Why Did China Smack the Sat? (Updated)

So why did China blow up one of their satellites last week? The Times offers up a few possible explanations:
china2402.jpg

Having a weapon that can disable or destroy satellites is considered a component of Chinas unofficial doctrine of asymmetrical warfare. Chinas army strategists have written that the military intends to use relatively inexpensive but highly disruptive technologies to impede the better-equipped and better-trained American forces in the event of an armed conflict over Taiwan, for example…
Some analysts suggested that one possible motivation was to prod the Bush administration to negotiate a treaty to ban space weapons. Russia and China have advocated such a treaty, but President Bush rejected those calls when he authorized a policy that seeks to preserve freedom of action in space. Chinese officials have warned that an arms race could ensue if Washington did not change course.

Now, Beijing officials aren’t even admitting they destroyed the orbiter, yet. But the China Matters blog uncovers a post by a self-proclaimed Chinese soldier, who seems to reinforce the scare-’em-into-cutting-a-deal motive:

This overweening country [the USA] began to regard space as its own back yard. The national space policy it announced in 2006 nonchalantly regarded space as its private property. At the same time, when China at the United Nations proposed a special international organization to resolve the actual problems of a space arms race that were being faced, the United States, acting as a country far in the lead in space, vehemently opposed, saying that there was no arms race in space…
We hope… [this] will smack the American carnivores back to reason. History shows us that if you don’t hit Americans, they aren’t willing to sit down at the negotiation table.

This was actually the fourth time the Chinese tried to destroy a satellite, GlobalSecurity.org notes. And as “reckless, self-defeating and stupid” as the test was, adds Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis, the test was legal, because there’s “currently no prohibition on destructive ASAT [anti-satellite] testing. There should be.”
UPDATE 01/21/07: Last week’s test has given a “shiver of hope” to the “nations star warriors, frustrated that their plans to arm the heavens went nowhere for two decades despite more than $100 billion in blue-sky research,” Bill Broad says in a tart opinion piece.
ALSO:
* China Tests Satellite Killer?
* China Space Attack: Unstoppable
* Beijing’s Next-Gen Sat Strike
* Satellite Killer’s Big Impact
* China Sat-Killer Not Yet Weapons Grade?
* Who Ordered the Satellite Strike?

  • terry

    its about time in defense of chinas decision to shoot down a satelite, usa should ban imports of all chinese goods. especially walmarts. we should also do away with nafta and cafta. and shut down all hamburger flip[ping jobs.

  • DWC

    While this may seem a little off topic, a sci-fi book written recently called “World War Z” that deals with a fictional zombie war (stay with me on this) has a passage in it that deals with the Chinese in space and in particular causing destruction/denial of space. In the book a crew from the ISS discovers that a Chinese space station was rigged with explosives and placed in an orbit that would have if detonated produced so much debris that it would have destroyed or disabled a number of LEO satellites. While fictional it is an example of trying to bring us down to their level type of asymmetric warfare.

  • Robot Economist

    I posted some more concluding thoughts on my blog for those who are interested.
    I don’t think we should read too much into Chinese intentions after this ASAT test. Unlike Titan Rain, this test didn’t target U.S. assets. Moreover, future tests and/or hostile use will be constrained by the fact that the Chinese have less than 50 DF-21 missiles on hand.
    I think the most interesting bit of information is the fact that the Chinese abandoned a DF-31 based solution. It doesn’t reflect well on the DF-31’s already poor performance record.

  • Dr. Ali Khan

    So what, we americans are still superior to other races of people, what panic do we have? huh?

  • Alfred Kelgarries

    I just wrote a little colummn on this at newsvine: http://alfredkelgarries.newsvine.com/_news/2007/0…

  • htom

    Are we even sure that we’re not being faked out by a satellite that had a bomb on board?

  • Allen Thomson

    > Are we even sure that we’re not being faked out by a satellite that had a bomb on board?
    US DSP and possibly other satellites would have seen the ASAT launch and gotten a good idea of its trajectory. (If they didn’t, I want a tax refund!) Since the US has expressed unhappiness about the event, one assumes that the evidence it has collected is reasonably persuasive and consistent with the ASAT scenario.
    In addition, the target satellite was launched in 1999, so the PRC would have had to be planning a bomb-on-board scam for a long time.

  • judah

    The US response, that China’s test is the first salvo in provoking an arms race in space, is pretty disingenuous. I understood this more as a shot over the bow intended to discourage us from sending up military hardware.

