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China’s anti-satellite weapon a ‘trump card’ against US

January 7, 2013


China may be gearing up to perform a controversial ASAT test this month: media report (Reuters)

Amid reports that China is gearing up to conduct one more anti-satellite weapons test (ASAT) putting US Global Positioning System (GPS) at risk, Chinese state media today asserted that Beijing had the right to carry out the test as it is a “trump card” against Washington.

China may be gearing up to perform a controversial ASAT test this month, perhaps in the next week or two, US media report said.

“In 2007 and 2010, China conducted anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests, both on January 11. Rumours circulating for the past few months suggest that some within the US defence and intelligence community believe China is preparing to conduct another ASAT test,” Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge-based body of scientists reported.

China’s previous tests caused concern in India too with assertions by the Indian defence officials that New Delhi also should acquire such a capability.

“Just before Christmas, a high-ranking US defence official told us that the Obama administration was very concerned about an imminent Chinese ASAT test,” Gregory Kulacki, China project manager of the group and senior analyst reported two days ago.

“Given these high-level administration concerns, and past Chinese practice, there seems to be a strong possibility China will conduct an ASAT test within the next few weeks. What kind of test and what the target might be is unclear,” Kulacki wrote in his report.

Reacting to the report, an editorial in China’s state-run Global Times said today that concerns that the test will put the US strategic satellites at risk is “over blown”.

“China reportedly conducted an anti-satellite test in early 2007, which caused a great uproar. Some analysts said that even if China really once again launches a test, it will not strike down satellites, but invalidate them,” it said without stating whether the test would be conducted.

“Whether China will launch new anti-satellite test is still unknown. However China should continue substantive research on striking satellites. In the foreseeable future, gap between China and the US cannot be eliminated by China’s development of space weapons,” the editorial said.

“The US advantage is overwhelming. Before strategic uncertainties between China and the US can disappear, China urgently needs to have an outer space trump card”, it said.

“China’s public policy is peaceful use of space, which is also China’s real desire. China has no interest in launching a large-scale space race with the US. China and Russia jointly initiated a programme to avoid an arms race in outer space in 2008, but this proposal was refused by the US”, it said.

“Against this background, it is necessary for China to have the ability to strike US satellites. This deterrent can provide strategic protection to Chinese satellites and the whole country’s national security”, it said.

“The US will continue to harass and even obstruct China’s developing of its space capabilities. China should make tactical adjustments to reduce trouble. It is key for China to have the ability of strategic retaliation. It is a safeguard for China to deter the US from taking risky action against China in this period of great transition,” it said.

The planned test by China comes in the backdrop of the launch of China’s own GPS called BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) currently being used by Chinese military and a number of official bodies.

China plans to launch 20 more satellites to improve its functioning.

Some US officials suspect China may want to go higher than it did in either 2007 or 2010, targeting an object 12,000 miles or so above Earth’s surface.

This ability to reach Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) could theoretically put the constellation of US Global Positioning System navigational satellites at risk, a report in Space.Com said.

“But there are good reasons for China not to destroy a satellite at this orbit, including that China plans to use this part of space,” Kulacki wrote.

“Creating debris, as it now understands, would threaten its own satellites. Over the next several years, China plans to place more than 20 new navigational satellites in MEO,” he wrote.

Kulacki urged the Obama Administration to attempt to dissuade China from conducting any more destructive ASAT tests.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union abandoned such tests as their space programmes matured, he notes.

“Hopefully, China will eventually come to a similar conclusion,” Kulacki wrote adding that “beginning a meaningful bilateral dialogue on space security between the United States and China could hasten the day.”

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