Not many people know about the Air Force Space Command, and that's because it was never meant to be in the spotlight. Air Force Space Command is one of the Air Force's major commands that is focused on the capabilities and challenges in space. It is the service provider for US Strategic Command that provides resilient and affordable space and cyberspace forces.
In the course of its duties, this special branch of the Air Force has determined that China may be a potential threat.
In "The Battle Above" – an episode of 60 Minutes airing on April 26 – the Air Force Space Command gave TV viewers a glimpse of what it does for the country. What a lot of people don't realize, in the United States and all over the world, is how many everyday activities rely on satellites in space.
Satellites also determine how the U.S. military can fight on the ground. With so much riding on satellites, intelligence and military leaders are expressing concern that the satellites themselves are vulnerable to attacks.
Special attention is being placed on China because the country has been actively testing out anti-satellite weapons. If the Chinese were to succeed in taking out satellites in space, it would effectively disable America's eyes and ears, crippling military efforts.
But while China is the primary concern now — other countries, like North Korea, Iran and Russia, have also developed the capability to launch objects into space, making them perfectly capable of knocking down satellites.
General John Hyten, who heads the Air Force Space Command, said that taking out satellites would return the U.S. Military to a state similar to the time of World War II, scaling back many of the advancements developed for warfare.
"If we're threatened in space, we have the right of self defense, and we'll make sure we can execute that right," he added.
The Air Force Space Command has a presence all over the world, with 134 locations and 38,000 airmen. Aside from mitigating threats on the ground to ensure that satellites are safe once they're up in space, the Air Force branch also makes certain that satellites get into space to begin with by securing launch pads.
Given that the U.S. is the country with the highest number of satellites in space – over 500 and counting! – it's understandable why a threat in space must be taken so seriously.
As of 2015, the United States has over 30 civilian and military satellite launches set up, all of which will occur at Air Force Space Command bases in California and Florida.