China Space Attack: Unstoppable

China has shown it can destroy a satellite in orbit. What could the U.S. do to stop Beijing, if it decided to attack an American orbiter next? Short answer: nothing.
china_satellite.jpgIt takes about 20 minutes to fire a ballistic missile into space, and have its “kill vehicle” strike a satellite at hypersonic speed — over 15,000 miles per hour — in low-earth orbit. That’s far too quick for anything in the American arsenal to respond, in time. There’s “no possibility of shielding” a relatively-fragile satellite against such a strike. “And it is impractical [for a satellite] to carry enough fuel to maneuver away even if you had specific and timely warning of an attack,” Center for Defense Information analyst Theresea Hitchens notes.
The American military today counts on its satellites to relay orders, guide troops across battlefields, and spy on enemy hideouts. The U.S. Air Force’s primer for war in space — “Doctrine Document 2-2.1: Counterspace Operations” — lists a number of measures that can be taken to protect American assets in orbit, including “deploying satellites into various orbital altitudes and planes” and “employing frequency-hopping techniques to complicate jamming.” But those tactics are used to preserve the U.S. satellite constellation as a whole. None of them could save a single American orbiter against a direct attack. “Physical hardening of structures mitigates the impact of kinetic effects, but is generally more applicable to ground-based facilities than to space-based systems due to launch-weight considerations,” the Air Force document notes. “Maneuver[ing] is limited by on-board fuel constraints, orbital mechanics, and advanced warning of an impending attack. Furthermore, repositioning satellites generally degrades or interrupts their mission.”
With today’s conventional defenses proving so impotent, expect a new push within the U.S. military for more exotic countermeasures. The Airborne Laser is a modified 747 that’s being designed to blast missiles out of the sky, as soon as they leave they launch pad; the jet’s first flight test in expected in 2009, after years and years of delays. The Kinetic Energy Interceptor is a long-range, non-explosive missile, meant for the same task. But the weapon “exists mostly on paper, and couldn’t be operational before 2014,” Defense Tech’s David Axe noted recently.
The U.S. could also try to destroy an anti-satellite missile, before it took off. Over the last several years, momentum has been building in the Pentagon for the ability to conduct “Prompt Global Strikes,” hitting anywhere on Earth, in an hour or less. But near-term PGS plans — using modified Trident ballistic missiles — have been put on hold, for fears that such an attack could start World War III, in the process. Destroying a satellite is as clear an act of war as there can be, however. Perhaps those Trident attacks will now be seen as worth the risk.
In the meantime, GlobalSecurity.org director John Pike figures the Chinese will continue to test their satellite-killing weapons. It takes a dozen or more trials before a strategic weapon like this is deemed reliable enough to be considered operational. “So expect one or two more tests like this every year, for a long time,” he says.
The Chinese test, now confirmed by the National Security Council, would be the first successful anti-satellite weapons trial since 1985, when the United States used an F-15 and a kill vehicle to destroy the Solwind research satellite. And that trial was dangerous — not just for its target, but for nearly everything orbiting in space, Hitchens notes. Even small pieces of space debris can be lethal to spacecraft. The ’85 test “resulted in more than 250 pieces of debris, the last of which deorbited in 2002.”
The Chinese trial could “lead to nearly 800 debris fragments of size 10 cm or larger, nearly 40,000 debris fragments with size between 1 and 10 cm, and roughly 2 million fragments of size 1 mm or larger,” the Union of Concerned Scientists‘ David Wright notes on the Arms Control Wonk blog. “Roughly half of the debris fragments with size 1 cm or larger would stay in orbit for more than a decade.”
“This raises an interesting public policy question because we are so much more dependent on commercial and military satellites that the ASAT [anti-satellite] options available to us are much more complicated than those available to the Chinese,” adds Jeffrey Lewis. “This is a race that favors them, unfortunately.”
ALSO:
* China Tests Satellite Killer?
* Beijing’s Next-Gen Sat Strike
* Satellite Killer’s Broad Impact
* Why Did China Smack the Sat?
* China Sat-Killer Not Yet Weapons Grade?
* Who Ordered the Satellite Strike?

