The U.K. Telegraph has an alarming--if slightly inaccurate--report on China's efforts to disable U.S. spy satellites. According to the paper, China has test-fired powerful lasers which could blind our electro-optical surveillance satellites, operating in low earth orbit (LEO). The paper seems to insinuate that Beijing has actually fired lasers at our EO satellites, which would be considered an act of war. Telegraph reporter Francis Harris also claims the Bush Administration has kept the attacks secret, to keep China engaged on the North Korean nuclear issue.
Perhaps I'm being overly skeptical, but I don't think that any administration would tolerate attacks against key intelligence platforms, regardless of over-arching diplomatic concerns. Beyond that, it's difficult to believe that any regime--particularly one that carefully calibrates major diplomatic and military moves--would approve such a provocative step, particularly in peacetime.
Make no mistake; China has a very active counter-space program that has grown dramatically over the past decade, and much of that effort is aimed at the United States. Beijing understands that we rely on space for a number of military and commercial functions; simply stated, without access to the "high frontier," our armed forces and economy would suffer almost irreparable harm. In a regional or global conflict, Beijing would make a serious effort to deny our access to space and space-based platforms. But short of war, there are other vehicles for demonstrating counter-space capabilities, without launching an actual attack. That would be a more sensible option, and the most likely one that Beijing would follow.
Still, the Telegraph article outlines a serious and growing threat to U.S. interests. Defense of space must become a higher priority for this administration (and the one that follows). Otherwise, we may (in a few short years), find ourselves with a true "peer competitor" in the space arena--an adversary with the potential to disrupt an deny our use of that realm, and few options for preventing it.
P.S.--These developments underscore the absolute folly of the decision to cancel our successful ASAT program in the mid-1980s. That effort was built around a three-stage missile, launched by a USAF F-15 in a steep climb. The missile was successfully tested in 1985, but the program was later abandoned following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and before the advent of China's counter-space efforts.
Asymmetric warfare in action...China doesn't even need to become our peer in space (although they are trying.) All they need to do is deny us access to it and we're on a level playing field, which is the last place the U.S. military wants to be.
Perhaps some "decoy" satellites should mimic the same orbits...
It seems they are finding out which satellites are to be foiled...how are they getting that? There is a satellite spotting community around the world who predict these things as a hobby and publish their measurements...so any schmoe with an internet connection can find the orbital paths for all of the KH-11 assets...I dont think for a minute that the ChiComs are the only ones who are on to that lead either...
A good rule is to treat anything from British papers with scepticism.
They may have just decided to light one up. We did that with one of ours as a way of demonstrating that we could direct a ground-based laser onto a sattelite. If they don't damage it, we probably won't raise a stink. They get to send a message to us when they know the US is too tapped out to take on any new crisis.
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