space force generals
© Anna Moneymaker / Getty ImagesUnited States Space Force General Stephen N. Whiting (R) speaks alongside Commander, United States Strategic Command Gen. Anthony J. Cotton (L), February 29, 2024.
Russia and China are rapidly building orbital capabilities, the Space Command head has said.

The possibility of a conflict in space is no longer just theoretical, General Stephen Whiting, head of the US Space Command, said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the 39th Space Symposium at the command's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Whiting painted an alarming picture of Russian and Chinese orbital capabilities.

China has built a "kill web over the Pacific Ocean to find, fix, track and, yes, target US and allied military capabilities," Whiting said, describing Beijing's efforts as moving at "breathtaking speed."

Since 2018, Russia has doubled and China has tripled the number of their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) satellites in orbit, while also testing and fielding anti-satellite weapons. Meanwhile, the US has "the world's best space architectures," but its military constellations are "optimized for a benign environment," he said.

Russian and Chinese space weapons "hold at risk our modern way of life and how we defend this nation, and we must be able to deter and counter these threats when called upon to achieve space superiority," the general said.

Whiting described a possible armed conflict in space as "economically and environmentally devastating, perhaps for decades," and said the US wishes to keep things in the state of "enduring competition" instead.

The US is already working with Canada, Australia and the UK on Operation Olympic Defender, a program intended to "optimize space operations," according to the Space Command. Whiting announced that Germany, France and New Zealand have been invited to join as well.

He also revealed that the command's new Capability Assessment and Validation Environment (CAVE) has achieved "minimum viable capability." The modeling and simulation laboratory will enable the US military to "derive better ways of deterring and planning to conduct operations for a war that's never happened, and a war we don't want to happen," he said.

Washington recently accused Moscow of having undisclosed anti-satellite capabilities, possibly nuclear in nature. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the US claims were "unfounded" and a ploy to manipulate arms control talks. The Russian embassy in Washington has also accused the US of using "Russophobic slogans" to mask its own plans to militarize space.