the conflict. NAVWAR refers to the deliberate disturbance of a military’s positioning, navigation and timing abilities through the domains of space and cyberspace.

“What we’re seeing in Ukraine now is the largest NAVWAR confrontation ever seen,” Shaw said.

“It’s whatever the Ukrainians are trying to use, I think they’re trying to jam,” Shaw said about Russia. “And Ukrainians are doing the same back.”

This has forced countries to rethink their GPS systems to adapt to these attacks in emerging digital domains, and the US to prepare to go on the offensive in potential NAVWARs.

Gen. Kevin P. Chilton also brought up concerns related to China’s presence in space.

“The impact on US national security interests is significant,” Chilton said about Chinese space capabilities. “And nor is China alone, with Russia posing a distinct threat to US space operations.”

The US established a Joint Navigation Warfare Center (JNWC) in 2004, tasked with ensuring “positioning, navigation, and timing superiority for the Department of Defense, interagency, and coalition partners,” according to its website.

But the unprecedented scale of NAVWAR in the Russia-Ukraine conflict has shown what these challenges look like in a full-scale war between two modern militaries.

“We will learn from that how to conduct NAVWAR at scale from both a defense and offensive perspective,” Shaw said about the war.

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