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Arms race in space ... (UPDATED)
Posted by: McQ on Friday, January 19, 2007

China just changed the dynamic and raised the stakes in a very controversial demonstration of its apparent anti-satellite technology:
The Chinese military used a ground-based missile to hit and destroy one of its aging satellites orbiting more than 500 miles in space last week — a high-stakes test demonstrating China's ability to target regions of space that are home to U.S. spy satellites and space-based missile defense systems.

The test of anti-satellite technology is believed to be the first of its kind in two decades by any nation and raised concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. satellites and a possible arms race in space.
Possible arms race? How about probable? On an ironic note:
The Chinese test, first reported online by the magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology, comes at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China over space. China is leading an effort in the United Nations to set up an international conference to address what many consider to be an imminent space arms race. The United States has opposed the idea, arguing that it is not needed because there is no arms race in space. The Bush administration nevertheless released an updated national space policy last fall that strongly asserted an American right to defend itself in space against any actions it considers hostile.
Well there certainly is an arms race now.

The US and former Soviet Union tested anti-satellite technology in the mid '80s and the US shot down one of it's own aging satellites in 1985. But it created such a debris problem, that both sides discontinued any such tests. The Chinese test apparently created a large debris cloud of up to 300,000 pieces, according to an estimate. Of course such debris could create serious problems for other satellites or returning spacecraft such as the space shuttle.

Naturally, it appears our intelligence community was clueless concerning the Chinese capability:
The day the test was conducted, the chiefs of major U.S. intelligence agencies presented their annual threat assessments to Congress. Neither China's anti-satellite program nor its general push toward space weapons was mentioned during the public hearing or anywhere in the written testimonies of the director of national intelligence, the director of the Pentagon's intelligence agency or the CIA director.
That, of course, remains as big a concern and the Chinese anti-satellite capability.

UPDATE: James Oberg drops a note in the comment section referencing an article and analysis he wrote for MSNBC. Some great info to be found in the article which addresses some of the concerns left by commenters. His reasoning for the "why" of the test is also interesting:
The most obvious reason for China’s test at this time would be to push the United States, and particularly the new Democrat-controlled Congress, into signing a formal treaty banning the use of anti-satellite weapons. Otherwise, any ground-based missile — in a silo, on a submarine, or even on a test range — would have to be considered a potential anti-satellite weapon.

The United States, while asserting that it does not possess and is not developing such a weapon, has become diplomatically isolated on this issue in recent years by proclaiming that such a treaty is undesirable because it isn’t needed — because there has not been any “arms race in space” that would require a formal agreement. The Chinese test trumps that excuse.

The political response has been predictable, and probably just what China intended. For example, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., told The Washington Post that the Chinese action makes it essential that the administration begin negotiations to stop any possible space arms race.
They know their enemy, don't they?
 
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Comments
WHy should our intel agencies bother with something as trivial as China? They have important Iraq/WoT stories to leak in their fight against the administration...
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
On a more to the point issue, does anyone know the capability of our anti-Sat arsenal (do we even have one? I’d have just assumed we had some capability because that would make sense)
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Wait a minute, I thought we (the USA) were the only ones in the world allowed to do stuff like this??!! I thought space belonged to us?
www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com
 
Written By: MinorRipper
URL: http://
According to the technothrillers and science fiction I’ve read, taking out a satellite requires merely the ability to loft a load to its orbit. Dump a load of double-ought buckshot in its path and when it passes thru the cloud one or two objects are bound to hit something critical.
 
Written By: triticale
URL: http://triticale.mu.nu
Projected US Air Force capabilities for space-based warfare are summed up nicely, here. I suggest that this plan is intended to update, rather than replace, existing Air Force ASAT missiles and their associated weapons platforms and guidance systems [presumably the F-15, as bombers are, with the possible exception of the B-1, incapable of demonstrating the necessary flight characteristics for launch [I assume that the USAF has plans to modify the F-22 to assume this duty from the aging F-15 fleet]).

A full copy of the official 2003 Air Force future planning document may be viewed here.

Notice that waaayy back in 2003, "defense experts" were predicting the Chinese and Russian development of ASAT’s. Do the intel analysts at the Central (Lack) of Intelligence Agency and NSA (No Such Agency) even bother to read such reports? For goodness’ sake, Sun Tzu discussed the failure of intelligence 2,000 years ago. Have we still not caught on? Let’s see, Tet Offensive (nope), fall of Berlin Wall (nope), collapse of Soviet Union (nope), 9/11 (nope), Chinese launch of ASAT missile (nope). So that’s bad guys 5, CIA/NSA/DIA 0. Time to play a little catch-up, don’t you think?
 
