China's Space-Weapon Test Could Endanger Astronauts and Satellite - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


China's Space-Weapon Test Could Endanger Astronauts and Satellite

Criticizing China's test of an anti-satellite weapon, the U.S. State Department said Friday "modern life as we know it" depends on the security of space-based technology.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the administration raised concerns about the test with Chinese officials in Washington and in Beijing, making clear its opposition to "any militarization of space."

He said tests of the kind China carried out "produce extensive amounts of space debris, have the potential for disturbing or accidentally disrupting communication satellites or other kinds of space vehicles that are out there."

A report released Friday by a U.S. congressional advisory panel said there is a movement within the Chinese military for development of an anti-satellite weapons system that could be used against U.S. targets without warning. The report said even a small-scale attack could have "catastrophic" consequences for the United States.

At the White House on Friday, deputy press secretary Dana Perino said Chinese officials had not yet responded to U.S. inquiries.

"We do want co-operation on a civil space strategy, so until we hear back from them or have more information, I don't have any more to add," Perino said.

The test was reported to have knocked out an aging Chinese weather satellite with a vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile. The satellite was believed located about 800 kilometres above the Earth.

Casey acknowledged the United States carried out an anti-satellite device test in 1985 but said the international context was entirely different at the time, pointing to Cold war tensions of that period.

More important, he said is the impact of space technology on everyday life compared with the earlier period. As examples, satellite communications have revolutionized weather forecasting, as well as television viewing. Satellites are also important for military communications.

U.S. Representative Terry Everett, senior Republican on the House of Representatives armed services subcommittee on strategic forces, said China's test "raises serious concerns about the vulnerability of our space-based assets."

"We depend on satellites for a host of military and commercial uses, from navigation to ATM transactions."

Casey, asked whether the United States plans weapons tests in space, said: "My understanding is there are no plans or intentions on the part of the United States to engage in such activities."

The U.S. disclosure that China had carried out the test raised concern in Asia and prompted demands for explanations from Beijing.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki also suggested China's lack of transparency about its military development could trigger suspicions about its motives in the region.

In his annual threat address to Congress, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt.-Gen. Michael Maples, said last week China and Russia are the "primary states of concern" regarding military space programs.

"Several countries continue to develop capabilities that have the potential to threaten U.S. space assets and some have already deployed systems with inherent anti-satellite capabilities," he said.

His written testimony was presented Jan. 11, the same day as China's test.

The Chinese test prompted the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the congressional advisory panel, to release a lengthy study on the country's potential anti-satellite weapons capabilities. The study was prepared by China expert Michael Pillsbury and is based on open-source Chinese documents.

An executive summary of the report cited writings by three Chinese colonels who advocated covert deployment of a sophisticated anti-satellite weapons system to be used against the United States "in a surprise manner without warning."

It said even a small-scale anti-satellite attack in a crisis against 50 U.S. satellites "could have a catastrophic effect not only on U.S. military forces but on the U.S. civilian economy."

It is not clear from U.S. open sources how rapidly, if at all, the United States could launch "spare" satellites to replace a few dozen that had been incapacitated in orbit by Chinese attack, the report said.

Other concepts proposed by the Chinese military, the study said, called for jamming and attacking ground stations, rather than destruction of U.S. satellites.

In both the anti-satellite and ground station attacks, the United States could have difficulty knowing which country was responsible for the hostilities, the report said.

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