  • JH

    Their is a solution to protecting U.S satellites, but it would be about 10 years off. Space-based lasers.

  • Jeffrey Damien Cappella

    Knowing Teresa hitches and her motivated bias against the United States capitalizing upon its current advantages regarding utilization of near earth space her comments regarding the

  • C-Low

    So now would it be OK for the US to work on “star wars” or whatever satelite defence/anti missile net we have been trying to do without the HUGE INSANE flak jabber retarted pacifist criticism that is the norm?
    Or is this still “our fault” somehow?
    By the way many moon ago this is just one possibility some of US feared when Clinton approved advanced missile guidence systems to be sold to China “for peacefull space programs only” of course. Another being those new fangled Carrier killers China is perfecting Ballistic Missiles that dive straight down on a carrier from space with terminal guidance ability.

  • Jeffrey

    JH: “Their is a solution to protecting U.S satellites, but it would be about 10 years off. Space-based lasers.”
    Finally some one lese sees the solution besides me. Ya know JH I have been professing the necessity of SBL / GBL approach not only for missile defense but for defense of our space assets from ground to space interceptors (1) for over 8 years now. Interesting when I put forward those ideas on a white paper (pencil whipped to a b by the left wing professor at Georgetown) how hostile that crowd view such a approach. The funny thing was that a report out of RAND mirrored my conclusions not a year after submitting said white paper. Ya know when I mentioned this to ol Theresa on the ground floor of ICC in 2005 you should have heard her squeal in protest. Good sh-t trust me, buddy, keep up the good work.
    1. I know this still leaves the issue of hardening space assets against ground to space directed energy weapons a capability that China demonstrated within the past 2 years when it lased one of our space assets. While SBL/ GBL defensive constellation does not address such a threat that does not mean that such a threat is impossible to mitigate.

  • Jeffrey

    C-Low:
    “So now would it be OK for the US to work on “star wars” or whatever satelite defence/anti missile net we have been trying to do without the HUGE INSANE flak jabber retarted pacifist criticism that is the norm?”
    While I can empathize with your irritation regarding “pacifist” obstructionist based sedition. You must understand where such obstruction comes from. To be honest it has many different sources, one might say it is a political version of the low tech loose connected net-centric warfare being levied against us by our adversaries in GWOT. In this instance how ever their weapons are “lawfare” (1) something to which the United States being a representative republic is inherently vulnerable. Such sources include but are not limited too:
    A. Left over remnants of the sociological warfare levied against the United States by the Soviet Union. Such left wing elements got entrenched in United States institutions of education since the late 60s.
    B. Indigenous political dissidents whose activity is facilitated by the relative economic stagnation / decline of the United States. (2)
    C. The above of course supported / utilized by External Meddlers who use internal dissident factions such as China, Russia, France as well as transnational terrorist organizations and their rogue state supporters to undermine support of policies those external meddlers deem undesirable. (3)
    For those of you that think the above alarmist I suggest you read the book “Star Wars US tools of Space Supremacy”. Pay particular attention to chapter 10 where author Loring Wierbel talks about using “political action” and NGO’s to change United States policy. Better yet go to space4peace.org web site and talk to the director he is blatant on using “law fare” to undermine the United States ability to capitalize upon its current but diminishing advantages regarding utilization of near space.
    “By the way many moon ago this is just one possibility some of US feared when Clinton approved advanced missile guidence systems to be sold to China “for peacefull space programs only” of course. Another being those new fangled Carrier killers China is perfecting Ballistic Missiles that dive straight down on a carrier from space with terminal guidance ability”
    While you will never get me to defend Clintons policy of political engagement towards the Chinese, Clinton had support via the lassie fair free marketist on the right. Also ol Dubaya furthered tech transfer to china during his watch. I am not saying the United States should a policy of economic isolationism, rather we should adopt of a policy of strategic trade. Got to be careful C-Low don’t let group think cloud your judgement ;)

  • So we just lost de facto control of the ultimate high ground?

