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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — China’s successful anti-satellite missile test last January spawned fresh concern over the need to protect U.S. space assets, the head of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space said during a stop here Thursday.

Maj. Gen. William Shelton, also the 14th Air Force commander at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., said improving U.S. space situational awareness was always a priority, but the Chinese demonstration heightened urgency.

“We’re very much in the discussion phases of how we’d respond to a variety of threats to our space systems,” Shelton said. “It’s a work in progress … (but) the Chinese ASAT test put us on a much more rapid path than before.”

Senior political and military leaders are intent on denying adversaries the use of space for purposes hostile to U.S. interests, he added.

As chief of the Air Force’s operational space component to the U.S. Strategic Command, Shelton leads more than 20,500 personnel responsible for providing missile warning, space superiority, space situational awareness, satellite operations, space launch and range operations.

Earlier last week, he paid a visit to the 7th Air Force at Osan Air Base, South Korea, and also spoke at the Aerospace Symposium in Seoul. On Thursday, he gave a space mission brief to 5th Air Force officials at Yokota.

The 14th Air Force conducts operations in Hawaii, Guam and Kwajalein, while the Joint Functional Component Command for Space has tenant units at Osan and Misawa Air Base in northern Japan.

Shelton declined to discuss the deployment to Misawa last week of the Joint Tactical Ground Station, a mobile missile-tracking system that can detect and analyze satellite data on ballistic missile launches. It’s the first transportable U.S. missile tracking system set up in Japan.

The station is designed to receive launch data from early warning satellites, analyze the projected destination of missiles and forward the information to the U.S. military and Japan’s Defense Ministry.

Shelton said low-Earth-orbit satellites responsible for intelligence gathering, reconnaissance and tactical communications are particularly vulnerable.

“Some are largely irreplaceable,” he added. “That’s why we’re so concerned.”

He said the U.S. military is examining “terrestrially-based” solutions to mitigate any potential loss of space assets.

They include quick-launch measures to bolster defensive capabilities, he added.

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