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Space War: The Next Battlefield. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 29, 2016 - 21:00   ET



Is the U.S. at risk of losing?


SCIUTTO: In outer space.

GEN. WILLIAM SHELTON, FORMER COMMANDER AIR FORCE SPACE COMMAND: Looks like a communications satellite, when in actuality, it is also a weapon.

SCIUTTO: Threats of a potential World War III.

DEANNA BURT, COMMANDER OF 50TH SPACE WING: I think it's an inevitability over time.

SCIUTTO: Unimaginable weapons.

So, you could kidnap another satellite?


SCIUTTO: Designed to bring America to its knees.

LT. GEN. DAVID BUCK, COMMANDER JOINT FUNCTIONAL COMPONENT COMMAND FOR SPACE: Our satellites are at risk. And our ground infrastructure is at risk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standby! Data building in Florida.

SCIUTTO: What can the U.S. possibly do to prevent this catastrophe?


SCIUTTO: To find out, we go inside and underground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is the global operations

SCIUTTO: With rare access to the places and the people preparing for "War in Space: The Next Battlefield".

As the sun sets and the nation goes to sleep, the battle for supremacy in space is about to begin. One final night before Americans wake up to a new and daunting reality. 10 a.m. New York, 7:00 a.m., Los Angeles cities normally buzzing with the morning rush suddenly stall, TV networks start to go dark. Internet connections run slow. ATMs begin to malfunction. There's confusion. No panic, not yet, as stealth cyber attacks are racing through the U.S. at the speed of light.

SINGER: Then you have the question of is it a cascading effect or not?

SCIUTTO: By noon in New York and 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, financial markets, dependent on exact timing provided by GPS, are frozen. Mobile phone services already patchy, fail. Confusion gives way to growing fears this is much more than a simple cyber glitch. Many traffic lights and railroad signals also timed by GPS default to red, bringing transport to a standstill, commercial air traffic is grounded, as pilots lose navigation and weather data. Power stations and water treatment plants begin to stop functioning.

SINGER: This feels like utter science fiction, and yet it's not.

SCIUTTO: By now, Americans know the country is under some kind of attack. And they look to the Armed Forces to spring into action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand by! Data building in Florida.

SCIUTTO: But the world's greatest military is struggling to respond. Military pilots and drones lose contact with the ground. GPS guided smart bombs are rendered dumb. Warships lose contact with commanders. This is the nightmare scenario, chaos on earth, as our adversaries launch a massive cyber attack on key infrastructure and disable and destroy our satellites in space, the first shots in the First Space War.

SINGER: Explosions in space, that no one will hear.

SCIUTTO: Peter Singer wrote about this diary scenario in his book, "Ghost Fleet," and he now advises the Defense Department on just this type of threat.

SINGER: You are now in World War III, so besides losing your ability to take out money from an ATM, your nation is in World War III.

SCIUTTO: This is not fantasy. This is the future, a future for which the U.S. is now urgently preparing.

GEN. JOHN HYTEN, COMMANDER, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: If you say, is it inevitable and the answer is probably yes.

SCIUTTO: General John Hyten, until recently the head of U.S. Space Command has now been promoted to lead strategic command. Charged with crucial missions ranging from commanding nuclear warfare to cyber war fare to war in space.

Anytime human beings have come to new territory and contested it, conflict has followed. [21:04:58] HYTEN: Human beings forever have wanted to explore what's beyond the hill, the horizon, and as we go out there, there's always been conflict. Conflict in the Wild West as we moved into the west, conflict twice in Europe, for its horrible world wars. So every time human beings actually physically move into that, there's conflict. And in that case, we'll have to be prepared for that.

SCIUTTO: This new contested territory, however, is mind boggling, 73 trillion cubic miles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The space surveillance network has been transmitting observations.

SCIUTTO: And the early signs by U.S. leaders' own admissions are disturbing for life as Americans know it. In 2015, the Pentagon expressed grave concern that America was not ready for war in space. It was proven right when month's later, U.S. Space Forces were overwhelmed in war games that targeted U.S. space assets.

HYTEN: It does could ugly in a hurry. If it goes kinetic, it gets ugly really bad.