  • th

    You know, my Mom always taught me that when you can’t say something nice you shouldn’t say anything at all. So, I will take the high ground and avoid replying to ad hominem attacks, hilarious inability to spell my name correctly and distortions of my past presentations and currnt positions. But I will say one thing: if you actually read Noah’s post, you will see that the USAF itself echoed the comments I made about not being able to adequately protect a LEO sat from a direct ascent attack. Whatever your views about the necessity, feasibility and affordability of space-based interceptors, you still have to deal with the issue of timely, accurate and actionable warning regarding potential attack on a SPECIFIC satellite — which is not exactly a walk in the park. The limits of physics and the limits of engineering cannot be swayed by political ideology or will.

  • Gram-err….

    “…hilarious inability to spell my name correctly and distortions of my past presentations and currnt positions.”
    You spelled “current” incorrectly.

  • Yap Hong Hor

    First of all, its only right that some other country should try to counter what the Americans are doing.
    1. America has huge arsenal of weapon of WMD
    2. America has huge quantities of advanced aircraft, warships and missile systems
    3. America’s policy is to interfere in every corner of the world. Example: It has enacted the Taiwan Act to make prevent China from military action in their own land.
    4. America has invaded two countries in the Middle East.
    5. America has not been ashamed to want to use force or WMD, as shown in Hiroshima.
    6. America has been developing its missile shield and space system.
    All these acts of US is to show America’s arrogance and its military might.
    Do we allow US to do whatever it wants and cry fouls over other’s defensive development in military capabilities???
    This is exactly hypocracy of the first degree…..
    Yap

  • C-Low

    That IST was actually ISS International space station
    Its late I’m out.

  • JH

    Yap writes “First of all, its only right that some other country should try to counter what the Americans are doing.
    1. America has huge arsenal of weapon of WMD
    2. America has huge quantities of advanced aircraft, warships and missile systems
    3. America’s policy is to interfere in every corner of the world. Example: It has enacted the Taiwan Act to make prevent China from military action in their own land.
    4. America has invaded two countries in the Middle East.
    5. America has not been ashamed to want to use force or WMD, as shown in Hiroshima.
    6. America has been developing its missile shield and space system.
    All these acts of US is to show America’s arrogance and its military might.
    Do we allow US to do whatever it wants and cry fouls over other’s defensive development in military capabilities???
    This is exactly hypocracy of the first degree…..”
    Why would China be afraid of what the U.S is doing in the first place, unless China had some sinister plans… And two negatives don’t equal a positive either.
    1. Russia has more WMDs than the U.S, why don’t you care about them?
    2. China has the world’s largest army, and is spending more money than it claims to be on rapidly modernizing it Air Force and Navy (what it would count on to fight America over Taiwan)Not to mention stealing anything and everything it can get it’s hands on.
    3. The ONLY reason China doesn’t mess around in different parts of the world is simply because it can’t get there, and can not finacially afford to.
    4. Same answer as #3. Didn’t China invade a couple neighboring countries within the last 30 years…
    5. What kind of ultra lame chimcom comment is that?! The U.S hasn’t used WMD in over 60 years!
    6. Question: If you kick someones butt in war, and they want to strike back with nukes, how else do you stop that from happening without using nukes yourself? Answer: Develop an effective BMD shield.
    I’m honestly surprised you were able to get through the Great Firewall of China and visit this website. Hey don’t blink, or you might miss another 1,000 of your countrymen being put to death for minor crimes and having their organs harvested against their last wishes.