  • Marc

    I keep hearing all this talk about spy satellites being targeted by this system- what about GPS? That would seem to me to be substantially more important. Airplanes can always perform the recon role, but take away JDAM and friends and the US military loses something it can’t easily replace.
    Is there a reason none of the articles covering this topic has mentioned GPS? Are those satellites out of range?

  • Nikos Koutsis

    If anybody can start nailing GPS satellites, armed services that rely on GPS for navigation can see their effectiveness reduced.
    If I remember well, an position fix requires 4 satellites to be 100% accurate. A workable fix requires 3 birds.
    Anything less is not good enough.
    I know that there are some replacement GPS-birds up there, and more are ready to be launch with a few weeks notice.
    Nevertheless, there is not an unlimited supply of these birds, and if my info is accurate they cost something in the range of $300,000,000.
    To put it simply, at very low cost, the Chinese have demonstrate the ability to negate to the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps the ability to execute long range strikes, since without GPS there is no way to fight a conventional war, unless there is a return to WW1 methods. No Tomahawks, no artillery, no accurate air-strikes… the future may not be black, but it may be yellow, as long as Asia is concerned.

  • Hoax Meister

    DWC makes an interesting point that I’d like to expand. Does anyone know if the debris field created by China’s anti-sat test poses a real hazard, as opposed to an annoyance, to other satellites in relatively the same orbit?
    If so, creating the debris field to effectively “mine” a particular altitude of low earth orbit might be one of the purposes of the test.
    After all, if as the article suggests, China intends to conduct tests of this nature until the program is fully operational-that would involve perhaps a dozen more debris fields-thereby denying other powers easy access to those particular areas of space.
    Kind of a low-tech way of creating no-fly/no-spy zones…

  • Mikeydog

    Let’s stay on the topic “why China smacks the ASAT test”.
    I am a US citizen. The point is that the US spy planes are now circling China

  • VNC.C.C.

    The Chines didn’t start this game of one-upmanship. Instead, they have protested Reagan’s and his successors persistence in making space a possible battlefield. All protest, from othet nations as well. fell on deaf ears in the USA.
    So now China protests with a bang and finally the world listens.
    Who can see anything wrong in their act of force borne out of years of frustration?

  • VNC.CC

    The Chinese didn’t start this game of one-upmanship. Instead, they have protested Reagan’s and his successors’ persistence in making space a possible battlefield.
    All protests, from othet nations as well, fell on deaf ears in the USA.
    So now China protests with a bang and finally the world listens.
    Who can see anything wrong in this act of force borne out of years of frustration?

  • VNC.CC

    Our excuses for the double posting and the typo that still slipped through. It won’t happen again, especially if this website reacts faster to postings.
    A simple message of recognition would suffice and prevent a too hasty double click.

  • j house

    If China can demonstrate it can hit a bullet with a bullet, why is it so hard to accept that a limited BMD is possible?
    Those that have advocated for the cancellation of BMD research and devlopment have alot of explaining to do.
    China didn’t come to the U.S. with a diplomatic solution and the development of a space peace treaty.Instead, it chose to demonstrate that it has the hard power to challenge U.S. space supremacy.

  • Thomas Lubin

    The Chinese possess both the economic, intellectual, and industrial capabilities to build and deploy anti-satellite systems, and not to do so would be idiocy on their part. I am not surprised by their recent sucessful deployment of an anti-satellite system (at least one — but we must assume that they have the capability of producing more, or, atually, have more, ready to use.)
    We have one, simple, obvious way of countering this — to increase the sheer mass of our orbitaing arsenal of data-collecting satellites, and, possibily, defensive satellties.
    Phptpgraph and other data-collecting satellites are cheap and easily deployable, and could be sent aloft in enormous numbers, on demand. And they could be deployed at altitudes other than the approximately 500miles altitude that they are now deployeed.
    The simplest, and at the moment, the only reasonable
    responce that we should be prepared to make, in anwer to the Chinese’ development of a working anti-satellite system, is simply one of numbers, of deplying a massive array of srveillance satellites, at several operational altitudes.
    As for the concern of ground-based satellite-blinding focused radiation weapons, (in particular, lasers,) there are realistic, simple solutions to these too, including eflecting mirrors, filters, and other relatively low-tech solutions.
    I am not personally troubled by the latest revelations of the success of the Chinese anti-satellite weapon test. Indeed, I always assumed that it was simply a question of time before they developed such a weapon. That it was, if the stories are true, a direct-implact weapon, rather than one which needed only to get close to the target, and then destroy it with a regional explosion, this is an impresssive demonstration of the sophistication of their computerised ballistic systems, but hardly changes the equations. Actually, once the course of an orbiting object is defined, hitting it with another bullet is not necesarily so dificult — it happens in space, not in an atmosphere, where factors such as air density and windage don’t exist.