SCIUTTO: Kinetic warfare, meaning that shots are fired in space, would cause permanent damage and destruction to the fragile satellites that control much of our life on earth. Liike a space-age Paul Revere, General William Shelton heightens immediate pre assessors at space command has been sounding the alarm.

Did action go start quickly enough?

SHELTON: You're talking to a guy that was looking to really precipitate action and I would say the answer was no. Could we by an active defense of our own satellites? The answer is no.

SCIUTTO: You could not today defend satellite assets we have?

SHELTON: Not, certainly not on orbit. Clearly, there are things you can do on the ground. But space to space, no.

SCIUTTO: Perhaps worst of all, American adversaries know it, that the U.S. is not prepared. And that the U.S., more than any other nation, depends on space.

SINGER: Our ability to be this sort of unique 21st century kind of power depends on space being a sanctuary for us but also, it means there's an incentive to take that away from us.

SCIUTTO: Who are those adversaries? They will sound familiar from standoffs down here on earth, Russia and China.

HYTEN: We have very good surveillance and intelligence capability, so we can see the threats that are being built

SCIUTTO: And that's China in particular.

HYTEN: China in particular, Russia is also working on those capabilities.

SCIUTTO: But that's something you're preparing for, so I imagine, nothing is off-limits, in effect?

HYTEN: We're developing capabilities to defend ourselves. It's really that simple.

SCIUTTO: And so the U.S. finds itself in a new, more ominous space race.

Is the U.S. at risk of losing a war?

SINGER: I think so. We'd be silly to say it's not a possibility. That's what any defense planner will tell you, is don't look for the ideal outcome, plan for the worst day, so that you can survive it.

SCIUTTO: Coming up.

SHELTON: The wake-up call really was January of 2007when the Chinese tested their anti-satellite weapon.

SCIUTTO: The first shots in space have already been fired.


[21:12:05] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, good morning, Charlie crew. Let's get started with changeover.

SCIUTTO: One of the first warning shots in space was spotted here at the joint space operations center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All assets are currently past and are ready to support. Paying any questions and that's all I've got.

SCIUTTO: It was May 2014 when a small team of airmen monitoring a Russian space launch saw something they'd never seen before.

BUCK: As part of the Russian space launch, we were tracking three objects on orbit. One was the actual satellite they were launching in orbit, one was the rocket body, and another was what we assumed to be a piece of debris.

SCIUTTO: But soon after, that debris came to life Lieutenant General David Buck, commander of U.S. Military Space Forces, was on duty.

BUCK: The one object that we assumed was a piece of debris started to maneuver in close approximately to the booster.

SCIUTTO: It has continued to over time make maneuvers?

BUCK: We're watching it very closely.

SCIUTTO: In other words, it's not debris, but a satellite with new and dangerous capabilities. Hidden from sight in an old airplane hangar at Vandenberg is General Buck's team. Airmen who consider themselves the first space warriors, First Lieutenant Andrew Engle is one of them, assigned to the Joint Space Operations Center. One small part of America's space command.

It's a command with some 38,000 employees, a nearly &9 billion annual budget, and 134 locations across the globe.

Now, when you see a satellite from another country move in space like that, is there any other explanation, except that they're testing out an offensive capability?

LT. ANDREW ENGLE, JOINT SPACE OPERATIONS CENTER: Everything that has that type of capability can be easily changed into an offensive capability.

SCIUTTO: The satellite's official call sign is Kosmos 2499, but the airmen here have a more daunting nickname. "Kamikaze", a spacecraft expressly designed to maneuver up close to another satellite and disable or destroy it. In other words; this satellite can go on attack.

ENGLE: This is something that's kind of on the new frontier of space that we're seeing from our adversaries in this aspect. It's highly technical, highly skilled.

SCIUTTO: Today, Lieutenant Engle, one of space command's newly created Defensive Duty officers, watches his computer screens with the alertness of a sentry guarding a forward military outpost.

[21:15:06] ENGLE: It takes a lot of vigilance; it takes us being focused and being ready every single day.

GRAZIANI: We would absolutely be shocked if the U.S. Military were not on a war footing now based on what we see.

SCIUTTO: Paul Graziani, CEO of the Civilian Satellite tracker AGI finds his team on the front lines of this new threat.