  • Scandlyn

    It may be speculation but I expect Tiawan to make a final bid for Independence before or during the Beijing Games while the world has its greatest focus on China thus far. Ironicly with the economic growth China is experienceing at present I wouldn’t be surprised if Tiawan wasn’t begging to come back in the distant future.
    I still believe that its any countries right to develope protection from its neighbours if it deems fit. Saddam’s main reason for his WMD’s could have souly been to keep his foes (Iran for instance) at bay using the Kurdism minority as an example to any would be invader. Where ever humanity shows its ugly side whether its a persons envy of their neighbours plasma TV or one country looking to take anothers natural resource you will always have a need to defend yourself. Peace is a myth in this regard.
    China has is moving in to a phase that will more then likely see it as the dominent economic power and world leader, any country on a path like this will always take steps to arm and defend its self accordingly. The US is a good example of this, heck who is it armed to defend its self against. Mexicans? Canadians? Surely not the Russians or those peskey Terroists. No other force has the mobile capablity to assult the US shore, does the US really need such a large expeditionary force to defend its self? Why would any nation need to invade another country? We frown upon China for developing a device that could give it a strategic advantage, while we watch the US refresh its current WMD stocks with out even bating an eye. If China builds up enough capability it would never have to drop a bomb on Hiroshima to get its point across, all it will need to do is prove it could if it wanted to, stretch out and reach points around the world and make everyone listen. There is a new bully in the school yard?
    If the US was smart they would rapidly start trying to work with China as an aly not an enemy (I believe the EU nations are concerned about such a partnership). China won’t back down on threats issued by the US or possibly the UN and has already showed that it is eager to keep do things its own way. Their handleing of North Korea and Iran are both examples of that. With the rest of the world more then eager to jump in to bed with China for a share of the economic growth China will soon find enough friends to back them in the global council. Sure China has a less then perfect human rights record but right now the US debarcle in Iraq and Afganistan, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina to name a few have made the US look no more benevalient. Small countries trying to keep a head in a world of increaseing economic difficulty will find it easier to open new oppertunities in China and ignore their prior indiscretions, then try and gain ground in the restricted US marketplace.
    Where will it all end? The US may eventually withdraw behind its borders and spend less on war and more on defence and its own people and the world will look to another benefactor to take on the role of big brother and that I am afraid may be an even scarier story, one I hope I never witness.

  • John sniper

    It’s a big progress of world peace.
    Since 1990 till now. USA always abruptness by their force on international community and UN.
    They interfere other country for oil without any UN permission. Thousands upon thousands peoples died because of it. They want develop fourth-generation nuclear weapons without consideration of our earth.
    So It’s necessary to have a another great power to deter USA. China is the choice.

  • Amhense

    Ok so yap the first atomic bombs were invented by US! MK? The NUKES were ours until Our so called partner Mother Russia Decided It wanted to be cool, One of the “Big Kids” with thoes bombs that kill lots of people. then the rest of the frekin world wants in on it to the point that we could destroy our selves 20 times over! the a bomb was to end WWII, NOT WORLD DOMINATION!!! All of You Pidley ass countries just need to understand that the USA could blow you to smitherenes, so dont even bother trying to “defend” your selves with ur little cracker jack box weapons. If the USA wants to take you over it will probibly do so.

  • human

    From what JH had posted on the net one can deduct that the guy is a neo-con who doesn’t know harmony that word. As a neo-con who just want to dominate the world and rob everybody else’s natural resources to safe guard their American way of life with complete disregard of neither the environment nor other people. I think the Americans need to address their great many problems such as borrowing fully 2/3 of every dollar safed by everybody in this world to finance their American way of life( and this is only one of them). Americans (European descendants) need to have a reality check as they are not the only one in this world and they cannot dictate what other people can or can’t do as if they were god(?). Americans owe the world trillions of dollars that they can never hope to repay and may be this is the leverage that we (as human beings of this American world) can use in order to check their madness.

  • razorblade

    Al-Qaeda is said to be able to detonate a low-yield nuclear device in a major metropolitan center (Washington, DC) in about a year to two years. There is nothing we can do to stop it - but rather, only to delay it. “Little Boy” that took out Hiroshima had 600 mg of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). Only 6 grams of HEU went into critical mass and energy. Hiroshima is roughly 550 square miles. Washington DC is roughly 62 square miles. When al-Qaeda hits WA, DC, that will take out our national elected leadership, our national civilian leadership, our national military leadership, our national-level law enforcement leadership and most of the agencies that provide our national infrastructure. A high-ranking Chinese General that has defected has exposed the plans of China to nuke the US. China is approaching the “point of no return” in their aggression. The General said they will hit about 200 targets. They will not do that with their Air Force, nor their Navy, it is impossible to march their Army up from Mexico or down from Canada, but they will take out the US by submarine. They have more submarines than the US. Their newest subs are equal to or greater than the subs of the US. From the moment of a submarine launch to detonation over the target, it can take as little as 30 seconds. Exactly as al-Qaeda hopes to hit Washington, DC, China will also hit DC. That will “decapitate the serpent”. Then at their leisure China will take out each State capitol and then the one or two biggest military installations in each State. We will not get a single missile launched in return. This will all be committed against the US sometime in the next 20 years, probably in 10 years or less. The FBI believes this is 100% true. They have quietly begun moving critical functions and essential personnel out of the anticipated blast zone of WA, DC. However, they have grossly underestimated the area of ground zero. For America, I pity the survivors. I am a DoD civilian Assistant to a Colonel in the Marine Corps.

