Saturday, May 26, 2007

Space Race

Along with its coverage of PRC ballistic missile programs, this year's edition of Chinese Military Power also focuses on an important event that occured earlier this year--Beijing's successful test of an anti-satellite weapon.

As we noted at the time (mid-January), the ASAT test represented a watershed event for the PRC. Over the past decade--and at a cost of billions of dollars--the PRC has successfully developed both space-based and ground-based anti-satellite weapons, giving them the potential to target platforms in low earth orbit (LEO). That's the arena where our imagery intelligence satellites operate; given our reliance on overhead reconnaissance systems, the possible targeting (and loss) of these assets could be devastating.

Interestingly, some U.S. analysts believe that we're somehow to blame for Beijing's ASAT program. They claim that the Chinese have been pressing us for years to negotiate a space weapons treaty. Our reluctance to enter into such an agreement has, in their view, pushed China to spend billions of dollars on state-priority ASAT systems.

However, that argument rings hollow, as we've noted before. As a rule of thumb, you don't negotiate away systems that can degrade (or even defeat) an adversary's critical capabilities, particulary when your enemy has let his own programs grow dormant. The last U.S. ASAT test occurred more than 20 years ago, and we've haven't actively pursued anti-satellite capabilities to avoid the "militarization" of space.

Secondly, the agreement that Beijing is pushing for would not include the weapons recently tested (surprise, surprise). And, given their investment (and recent, successful tests), it's doubtful that the PRC would go along with a comprehensive space weapons ban, something the U.S. might actually be interested in.

The Chinese Military Power report called it right; China's emerging ASAT capability is a direct threat to the U.S.--and any other nation--that wants unfettered access to the high frontier. And the idea that we've somehow "forced" Beijing to develop these weapons is pure bunk.


Brian H said...

China should send up a few million street sweepers to clean up the huge debris ring it put around the planet with that test.

ptg said...

What we need is an anti--anti-satellite system. Seriously, it looks like the PRC is ready to give us a run for the money in several races.