Military establishes space-focused center to counter China, Russia

The rise of China and Russia’s militaries has prompted the United States to reassess the current advantage it has in space. So much so that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has announced the creation of the China Aerospace Studies Institute, or CASI, to be established by the Air Force and Rand Corp.

“I hope that CASI, along with many organizations like it, are going to help us maintain an unfair competitive aerospace advantage far into the future because that is the surest means to underwrite conventional deterrence, contribute to crisis stability and safeguard our nation's interests,” Work said at the GEOINT 2015 Symposium in Washington. 

Work also described China as a “rising power and a growing economy and impressive weight in military technical capabilities.” 

“CASI needs to help us think on how we respond to this challenge. It's a serious one… ,” Work said. 

Work alluded to the Asia-Pacific rebalance initiated by President Obama.

Several defense officials have warned of the threat China poses in the region and the burgeoning influence it seeks to inflict with moves such as land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. China has been drawing a lot of attention with its recent aggressive posture in the Pacific region and its growing military partnerships. There The country also is adding unmanned aircraft and weapons systems, and is strongly suspected of carrying out high-profile cyber attacks against the United States.

Russia, meanwhile, has annexed Crimea, made incursions into eastern Ukraine, has been “actively seeking to undermine NATO” and is looking to take control of the Arctic, Work said. In addition, “its nuclear saber rattling, and its provocative and aggressively -- overtly aggressive actions from the Baltic states all the way to our airspace in our far north, Russia represents a clear and present danger,” he said.

Work noted that the U.S. will maintain an enormous absolute power advantage but the its relative power will decline in an “increasingly technological world.” One place where that relative power advantage could erode in in space, which will be a prime focus of CASI.

China is “going to present a more significant and perhaps enduring strategic challenge to our nation over the next 25 years, if not beyond, and one the DOD has to be particularly focused on,” he said. 

Adding to the complexity of the military challenge China poses – which in part consists of confronting U.S. reconnaissance flights over contested man-made islands in the Pacific – are the economic partnerships the U.S. continues to engage in with China in. It is especially important to point out that the U.S. government has not explicitly named China as the culprit of the recent Office of Personnel Management data breach, which many believe to be a fact. Work, however, acknowledged continued military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and China as a means of increasing transparency. 

“Since the end of World War II we have relied upon our technological superiority.  Why?  To provide a conventional overmatch to overcome an adversary's advantages in time, space, and size of forces, because generally we are moving across oceans to meet them,” said Work who also acknowledged the U.S. technology superiority is eroding to China and Russia. “[W]e want to have a margin of technological superiority that provides us confidence when we employ our forces that we will have a technological advantage and be able to defeat, again, power projection, an adversary's power projection across intra or inter-theater ranges,” Work stated. 

The United States is used to operating in environments in which it enjoys both technological and operational superiority. China threatens both. “China is mounting a serious aerospace challenge against the United States.  They are intent on closing the gap between their aerospace forces and our own,” Work said.  “[W]e have to think about the nature and character of AirLand battle 2.0: another thing where CASI, I believe, will be central to our thinking.”

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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