Strategic Command Nominee: Chinese, Russians Moving Quickly to Surpass U.S. War-Fighting Capabilities

By Susan Jones | September 20, 2016 | 10:38am EDT
Air Force General John Hyten, nominated to head the U.S. Strategic Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (Screen grab from CSPAN)

( - Air Force General John Hyten, nominated to head the U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress on Tuesday that the Chinese and the Russians are moving quickly to develop systems that will cripple U.S. war-fighting capabilities in space.

"Sir, I believe that they -- they are building those capabilities today," Hyten told Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "And both the Chinese and the Russians in particular have been watching those capabilities be employed (by the United States) in the battlefield in the last 20 years, and in response to that, they're building counter-space capabilities to deny us those capabilities in conflict."

McCain, noting that they were speaking in open session, asked Hyten, "So they are developing capabilities specifically designed to cripple our capabilities in space?"

"Yes, sir, they are," Hyten repeated. He said he believes it's "essential" for the U.S. to move faster so it can stay ahead of its adversaries.

"I'm not sure that the American people and even members of this committee are as aware as they should be of this emerging challenge," McCain said. He said he may hold a classified briefing for the Armed Services Committee "because the information is deeply disturbing."

"And I will say with some immodesty, I keep up with what's going on in the world, but I was not aware of the significance and depth of the challenge until our conversation about it yesterday," McCain told Hyten.

Asked if there is a "cohesive strategy" to counter the challenge posed by China and Russia, Hyten said there is -- but he also said the U.S. is moving "much slower" in certain areas than our adversaries are. "We need our industry and our acquisition process to move faster, sir."

Hyten said Russia has watched "the amazing conventional force" that the United States has developed over the last 20 years "that can significantly dominate any battlefield in the world today. And I believe that they're concerned about their ability to respond in the conventional arena.

"Therefore, I think it's logical from their perspective to make sure that they continue to modernize all their forces, including their nuclear forces."

Hyten also said the Russian have watched the power of U.S. alliances and partnerships: "And they're challenging the status quo across Europe, in Crimea, in a number of areas, pushing and creating tension within our partnerships and alliances, which is another significant advantage that the United States has built in the last 20 years."

Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress in March that the Defense Department planned to invest a total of $34 billion in electronic warfare, space, and cyberspace in Fiscal Year 2017.

"Among other things, this will build our cyber mission force, develop next-generation electronic jammers and prepare for the possibility of a conflict that extends into space. In short, DOD will keep ensuring our dominance in all domains," he said.

A week later, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told the satellite industry that to stay ahead of Russia and China, the U.S. must make its "architectures and operations more resilient -- hard to find, hard to catch, hard to hit, hard to kill."

He said that involves different orbits, mobility, deception, distributed architectures, as well as active measures, such as threat suppression and damage limitation.

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