Thursday, April 16, 2015

Things to Think About: China's Anti-Satellite Weapons

U.S. AEHF satellite (USAF image)
For a country like the U.S.,  highly dependent on its satellites for a whole bunch of things including many defense missions, here is a worrisome development "China "successfully" tests an anti-satellite weapon
China has successfully placed low earth orbit satellites at risk, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond told an overflow audience at the annual Warfighters Lunch at the Space Symposium here. “Soon every satellite in every orbit will be able to be held at risk,” the head of the 14th Air Force said.

China has claimed the test was for missile defense and noted that nothing was destroyed in the test. Raymond clearly wanted to dispel that impression and make certain everyone in the space community knew that China had executed another ASAT test and that it had worked.
More here.

Should we be surprised?

Only if we have been burying our heads in the sand.

A James Bond movie ASAT
I mean even in 1967 the James Bond movie You only Live Twice featured a satellite killer of sorts. The USSR had an ASAT program in starting in the 1970s.

The U.S. has a program since the 1950s. It was mentioned in the Tom Clancy book Red Storm Rising.

Think about it. Asymmetric warfare means finding ways to exploit your potential adversary's weak links. So China develops  ballistic missiles designed to take out carriers at sea, strengthened artificial islands ("unsinkable aircraft carriers"), numerous high velocity anti-ship cruise missiles mounted on low cost platforms, numbers of small relatively inexpensive submarines,  huge numbers of sea mines, and . . . anti-satellite weapons.

How does the U.S. counter? Drones. Satellite substitutes (high flying, long endurance drones), ballistic missile defense weapons.


One jump ahead.

Interesting post at Global Security from 2013:
China reported the launch of a suborbital high altitude sounding rocket [more properly, a vertical probe] on May 13 to an altitude of more than (but of order?) 10000 km, and possibly of order 30,000 km. The launch came only days after US Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter unveiled what he termed a "long overdue" effort to safeguard US national security satellites and to develop ways to counter the space capabilities of potential adversaries.
"Long overdue."

Mr. Carter is now the Secretary of Defense.

A good deal of background from the Union of Concerned Scientists in a 2012 paper by Laura Grego A History of Anti-Satellite Programs.

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