GRAZIANI: There's no doubt that Russia and China both have seen that this is a way that they could shift the odds in their favor.

SCIUTTO: AGI tracks some 10,000 commercial and military objects orbiting the earth. Their visual rendering of satellites and debris as small as four inches across, resembles a porch light swarming with thousands of mosquitos.

We spent the day with their Ops team as Graziani showed us Kosmos 2499 that Russian "Kamikaze" is far from the only threat. Now meet Luch.

GRAZIANI: It's a Russian satellite and what's been happening here is this satellite has been maneuvering through geosynchronous space and causing up close to various communications satellites and listening to what can track against along over those.

SCIUTTO: Launch in 2014 just a few months after the "Kamikaze". This second Russian satellite takes offensive space capability to a new level, operating like a space fighter jet and a spy plane. We watched again in realtime as Luch shadowed the European communications satellite, hovering up every bite of information.

What's interesting is it has two capabilities. It can listen ...

GRAZIANI: : Right.

SCIUTTO: ... it spy on all the communications coming out of this utile satellite as European communication satellite track, but because it can maneuver, it also has the potential to just become a bullet.

GRAZIANI: It could, it could. So if the operators of the spacecraft so chose, they could direct it to actually hit another spacecraft.

SCIUTTO: Over the course of a year, Luch has also cozied up to three U.S. satellites, handling some of the most sensitive military communications. Graziani was charged with delivering the bad news to one of its victims, U.S. zone Intelsat.

GRAZIANI: We actually, as soon as we figured that out that it was parking next to an Intelsat satellite, we picked up the phone and we call the Intelsat and we let them know they've got a new neighbor.

SCIUTTO: Their reaction?

GRAZIANI: They were not happy.

SCIUTTO: The Russian government did not respond to CNN's request for comment on Luch or Kosmos 2499. If Russia's launches of those potential attack satellites were the space equivalents of surgical strikes, China's 2007 space shot was a sledgehammer. That year, the Chinese launched a massive space kill vehicle, similar to this launch, striking one of its own satellites and blasting it, literally, into thousands of pieces.

SHELTON: I would say that the wake-up call really was when the Chinese tested their anti-satellite weapon against their own satellite, clear demonstration that the technology was there in the hands of the Chinese, anyway.

SCIUTTO: A wake-up call, both because it represented an ominous step towards weaponizing space, and because it immediately added thousands of pieces of debris to earth's orbits, each piece a potential satellite or spacecraft killer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, stand out.

SCIUTTO: Just as you saw in the thriller "Gravities" space jump traveling at more than 20 times the speed of sound is flat-out deadly.

A piece just four inches across packs the punch of an SUV traveling at 70 miles an hour.

Then six years later, China made a far stealthier advance in weaponizing space. AGIs operators initially observed the Shiyan meaning experiment in Chinese, experimenting shadowing a second smaller Chinese satellite, until one day that second satellite disappeared. GRAZIANI: We saw the approach, we saw the larger spacecraft come close to the smaller spacecraft, and then we no longer saw the smaller spacecraft.

SCIUTTO: The only reasonable explanation, Shiyan has a robotic arm that was repeatedly grabbing then releasing its smaller partner, experimenting with a dangerous new space weapons capability.

[21:19:59] China admits the satellite has a robotic arm, but claims it was launched purely to observe space debris. Graziani and others, however see the potential for a far more sinister use.

Why would you grab to another satellite?

GRAZIANI: You could grab hold to a satellite and maneuver it out of its mission. So it could basically take it offline.

SCIUTTO: So you could kidnap another satellite?

GRAZIANI: Essentially.


Kidnapper satellites, Kamikaze satellites, anti-satellite missiles, multiple weapons with one target. The U.S.. Next.

BUCK: So our satellites are at risk. And our ground infrastructure's at risk.

SCIUTTO: War as we've never known it.

SINGER: The first battles would likely be silent.


SCIUTTO: Every war has its trademark sound. For World War I, it was boots marching. World War II, German buzz bombs, Japanese kamikazes, and the atomic bomb, so what will be the signature sounds of the first war in space?

[21:25:10] SINGER: The first battles of a war between great powers would likely be silent.

SCIUTTO: Silent and stealthy, but gravely and batting both the civilian and military worlds. The first targets, likely, will be here on Earth.

