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Chinese Anti-Satellite [ASAT] Capabilities

China has tested two direct-ascent antisatellite missiles: the SC–19 and the larger DN–2. Direct-ascent antisatellite missiles are designed to disable or destroy a satellite or spacecraft using one of several possible kill mechanisms, such as a kinetic kill vehicle. The missiles typically are launched against pre-selected targets, as they must either wait for the target satellite to pass overhead within a certain distance from the launch site, or target a stationary satellite within range of the launch site. Unlike co-orbital antisatellite systems, direct-ascent antisatellite missiles do not establish a persistent presence in space, enter into long-term orbits, or loiter to await commands to engage a target.

China continues to develop and refine its ASAT capabilities as one component of a multi-dimensional program to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by potential adversaries during times of conflict. In addition to the direct-ascent ASAT program, China is developing other technologies and concepts for kinetic and directed energy for ASAT missions. Foreign and indigenous systems give China the capability to jam common satellite communications bands and Global Positioning satellites (GPS) receivers. China's ASAT programs have significant implications for anti-access/area-denial efforts against the United States in Taiwan Strait contingencies.

A PLA analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations reinforced the importance of operations in space to enable informationalized warfare. This analysis claimed that "space is the commanding point for the information battlefield. Battlefield monitor and control, information communications, navigation and position guidance all rely on satellites and other sensors." PLA writings emphasize the necessity of "destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance ... and communications satellites," suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among initial targets of attack to "blind and deafen the enemy." The same PLA analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations also states that "destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors ... will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision guided weapons into full play."

R&D on fundamental technologies applicable to an ASAT weapons system has been ongoing in China since the 1960s. Under the 640 Program, the space and missile industry's Second Academy, traditionally responsible for SAM development, set out to field a viable antimissile system, consisting of a kinetic kill vehicle, high powered laser, space early warning, and target discrimination system components. This program was abandoned in 1980.

Preliminary research on ASATs was carried out since the 1980s, at least partly funded under the 863 Program for High Technology Development. PLA-affiliated publications long asserted that while China did not yet possess the capability to destroy satellites with high-powered lasers, they are capable of damaging optical reconnaissance satellites.

The 1998 Report to Congress "Future Military Capabilities and Strategy of the People's Republic of China", states "China already may possess the capability to damage, under specific conditions, optical sensors on satellites that are very vulnerable to damage by lasers. However, given China's current interest in laser technology, it is reasonable to assume that Beijing would develop a weapon that could destroy satellites in the future."

China is said to be acquiring a variety of foreign technologies, which could be used to develop an anti-satellite (ASAT) capability. Beijing already may have acquired technical assistance which could be applied to the development of laser radars used to track and image satellites and may be seeking an advanced radar system with the capability to track satellites in low earth orbit. It also may be developing jammers, which could be used against Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. In addition, China already may possess the capability to damage, under specific conditions, optical sensors on satellites that are very vulnerable to damage by lasers. Beijing also may have acquired high-energy laser equipment and technical assistance, which probably could be used in the development of ground-based ASAT weapons.

Given China's level of interest in laser technology, Beijing probably could develop a weapon that could destroy satellites in the future. Although specific Chinese programs for laser ASAT have not been identified, press articles indicate an interest in developing this capability and Beijing may be working on appropriate technologies. According to senior consultant, James T. Westwood, of Military Science and Defense Analytics, Unionville, VA, the Chinese ASAT test in January, 2007, was propitious in confirming in the real world, an original operations research and analysis study he did during 1989-1990 while consulting to a consortium of defense contractors paid by the then Strategic Defense Initiative Office (SDIO) in the Pentagon.

In that novel study, Westwood showed that space-based 'Brilliant Pebbles' component of the national missile defense system, sponsored by Dr. Lowell Wood (Edward Teller's protégé), of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was a fundamentally flawed concept of operations because (1) it required less than one percent of the total constellation contemplated by the LLNL model to perform effectively and (2) because, like as the PRC anti-satellite event over fifteen years later, every successive, successful, kinetic-kill impact would increase the volume of an orbiting debris cloud, itself ever-more ruinous of the jth "pebble's" reliability.

The Clinton Administration cancelled 'Brilliant Pebbles' five years later. During this ground-breaking study, Mr. Westwood collaborated with Dr. Gregory Canavan, a kinematicists’ and, at one time, the youngest lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force on active duty, then at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Kinematics is that branch of physics which studies bodies in motion without respect to how they come to be in motion.)

In August 2006 there were reports that China had fired high-power lasers at American intelligence satellites flying over its territory. National Reconnaissance Office Director, Donald M. Kerr, told reporters that a US satellite had recently been "painted," or illuminated, by a ground-based laser in China. Some observers saw this as tests of Chinese capability to blind the spacecraft, while others took it as being tests of a laser radar for guiding a direct ascent kinetic energy ASAT. It was unclear how many times a the ground-based laser was tested against US spacecraft.

According to Westwood, in 1978, while employed as a senior special research analyst for one of the three-letter national intelligence agencies, he discovered and crystallized into application, a novel, original technique for interpreting and predicting all of the military and space programs of the former Soviet Union with consistent accuracy and reliability. There came from this numerous applications and non-surprises, e.g., that the ballistic missile programs, with their space rocket off-shoots (to coin a phrase), were arguably the most reliable and revealing among the thousands of armor, aircraft, ship, artillery, etc. military hardware and operations programs. In a recent interview with this author, Westwood says that to the extent that the military programs of the PRC long may have replicated the former Soviet Union's national planning schema, the same methodology likely can successfully illuminate China's future military and space programs.

The Dalian Universuty of Technology design team was on January 9, 2009 awarded the top PRC Science and Technology Award for the development of the ASAT system. It was headed by Gua Dongming head of the Dalian scientific team that included Jai Zhenyuan, Kang Renke, Wang Yongqing, Sheng Xianjun of Dalian University and Yu Huilong of the 25th institute , 2nd. Academy Astronautics science and industry group.

In an effort to counteract a network of US navigation, intelligence, and communication satellites capable of unmatched precision strikes, China is developing its own arsenal of electromagnetic railguns, powerful microwave weapons, and high-powered lasers.

Researchers, Zeng Yu-quang, Wang Zhi-hong, and Gao Ming-hui first wrote about the notion of a space-based laser weapon in 2013 in the Chinese Optics journal. All three scientists work for leading laser-weapons technology organization the Institute for Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics. The article revealed that, "In 2005, we have successfully conducted a satellite-blinding experiment using a 50-100 kilowatt capacity mounted laser gun in Xinjiang province…The target was a low orbit satellite with a tilt distance of 600 kilometers. The diameter of the telescope firing the laser beam is 0.6 meters wide. The accuracy of [acquisition, tracking and pointing is less than 5 [microradians]."


Chinese ASAT and rates of change (Allen Thomson) 1995/12/31

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