DEFENCE technology

US military officials highlight China's rising threat using anti-satellite technology

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 4:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 May, 2015, 12:59am

China has the most rapidly growing space programme in the world, and continues to develop lasers, satellite jammers and other weapons aimed at the space-based assets of adversaries, a new US report said today.

China has also built a “vast ground infrastructure” to build, launch and control satellites, said the US Defence Department’s annual report to US Congress on military and security issues related to China.

The report marked the latest push by US military officials to highlight increasing threats to American satellite systems.

Those concerns prompted the Obama administration to propose US$5 billion in extra spending over the next five years to increase the security and resilience of US military and spy satellites.

By October last year, China had launched 16 spacecraft that had expanded its satellite communications and surveillance capabilities, including the first satellite that provided very high resolution imagery, the report said.

The report provided new details about China’s so-called “counterspace” technologies. It said a launch in July last year had renewed concerns about China’s development of destructive space technologies, despite public statements about the use of space for peaceful purposes.

“The US government is providing more details on Chinese counterspace activities than they have in the past,” said Brian Weeden with the non-profit Secure World Foundation. “The Pentagon is clearly increasingly alarmed about China’s growing space capabilities and counterspace capabilities.”

The July last year launch did not destroy a satellite or create space debris, but the report cited evidence that suggested it was a follow-up to the January 2007 test that destroyed a defunct weather satellite and created hundreds of pieces of space debris.

In May 2013, China also launched an object into space on a ballistic trajectory with a peak altitude of over 30,000 kilometres, putting it near geosynchronous orbit, where many nations have communications and earth-sensing satellites, the report said.

The space vehicle reentered Earth’s orbit after 9.5 hours, which was not consistent with traditional space-launch vehicles, ballistic missiles or rocket launches used for scientific research, but could indicate a counterspace mission.

China had not responded to queries from the US government and other groups about the purpose and nature of the launch.

Chinese military writings continued to emphasise the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance ... and communications satellites” to “blind and deafen the enemy”, the report said.