HYTEN: They will be Malware going after computer networks.

SCIUTTO: A war started by military hackers, techies, and programmers with keyboards and networks, not bombs or bullets, their weapons of choice. A battle that does not sound or look like any before.

HYTEN: Electronic warfare, cyber, jamming, those kind of key voice are most likely where a conflict would start. SCIUTTO: Soon, the front lines extend to outer space, laser weapons, another new capability now being tested by multiple countries, temporarily blind or permanently disable U.S. Space assets, then satellite versus satellite. Kidnapper satellites capture them, kamikaze satellites destroy them. All of these threats potentially hiding today in plain sight.

SHELTON: So you could have something on orbit that for all intents and purposes looks like a communications satellite, when in actuality it is also a weapon.

SCIUTTO: A space Trojan Horse?

SHELTON: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: And the attack is not over. Ground-based missiles launched at the start of the attack are now reaching space to destroy some of the nation's most sensitive satellites.

SHELTON: If it continues to escalate, then you probably start seeing anti-satellite weapons start flying.

SCIUTTO: Blowing things up, damaging them, disabling them, irreversibly?

SHELTON: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is on America's first line of defense. But Schriever is missing something standard at every other air force base in the world, a runway and aircraft. The 50th space wing calls Schriever Home. But the birds they fly are hundreds, even thousands of miles above them. And those birds and their pilots are now on a war footing.

BURT: I think it's evident that in any realm man has lived or operated, we have ended up in conflict.

SCIUTTO: It sounds like from your point of view, it's either a likelihood or a certainty?

BURT: I think it's an inevitability over time. And that's why we have to be prepared for it.

SCIUTTO: Colonel Deanna Burt commands the 50th Space Wing, its nickname, Master of Space.

This is one of the most restricted areas in all of space command. And the reason is, behind each doors are teams that are controlling, flying, really, entire constellations of satellites. Behind this door, it's the GPS satellites, behind this door, the Milstar satellites. It's the secure form of communication for the military, down the hall, extremely high frequency communications, also secure comes for the military, a favorite of U.S. Special Forces. And then down, here you have what they call the neighborhood watch satellites. Those are the satellites that are looking out for all the other satellites in the U.S. Military's Arsenal to give them early warning of potential threats in space.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going neck now, 52 ...

SCIUTTO: This is the team at Schriever responsible for the global positioning system or GPS constellation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're good to execute 52.


SCIUTTO: Now approaching their 38 anniversary of the launch of its first satellite.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 3180 continues to perform well.

SCIUTTO: The GPS constellation is the biggest and arguably the most important network of satellites in space today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have indication of spacecraft separation.

BUCK: If we lost all our GPS satellites, it would be a bad day, for sure.

SCIUTTO: Most people know of GPS technology for its mapping capability. And today, the U.S. military depends on that tool, every aircraft, ship, submarine, guided munitions, drown and war-fighter on the ground.

BURT: Over half of the munitions we're dropping against ISIS today in Centcom are GPS-enabled munitions. So what that means is we're able to strike things more efficiently, more accurately with less civilian casualties or other casualties in the area.

[21:29:57] SCIUTTO: But GPS satellites also provide precision timing to the civilian world. Space command estimates that some 3 billion people taken action depended on GPS everyday.

HYTEN: If you got gas today that ATM system in the gas pump was timed off of GPS. The GPS goes away, that doesn't work. Most the stoplights in town are timed off of GPS. Hospitals are interconnected through GPS timing sources. Every financial transaction is timed off of GPS.

SCIUTTO: Today, there are 24 active GPS satellites with a further 10 in reserve, guaranteeing global coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week and yet flying those 34 satellites falls to a tiny team. The folks in this one room control all the GPS satellites?


SCIUTTO: How my folks on duty here? MOSELEY: We have seven military on duty right now and one civilian contractor on duty.

SCIUTTO: That's just eight people controlling all of the world's GPS satellites.

Not long ago, those satellites and the space they occupy were considered safe from everything but asteroids and space junk. No longer.

MOSELEY: We currently fight in a contested, degraded and operational imminent environment. And that is only going to become more limited in the future.