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: http://www.asecondhandconjecture.com
Well I hope that saner heads prevail and the US avoids Militarizing Space. I think ANY US action in this area will only lead to a backlash that will hurt the US, in both the short- and long-run...

Getting in Dr. Erb’s points so he doesn’t have to take time from his busy schedule.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Dump a load of double-ought buckshot in its path and when it passes thru the cloud one or two objects are bound to hit something critical.
Actually, it doesn’t matter whether something critical is hit or not. Those satellites hurdle along at several thousand miles per hour. At that speed, even a pebble can cause catastrophic damage.
 
Written By: Jordan
URL: http://
Er, hurdle = hurtle.
 
Written By: Jordan
URL: http://
One thing for all your "0-0" shot fans out there...The shot keeps moving for some distance, meaning that the buckshot you put up is a threat to ANY satellite in that path...to include US ones.

Really a Chinese ASAT works to THEIR advantage more than a US one works to OURS. After all, if you removed all satellites from orbit PRC, US, anyone’s, via magic or ASATS, who would suffer the most in a regional war around the PRC, centred on Korea, Japan or Taiwan...the US. Fact of the matter is, we need them more and the PRC needs them less. So even with an ASAT on our side, we are in a worse position as we rely on satellites more. Just a fact of life, so the US really needs to develop stealthing, maneuvering capacities, hardened communications, and system security, more than it needs an ASAT capacity. I freely admit I could be wrong about that...but that’s how it seems to me.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
My analysis for MSNBC.COM’s space page suggests that the shot was aimed exactly at forcing the US into a ’space weapons treaty’ that would have grossly asymmetrical constraints on the US and not anyone else. Check it out:

Msnbc (Oberg): Space war debate takes new turn
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16694039/
Analysis // James Oberg // NBC News space analyst
Special to MSNBC
Updated: 5:53 p.m. CT Jan 18, 2007

And many of the comments on this thread suggest the plan is working very very well.
 
Written By: Jim O
URL: http://www.jamesoberg.com
They know their enemy, don’t they?
They know who their friends are...
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Getting in Dr. Erb’s points so he doesn’t have to take time from his busy schedule.


Pretty accurate response I think
 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
Getting in Dr. Erb’s points so he doesn’t have to take time from his busy schedule.
Pretty accurate response I think
Feh. No reference to the DemiGod Carter.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Getting in Dr. Erb’s points so he doesn’t have to take time from his busy schedule.
Pretty accurate response I think
Feh. No reference to the DemiGod Carter
Not everything revolves around Ex-President and future Saint Jimmy, but MOST things revolve around "Backlashes" and the reason the US ought to do little active in the world, because any action taken will only exacerbate tensions or deleterious trends. Especially with the current Administration in charge, this failed President really ought to simply sit back and visit my blog for some useful ideas on the conduct of Foreign Affairs.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Come on guys, I totally want to see China go with this so that there will be a space arms race. When I was a little kid I daydreamed about space-ships fighting across the galaxy with laser beams. I might see it actually happen in my lifetime! This is so freakin cool! Real life battles IN SPACE!
 
Written By: Jimmy the Dhimmi
URL: http://www.warning1938alert.ytmnd.com
Jom’s point aside, and even assuming they ahve the ability to make such a treaty worthwhile... (NoKo, for example making lots of Nuke noise just to get a chip at the ’peace’ table... Do we figure the Chinese will stand by such a treaty?





 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
Do we figure the Chinese will stand by such a treaty?
that all depends on us. If we have a stupid or weak administration they will walk all over us. If we have a strong willed president who is not fooled by the Chinese they will toe the line, There is so much we could do to hurt them. What do you think would happen to their economy overnight if we just dropped them from most favored nation trade status?
 
Written By: kyle N
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
According to the technothrillers and science fiction I’ve read, taking out a satellite requires merely the ability to loft a load to its orbit. Dump a load of double-ought buckshot in its path and when it passes thru the cloud one or two objects are bound to hit something critical.
It’s a little trickier than that. The load of buckshot is also in orbit; if you just put it into the same orbit as your target, the satellite will never pass through the cloud. In order for that to happen, the cloud of buckshot must be moving more slowly than the satellite, which means it must be coming from a decaying orbit. So, you’ve got to put the buckshot into a higher orbit than your target, but moving more slowly, and time it so that it crosses the target’s path just as the target gets there. Otherwise, you’ve spent a whole lot of money to miss.
 
Written By: steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com/

 
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