Home > China, Technology > China Taps Antisatellite Weapon for Missile Defense: Cable

China Taps Antisatellite Weapon for Missile Defense: Cable

March 11, 2011

China in an early 2010 exercise attempted to intercept a mock enemy missile with the same weapon it had used to shoot down one of its orbiting satellites in a test three years earlier, suggesting the nation’s antisatellite technology was also designed to defend against strategic missiles, the Washington Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Jan. 14, 2010).

The apparent multipurpose nature of China’s SC-19 missile — described in a U.S. State Department communication obtained by the transparency organization WikiLeaks — represents a marked stride in China’s efforts to bolster its armed forces, defense officials said (see GSN, Feb. 7).

“The U.S. Intelligence Community assesses that on 11 January 2010, China launched an SC-19 missile from the Korla Missile Test Complex and successfully intercepted a near-simultaneously launched CSS-X-11 medium-range ballistic missile launched from the Shuangchengzi Space and Missile Center,” the State Department document says.

“An SC-19 was used previously as the payload booster for the January 11, 2007, direct-ascent antisatellite (DA-ASAT) intercept of the Chinese FY-1C weather satellite,” it states. “Previous SC-19 DA-ASAT flight-tests were conducted in 2005 and 2006. This test is assessed to have furthered both Chinese ASAT and ballistic missile defense (BMD) technologies.”

Washington intended to grill Beijing on the perceived link, its potential plans to field antimissile equipment and what “foreign forces” the defenses would seek to address, according to the document.

Former State Department China analyst John Tkacik suggested he would have expected the Defense Department to publicize the connection between China’s antisatellite and antimissile systems.

“All we got last year was Assistant Defense Secretary Chip Gregson vaguely saying that the U.S. was seeking an explanation,” Tkacik said. “We have since been stiff-armed by the Chinese in every proposal we’ve made to sit down and discuss rules of the road on space and strategic weapons. But the Obama people apparently are trying to play-down China’s BMD capabilities.”

The apparent link was not an anticipated subject of discussion in a yearly Defense Department report to lawmakers on China’s armed forces, but the Obama administration was considering the matter, the Times reported.


President Obama’s focus on securing a strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia distracted his administration from countering China’s missile defense progress, Tkacik said.

“We have to start taking China’s space capabilities very seriously,” the expert said. “The Chinese have a dozen academies filled with world-class space and missile scientists, they know what they’re doing, and they have unlimited funds to do it with.”

Mark Stokes, a expert on the Chinese military with the independent 2049 Institute, added: “The space-intercept test conducted last year further demonstrates advances that China has made in its ability to track and engage targets in space, whether satellites or ballistic missiles.”

A Chinese Embassy spokesman reaffirmed the Foreign Ministry’s previous assertion that the 2010 antimissile test was “defensive in nature and targeted at no country” (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, March 10).

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