SCIUTTO: The challenge is what to do when the alert is sounded. Unlike its adversaries, the U.S. is not weaponized space. So these airmen and women may call themselves space warriors, but for now, they are unarmed making there squadron headquarters an observation post with very accurate clocks to set your watch.

BUCK: These satellites were built 15 years ago and launched during an era when space was a benign environment. There was no threat. Can you imagine building a refueler aircraft or jet for that matter with no inherent defensive capabilities?

So, our satellites are at risk. And our ground infrastructure is at risk. And we're working hard to make sure that we can protect and defend them.

SCIUTTO: General Buck's options are limited. Observe potential threats in space and if need be, maneuver U.S. satellites out of harm's way.

Coming up, by the time he issues that order, will it already be too late?

The U.S. military, most advanced in the world, what would it look like without space?

HYTEN: It's industrial age warfare.


[21:36:30] SCIUTTO: Three stories underground, past multiple security checkpoints.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In each room, we can set up at a different classification levels.

SCIUTTO: And through a series of blast doors designed to resist the electromagnetic waves of a nuclear attack, is one of the most secret military headquarters in the world.

U.S. Strategic Command, located at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha. So secure, so remote, that this is where Air Force One took President George W. Bush the morning of 9/11. We received a rare access. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the U.S. Strategic Command Global Operations Center.

SCIUTTO: Today, strategic command handles a total of nine crucial missions, including defending space.

ADMIRAL CECIL HANEY, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMANDER: We are associated with the responsibility of missile warning.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Cecil Haney was in charge here when he spoke with us just before retiring.

In that range of responsibilities, can you do any of those jobs today without space?

HANEY: Absolutely not. We are really dependent on our unique space capabilities to provide the president options, if required.

SCIUTTO: Controlling and protecting space is essential for maintaining American military superiority.

SINGER: We are more dependent on space than anyone else. That's why we're more powerful, but it also means if you pull it away from us, we're really bad off.

SCIUTTO: More vulnerable?

SINGER: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: That vulnerability begins with the crucial GPS system. With GPS down or severely damaged, the U.S. is dragged suddenly back in time.

What would the U.S. military this gargantuan apparatus, what would it look like without space, if that light switch was switched off because of a comprehensive attack?

HYTEN: It looks like Vietnam. It looks like the Korean War. It looks like -- it's industrial age warfare.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. military got an alarming taste of life without space in 2010, when a technical glitch in the GPS system caused devastating problems for U.S. forces across the globe.

SINGER: You had literally tens of thousands of U.S. military systems that couldn't navigate. That was a glitch. Take that, move it into war. That's the impact of the kind of conflicts that might happen if you lose space.

SCIUTTO: Just as threatening to the military, the loss of communication satellites.

SHELTON: That's the one that to me is very scary.

SCIUTTO: General Shelton worries about this dire scenario. The loss of command and control for the largest military ever assembled. That's for troops on the ground, in danger.

SHELTON: Troops on the ground in danger, and also when the president needs to give execute orders to the deployed forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ground, anything else?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're good to go, sir.

SCIUTTO: At Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, the 460th space wing is scrambling to respond to a far more dangerous reality, the loss of early warning of nuclear attack preventing our military from responding in time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standby. Data building in Florida. Aye, check sources.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Intelligent confirmed at this five lines.

[21:39:59] SCIUTTO: We are the first news crew allowed inside their highly classified operation center, where the team demonstrates how they watch every ballistic missile launch on the globe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Seders (ph), we're detecting a space launch on a cape Canaveral, Florida. Commander type is Alice 5 (ph) copy all.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. Nuclear early warning system satellites are placed in some of the highest orbits for protection, flying as high as 22,000 miles above us. Losing just two of them could leave the U.S. Military mostly blind to part of the planet.

DAVID MILLER JR, COMMANDER OF THE 460TH SPACE WING: You're looking at about a 30 to 40-minute flight time of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

SCIUTTO: Colonel David Miller commands the missile warning team.

MILLER: That may sound like a lot of time, but when you are providing warning and trying to inform decision makers on what the response should be, you can imagine that the expectation for us as the first detector and first report of that information is significantly shorter.