  • dagger

    Razorblade erred in saying it takes only 30 seconds for a submarine launched ballistic missile from a Chinese sub to reach Washington DC. I don’t know where the sub would have to be moored in order to achieve that small time frame probably right in the Potomac River. You and the neo-cons need to get the facts right that the Chinese has only one Xia class and is building one or may be two type 094 nuclear ballistic missile sub while the U.S. has 14 Trident at last count and the remaining 4 have been converted into cruise missile subs with over 100 potentially nuclear tipped cruise missiles each ready to launch at a moment notice. Also the U.S. is the only country that has more technologically advanced nuclear attack subs than the rest of the world combined. Your article failed to address the fact that the U.S. is the only superpower who has consistenly refused to sign an agreement of no first use of nuclear weapons policy in which I believe both the Chinese and the Russians have already done so. I suppose the neo-cons in the U.S. need to look for another ‘evil’ country to justify spending another 500 billions of dollars (money that you guys don’t have) in the defence of ‘democracy of the world’. You guys talk about human rights abuse in China and other countries that the U.S. dislike but yet you guys conveniently overlook other countries’ transgressions such as Egypt and Pakistan (just to name a few). I admit China has abused human rights in the past and probably will reoffend again in the future. It takes time and patience for democracy to take roots and germinate in any culture. China has only been really opened to he outside world for about twenty some odd years. One only needs to look at the black Americans who were freed from slavery by Abe Lincoln in 1860’s and weren’t allowed to vote and enjoy some form of basic human rights till 1965 or 1966 when the bill of rights to vote was signed into law by the late Lyndon Johnson at the height of an earlier fiasco. Yet the black Americans are still being discriminated systematically in your society. How about the abuses levelled against the American Indians by the ‘white’ Americans over the years and still happening these days? If you guys wish to blow this world to kingdom come just be my guest for I’m ready to face my creator but I have doubts about the neo-cons like your President and VP.

  • Eric

    Scandlyn is right. No matter what we do the rest of the world is convinced it’s done for selfish reasons. Maybe it is, partially, in that we’re all about business and stability is good for business. But I suppose there’s no use dealing with small problems when you can wait for them to become big problems while priding yourself on advancing the cause of peace.
    Personally, I don’t care if Iran nukes Israel. Of course, the Israelis will respond with their own nukes, and it won’t be just Iran that gets what’s coming, but so what? They can all go to their hateful, radioactive grave for all I care. The US has more coal than the rest of the world put together, so we’re in the best position to live in the aftermath. Instead of buying oil we’ll sell coal.
    As far as China goes, there’s no reason for the US to oppose the invasion of Taiwan. So they’re not free anymore. Who cares? We can still buy toys from China. Of course, that will prompt Japan and South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons. I mean, you’re right, instead of having one world superpower things will be much more peaceful if there’s a bunch of regional powers, uh, like in the 1930s, only with nuclear weapons.

  • Firestorm

    Look who’s talking about another’s ‘agression’- another fire breathing ‘conservative’. It never fails to amaze me that you guys would label all those people you don’t like as agressors, terrorists or whatever creative terms you guys can come up with. You people were the ones who had misled, misrepresented and deceived not only us - the American tax payers but all the people in the world on this Iraq fiasco. Where are the WMD? The only country that needs a regime change is none other than the U.S. Can’t believe people can swallow lies like the ones put out by this administration and send their kids to Iraq to get
    killed for the enrichment of two oilmen and their buddies in the oil industry. Don’t you guys remember Dicky boy was the CEO of Haliburton before he nominated himself as the VP? Also Haliburton was the same company that overcharged us - the tax payers over 6 billions dollars a few years ago in supply the army in Iraq. What a coincidence if one may say so. Wake up and do something positive about this world and help our fellow man before it’s too late.

