In mid-February, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee alleged the existence of a “serious national security threat” — a Russian effort to deploy a nuclear anti-satellite weapon in space. The episode drew attention to an often overlooked, but crucial domain of U.S. national security — space.

As a top Pentagon official noted recently, “our competitors know … how much the American way of life and the American ways of war depend on space power.” And it is not just Russia; Iran, too, is increasing its space-based capabilities to threaten the United States.

Iran has claimed a string of achievements in space in recent months. In February, Russia reportedly assisted Iran with launching a satellite into space from a Russian site. Iran claimed in September that it successfully used a space launch vehicle, or SLV, to place a military satellite in space. Iranian officials then asserted in January that it put multiple satellites into orbit in a single launch for the first time.

Iran’s recent SLV launches, and its purported ability to put multiple satellites into space, are troubling for four main reasons.

Firstly, SLVs could provide Iran with a rapid route to an intercontinental ballistic missile. Iran’s SLV advancements, according to an unclassified U.S. intelligence assessment, “shortens the timeline to an ICBM if [Iran] decided to develop one because SLVs and ICBMs use similar technologies.” The editor of Iran’s state-run news agency said in 2022: “The minute we built the first satellite launcher, we obtained the capability to build an intercontinental [missile].” Although Iran would need to master the intermediate step of fitting a heatshield onto a missile warhead to enable atmospheric reentry.

Russia, which possesses a large ICBM arsenal, could provide Iran the know-how to incorporate this technology, perhaps in exchange for the drones and missiles Tehran is supplying Moscow for its war in Ukraine.

Second, Iran’s reported use of a solid-fuel propellant to launch its SLVs is concerning, as this would make detection of imminent missile launches more challenging. Unlike liquid-fuel projectile launches, which take hours to prepare and require conspicuous pre-launch activities, projectiles on a mobile launcher with solid-fuel propellants are quicker to prepare and much harder to detect prior to launch.

Third, Iran’s satellite program could enhance its ability to facilitate proxy attacks against U.S. allies and interests. Russia has reportedly supplied Iran with an advanced satellite system to augment Iran’s intelligence-gathering capabilities. The platform was equipped with a high-resolution camera, allowing monitoring of Israeli military bases, regional bases housing U.S. troops and other sensitive targets.

Finally, Iran could use its satellites to interfere with U.S. or allied military assets. Even a supposed communications satellite, ostensibly used for civilian purposes, could initiate downlink signal jamming of radars and other assets. Iran claimed in 2020 to have conducted “space operations” exercises simulating drone and radar jamming. Launching multiple satellites at once could enable Iran to carry out signal jamming over an even greater surface area, leaving U.S. interests and those of its regional partners vulnerable to attack. GPS jamming and spoofing, seemingly initiated by Iran, are reportedly already impacting civilian airline traffic in the Middle East. Iran could represent another threat to stability in space by developing counterspace programs akin to Russia and China.

The United States must put Iran on notice for its problematic space activities. Sanctions against Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics agency — responsible for its space activity — and third parties helping the regime evade sanctions, as the United States recently implemented, are a good start. U.S. officials should also encourage allies to sanction banks helping Iran evade sanctions.

The United States should engage the global community to address this threat by imposing the snapback of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council, which would restore prohibitions on Iran’s SLV program that were previously watered down in Resolution 2231. This would reinstate a full-on U.N. ban on Iran’s SLV tests and development, and ban technology transfers to Iran that could enhance its SLV program. The entire free world needs to fully appreciate the potential danger of Iran’s increasing launch capability.

To boost deterrence, the United States should work closely with Middle East partners active in space, like Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel — all signatories to the Artemis Accords that commit parties to responsible behavior in space. The United States should increase space-focused collaboration with these partners, including using space assets in bilateral and multilateral drills, as occurred during a bilateral U.S.-Israel drill in January 2023.

Consistent with the U.S. national space policy, the United States should “employ all elements of national power to deter and, if necessary, prevail over hostile activities in, from, and through space.” The United States must convey a strong message to Iran that its current space activity is unacceptable and, if continued, will have further consequences.

Source » defensenews