  • Mickeydog

    The guidance system is not conventional radar. It must be some kind of Laser. I heard China actually have developed the death rays (high power solid state lasers) and also deployed in some of their tanks and warships. Is this true?

  • aj

    ever hear of emp? electro magnetic pulse, put inriched plutonium in a satelite shoot it down over the us and emp shuts down all electical and electiricity……….reasearch emp satelites. this is why they are target shooting satelites.

  • Nikos Koutsis

    Mr.Lubin said that
    “We have one, simple, obvious way of countering this — to increase the sheer mass of our orbitaing arsenal of data-collecting satellites, and, possibily, defensive satellties.
    Phptpgraph and other data-collecting satellites are cheap and easily deployable, and could be sent aloft in enormous numbers, on demand. And they could be deployed at altitudes other than the approximately 500miles altitude that they are now deployeed.
    The simplest, and at the moment, the only reasonable responce that we should be prepared to make, in anwer to the Chinese’ development of a working anti-satellite system, is simply one of numbers, of deplying a massive array of srveillance satellites, at several operational altitudes.”
    If you can see it, you can hit it.
    If you can hit it, you can kill it.
    So why does the US have to overwhelm the scopes with targets?
    Apart from that, even if these satellites are cheap and of military value, this does not exclude the possibility that the GPS birds won’t get shot down and thus reduce the ability of the US to wage conventional warfare.
    IMHO, there are two ways to counter that threat. Either you put a “shield” in orbit: this can be a highly maneuverable spacecraft with anti-missile capabilities, which needs something like 20 to 30 years to develop
    Or you take out the Chinese “stick”. I do not mean that there is a direct attack on Chinese soil to eradicate the launch bases or the plants producing the missiles, from the face of the earth.
    A subtler and more effective approach would be to eliminate the reasons that would lead to such a confrontation. Call it democratisation, westernisation or detente. In any case, MAD is still on the table and we don’t like it.
    US and China have to live together. This does not mean that anyone has to boast about his
    “capabilities” or show that he is the top dog.
    A focus on the economy is the way to go.
    China has single-handedly saved the Japanese and German economies and is a beloved partner of most African states. US economy is supported only by the weak dollar and the cutting-edge technology that permits some exports.
    We Europeans do not want to witness a US-China confrontation and be forced to take sides. We won’t give a shit if the US economy collapses or US armed forces position in Asia becomes untenable. We won’t care if all US satellites are shot down. We won’t get involved in another war of US initiative. We only want peace, prosperity and convergence of our Member States. If it means to stay neutral, so be it. If it means stopping to believe in the US military supremacy and fearful capabilities and accepting that the Russians or the Chinese or we can do better in that area, then the US-Europe “special” relationship will be reevaluated. Mr.Cameron, the next Torry PM has shown the way. And many Europeans share his or even stronger feelings and beliefs.
    P.S. Tom Clancy has simulated international relations as “a country f…g another”. It doesn’t have to be this way. And it does not promote dialogue to say “US did this” “China did that” and post inflamatory comments like the ones from “lebanese” and “mathmatics”.

  • Jimmy Wong Soon Deng

    I fully are agreed withe wat on of you correspments is write.The Us cannot bully China all the time.The poor cannnot be pooere and the weak weak alle theetimes.
    Remmberr .The US can destroy China but The US is tohave pay a heaby price. 50% of US will destroy.
    Wht Cheyne and Bush are want is a China that cannot hit back at US.
    I say dreaming on.
    Thoseedaays are ober forever.No what Us is does China will more increasse damamges to US.
    If US is likea China whatare it going to do?
    145219

  • Dr Mark Belgen

    This whole situation is counter productive to China. A war with the US would result in the total loss of China’s number one consumer and customer of goods. If China wants to become a modernized country with all of the luxuries for it’s people that countries such as the US, France, Germany, etc. have, then they need to stop militaristic actions and develop greater commercial and cultural interests with the US. The US has no intention of attacking or invading China. As China continues down this road of military muscle flexing it sends a message to the American people that China does not want or care to have close relations with the US or it’s people.