SCIUTTO: Back at strategic command, a clear indication of exactly what's at stake. A line of digital clocks that would start counting down if nuclear missiles were ever launched. Red for the time to impact on an adversary's soil, blue for time to impact here in the U.S. And safe escape for the time that commanders here have to flee to their aircraft, which remains on alert 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With the fate of the nation potentially at stake, I had one overriding question. Can the U.S. credibly defend itself in space, without the ability to shoot back?

Are offensive space weapons part of the conversation for the U.S., under consideration? HANEY: I would just put it this way, we're looking across the whole spectrum of capability.

SCIUTTO: So not taking that option off the table?

HANEY: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: And so, 30 feet underground in perhaps America's most secure command headquarters, I learned that the U.S. may soon be joining the first space arms race.

SEC. ROBERT WORK, DEPUTY OF DEFENSE: If you hit me, I'm going to hit you harder.

SCIUTTO: Next, the U.S. fires back.


[21:46:15] SCIUTTO: In the Persian Gulf, an instantaneous force of energy destroys targets, first on the surface, then in the air. Its deadly firepower moving literally at the speed of light. Obliterating its target, the navy says, like a long-distance blow torch. This is the U.S. Military's first operational laser weapon. And today it is deployed to defeat incoming threats at sea. Could a laser some day be used for targets in space?

Firing lasers in space.

GRAZIANI: Potentially.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. It's remarkable.

GRAZIANI: When you get into this, you get into all sorts of classification levels that I'm not cleared into.

SCIUTTO: This would require a major strategic shift for the U.S., deploying weapons for use in space. And so, many took notice when, in April this year, Deputy Defense Secretary, Bob Work vowed that the U.S. will strike back if attacked in space. Strike back, he added, and knock them out.

WORK: From the very beginning, if someone starts going after our space constellation, we're going to go after the capabilities that would prevent them from doing that.

SCIUTTO: That sounds like an offensive response to an offensive weapon. If shot, you will shoot back?

WORK: Let me just say that having the capability to shoot the torpedo would be a good thing to have in our quiver.

SCIUTTO: The fact is, the U.S. has already taken down targets in space. In 2008, a tactical missile intercepted and destroyed an orbiting satellite, which had veered out of control. This is the very moment when that satellite was blown to pieces. Officially, operation burnt frost was launched to protect the Earth from toxic fuel onboard the faltering satellite, but many saw a warning to China, Russia, and others that the U.S. has offensive capabilities, as well.

WORK: There's deterrence by denial, where you try to convince your adversary, that no matter what they do, no matter how many attacks they shoot at our satellites, we're still going to be able to operate through those attacks. And then there's deterrence by punishment. Saying, if you hit me, I'm going to hit you harder.

SCIUTTO: Weapons fired the from earth is one thing. But now the US is considering capabilities it could deploy on the front lines in space, arming satellites.

WORK: You could have weapons that could be fired against the weapons that are coming at you.

SCIUTTO: Secretary Work raised the possibility of arming satellites with weapons he compared to the death charges that navy surface ships used to defend against enemy submarines during World War II.

WORK: And so you can imagine us doing that type of activity in space. Essentially, it would all be defensive in nature, trying to keep our satellites from being destroyed. So, some people might say, well, that sounds like offensive war in space to me. We look at this as totally defensive.

SCIUTTO: Looking further into the realm of star wars, the U.S. has been quietly developing the first American space drone, the X-37B. Bearing a striking resemblance to the space shuttle, the drone is essentially a reusable spacecraft carrying payload in the space.

WORK: So it' been deployed. The nice part about it is you n bring it back, deploy it again and we'll experiment with it.

[21:49:57] SCIUTTO: Its other missions are classified, but its maneuverability, payload space and ability to stay on orbit for hundreds of days give it potential for offensive and defensive mission in space as well, missions the military today denies.

When China or Russia sees a capability like a drone, why is it not reasonable for them to conclude the U.S. has potential space weapons?

HYTEN: I should too. I can tell you what it is, I can tell the world what it is, and it's not a weapon but people can look at it and they can believe what they want to believe.

SCIUTTO: But do adversaries such as Russia and China buy it? When we come back, the race that could devastate space for centuries to come.

HYTEN: There will be conflict.