  • cedaferta

    “So now would it be OK for the US to work on “star wars” or whatever satelite defence/anti missile net we have been trying to do without the HUGE INSANE flak jabber retarted pacifist criticism that is the norm?”
    Where - I it already read that!

  • KR

    “Look who’s talking about another’s ‘agression’- another fire breathing ‘conservative’. It never fails to amaze me that you guys would label all those people you don’t like as agressors, terrorists or whatever creative terms you guys can come up with. You people were the ones who had misled, misrepresented and deceived not only us - the American tax payers but all the people in the world on this Iraq fiasco. Where are the WMD? The only country that needs a regime change is none other than the U.S. Can’t believe people can swallow lies like the ones put out by this administration and send their kids to Iraq to get
    killed for the enrichment of two oilmen and their buddies in the oil industry. Don’t you guys remember Dicky boy was the CEO of Haliburton before he nominated himself as the VP? Also Haliburton was the same company that overcharged us - the tax payers over 6 billions dollars a few years ago in supply the army in Iraq. What a coincidence if one may say so. Wake up and do something positive about this world and help our fellow man before it’s too late.”
    First of all, Oil is a commodity. A commodity is anything for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a given market. In the world market there is a limited ammount of Oil available for purchase at any time, and there is a set “All Clear” price at which if something is placed at that price, all of the commodity (In this case oil) that is available for sale will be sold. If the United States buys oil from Russia at the buy price, someone else will buy from Iraq. We can’t stop someone from buying from Iraq, if they put the oil up for sale it will be sold theoretically within a second. If we buy from Iraq, then the person who was previously buying oil from Iraq will then have to buy it from where we were previously buying that Oil, in the example I used, Russia.
    We didn’t go to Iraq for the oil, so don’t use that as basis for an arguement. We went because we knew he had weapons of mass destruction. How did we know? Because we gave him weapons of mass destruction, and in our treaty with Iraq that closed the first gulf war, it was required that they keep those weapons. Why? Because we’d rather have balanced Iraq and balanced Iran so that one doesn’t become more powerful than the other. We know how many weapons of mass destruction they used, its kind of hard to avoid that. We required them, in the treaty, to allow us to make weapon checks. They denied and so we, since the agreement said so, restablished the gulf war.

  • Karl Reidelbach USMC Vet

    You people are afraid of your own shadows. What you maynot or may know is that for every threat there are several options including shooting down any satellites from our adversaries.
    What we need to concern ourselves with is a joint pact between Russia and China against the U.S. and our allies, the only way to stop this is to nuke them. I would prefer using a Neutron Bomb, kills everyone and everything, but has no residule radiation. We need to have these and other items such as scramjets and rockets to drive home the knockout punch.
    Anyways the only way to defeat the Chinese is to keep them out of Los Alamos and other sentitive areas. Changeour tactics and most of our arsenal without anyone knowing what we have including killer satellites and lasers in space etc.
    Let us not make the mistakes of Chamberland the stupid and gulliable Primeminister of Great Britain prior to WWII. Let us not let our guard down and be ever vigilant to keep our country safe. We need to stop worrying what others think about us and not be the world’s patsy but be aggressive in our stance and our defense.

  • Ohmish

    How China Loses the Coming Space War Part Ihttp://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/01/inside-the-chin.html
    How China Loses the Coming Space War Part IIhttp://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/01/inside-the-ch-1.html
    How China Loses the Coming Space War Part IIIhttp://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/01/inside-the-ch-2.html

  • ping

    The map is incorrect, it misses the taiwan province of China.

  • lol

    has anyone got a light?
    you think this is all about the humans - you couldnt be more wrong - the battle is spiritual.

  • Jurriën

    If China only tryes they will face repercussions of the entire Western society (North America, most of the commonwealth and Western Europe), which will mean the end of China. Politics is still in favour of the US.