SCIUTTO: The aftermath of the first space war would be devastating and lasting. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of pieces of debris, an orbiting minefield with each object a potential satellite killer. HYTEN: The environment that you destroy and create is there for decades and decades and centuries and century. We have to be able to avoid that. It takes away the dream of exploring space.

SCIUTTO: A destroyed space environment would mean a war with no winners.

[21:55:03] SHELTON: It would be unusable for all, you know, not just the two adversaries, but for everyone. And it would be unusable for a long time.

SCIUTTO: A new mutually assured destruction?

SHELTON: Maybe so, maybe so.

SCIUTTO: A Mutually Assured Destruction. M.A.D., as it was known during the Cold War for the space age, but this time, with no rules and no limits.

SHELTON: If not explicit, there were certainly an implicit agreement during the Cold War with the Russians that strategic assets in space were off limits.

Both nations as a minim implicitly agreed to that redline. I don't believe that we have had that same dialogue with the Chinese. And therefore, I don't think there's going to be near as much of a deterrent thought in their minds.

SCIUTTO: But today, you don't believe that China sees an offensive strike in space as a red line just crossing a red line?

SHELTON: Not in all of their writings that we've been able to glean.

SCIUTTO: Fact to life.

SHELTON: Fact of life.

SCIUTTO: So, how to make space war less likely? Some space commanders say they must convince adversaries that the U.S. has so many assets in space, that it could survive any attack.

SINGER: Resilience is the ability to shrug off the bad thing that happens to you to get back up quickly when you've been knocked down. We don't yet have resilience in our space capability. We don't have enough satellites.

SCIUTTO: One solution may lie here.

BUCK: This is a CubeSat.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. is now designing and deploying a new age of micro satellites, CubeSats like this one, smaller than a toaster.

SCIUTTO: What can a single CubeSat do?

BUCK: A variety element. SCIUTTO: OK.

BUCK: A variety of missions.

SCIUTTO: Could it take pictures?

BUCK: Absolutely. Most of it is research and development right now, right. Trying to find out how can we really use this miniaturized technology? Some of them even have some propulsion onboard.

SCIUTTO: The idea is simple. Spread America's space needs from the hundreds of satellites deployed today to thousands or more, too many targets for U.S. adversaries to take down.

BUCK: Talk about redundancy, resiliency, incredible capability and not just for the military, right, for commercial applications.

SCIUTTO: Global wi-fi, right?

BUCK: There you go.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. That's remarkable.

BUCK: It's great technology.

SCIUTTO: For now, the U.S. still depends on their much larger predecessors, like this next-generation satellite, GPS III due to launch in 2018.

Lockheed Martin granted CNN an exclusive first-ever look at the GPS III in production, a classified and clean environment, in which one stray hair, a bit of dust, could do significant damage.

COL. STEVEN WHITNEY, DIRECTOR OF THE GPS SYSTEM: You need to replenish the constellation.

SCIUTTO: Colonel Steven Whitney, Director of the GPS System under Air Force Space Command tells us that these new satellites have new special capabilities.

WHITNEY: We're improving the accuracy, we're improving the integrity of the signal. We're improving the power, we do it to overcome other signals in the area.

SCIUTTO: Meaning the GPS satellites will be harder for enemies to jam. Other new satellites have shutters to block lasers and thrusters and fuel to move out of harm's way, more agile spacecraft for more dangerous space environment.

But our U.S. adversary's making bigger, faster, leaps. In 2018, China will make history when it lands a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon.

SINGER: A lander will land on the dark side of the moon. A robot will roll out and it will have the Chinese flag written on the side of it. It will be a historic moment not just for China, but for humanity. And we have to wrap our heads around the fact that we're not going to be the one's leading the way.

SCIUTTO: And so, U.S. space commanders are now being forced to think even further into a daunting future.

HYTEN: Some days, they'll be x-1 fighters. Every domain we've gone into has been subject to conflict. And, you know, it would be nice to be polyenic and say it will never happen in space, but that's a mistake.

We have to assume the worst case, assume what we see is true, that people are building those capabilities to challenge us and we will have capabilities to defeat them.

SCIUTTO: It is the arms race of the 21st century and beyond, with a new American battle plan but no certain victory.

[22:00:06] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Guess who's coming to dinner at one of New York's fanciest restaurant.