China is Becoming a Major Threat to US Military Satellites
America’s first military skirmish with China might not be on a remote island in the South China Sea. Rather, it is more likely to occur just 100 miles above our heads in space.
About 1,300 satellites circle the earth – of which about 500 belong to the US. They help the US military communicate, navigate, carryout drone warfare, and spy on other nations.
Yet, American satellites are defenseless against a possible attack in space, and their destruction “would create a huge hole” in the country’s capability for high-tech warfare, Gen. William Shelton, the commander of the US Air Force Space Command told The Washington Free Beacon two years ago.
According to Shelton, most critical are the satellites providing the US Army with survivable communications and missile warning.
But each of those $1 billion satellites could be easily blocked or destroyed by anti-satellite systems developed in countries like China.
While electronic jammers could be “a cheap and effective way of blocking our signals from space” and laser attacks could “blind” the satellite imaging or even render it dysfunctional, “direct attack weapons, like the Chinese anti-satellite system, can destroy our space systems,” Shelton stressed.
Although the threat to American satellites goes back decades to the Cold War with Russia, China has been engaged in an aggressive anti-satellite warfare capability for the past few years.
China states the weapons were designed to “Permit China to prevail over the United States in a conflict over a forced reunification with Taiwan.” They include, among other systems, detonating nuclear weapons in high altitude to fry electronics with an electromagnetic pulse.
Aware of the US dependence on space and satellite communications to conduct even the most basic military operations, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has for the past decade invested significant amounts to develop anti-satellite weapons. In January 2007 China fired its first anti-satellite missile destroying one of its own aging satellites in outer space.
In May 2013 China fired a rocket carrying no payload over 10,000 kilometers into outer space, the highest launch since the mid-1970s. The absence of a payload such as a satellite could suggest the rocket is designed as an anti-satellite weapon. It would bring into range American communications, GPS and intelligence gathering satellites.
In addition to ballistic missiles and rockets, China has also experimented with green and blue laser weapons with the US military accusing China of firing several laser beans at its satellites. Laser pulses can disrupt satellite communication and depending on the strength could destroy it.
Another scare for the US military is a group of small maneuverable systems reportedly launched by China as part of its anti-satellite program ASAT. US defense officials have disclosed last January that one of the Chinese systems includes a robotic arm that can be used to capture or destroy orbiting satellites.
According to a study by the Heritage Foundation, the Chinese Space Technology Research Academy has been developing an advanced anti-satellite weapon that has been characterized as a “piggyback satellite.” The system is designed to attack a space station, a space-based laser or another satellite by attaching itself like a parasite to the enemy system and then jamming or destroying it. In the journal Missiles and Space Vehicles (Daodan yu Hangtian Yunzhi Jishu) Chinese researchers have discussed how to use Global Positioning System-locating technology to determine the attitude in low-orbit micro-satellites. This journal in particular, over a three-year period, ran a number of articles that discussed how to attack satellites in space with other satellites, some of which made explicit reference to United States space programs in the context of the articles.
These “micro-satellites” make excellent anti-satellite systems. A Chinese micro-satellite could track near a critical U.S. system and only attack or jam it at a critical moment. Moreover, an attack would not necessarily have to involve a weapon or explosive on the micro-satellite; Chinese controllers could merely maneuver the micro-satellite to collide with the U.S. system and could claim that any collision was accidental. Thus this approach would be consistent with the introduction of the draft United Nations treaty against weapons in space. Such an approach would give China a form of plausible deniability.
Studies have shown that the US could be ambushed by China. A 2007 paper titled “AN ASSESSMENT OF CHINA’S ANTI-SATELLITE AND SPACE WARFARE PROGRAMS, POLICIES AND DOCTRINES” stated, “Some instruction on these points may be found in a simulated war against the People’s Republic of China conducted at the Naval War College in the spring of 1994. The war game, set in the year 2010, was a part of the Pentagon’s ongoing study of the revolution in military affairs. In the scenario, Beijing provokes the U.S. Navy into patrolling China’s shores, luring vulnerable aircraft carriers and other surface ships within range of precision-guided cruise missiles. The Chinese begin their ambush by attacking U.S. satellites, which confounds American targeting abilities and precludes any significant counter-offensive by the U.S. Navy. The Chinese also use space-based assets to enhance the effectiveness of their own forces. U.S. players in this war game were routed, their forces hit before they could throw up adequate defenses.”
The paper also looked a Chinese publications and how China might launch an ASAT war. Several Chinese officers have, “advocated covert deployment of a sophisticated antisatellite weapon system to be used against United States in a surprise manner without warning. The number of US satellites to be targeted and attacked was not specified by the three Chinese authors, but Colonel Yuan specified that China’s future “shock and awe” attack must be devastating enough to deter any further American military action in a crisis and “bring the opponent to his knees.” All three colonels reference the traditional concept of space attack as an “assassin’s mace weapon” that is decisive in its use of surprise.”
Many of the concepts recommended include both jamming and attacking ground stations, rather than the permanent destruct ruction of US satellites. In both cases, the Chinese authors imply the United States may lack the “forensic” ability to know which nation had neutralized US space systems through covert attack, jamming or destruction of ground stations by missile or Special Forces raids.
American ASAT Development
That’s not to say that the US doesn’t have significant ASAT capability. In fact, they started working on the program soon after the first satellites were orbited. The crudest American ASAT test, code-named Starfish Prime, took place in 1962, when the U.S. Air Force detonated a 1.4-megaton nuclear weapon at an altitude of 250 miles. The explosion, which occurred about 800 miles west of Hawaii, disabled at least six U.S. and foreign satellites — roughly a third of the world’s low Earth orbit total. The resulting electromagnetic pulse knocked out 300 streetlights in Oahu. Clearly, nukes worked as ASAT weapons, but far too indiscriminately.
To develop a more surgical capability, the Air Force launched Project Mudflap, which was designed to destroy individual Soviet satellites with missiles. But inaccurate space-guidance systems plagued early tests. Then, on May 23, 1963, the Air Force pulled off a successful intercept with a modified Nike-Zeus ballistic missile launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It took out a rendezvous and docking target for NASA’s Gemini missions at an altitude of 150 miles.
One problem of ASAT warfare is the resulting space debris that hurts all satellites – enemy and friendly. In 1985, at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the Air Force began operating the powerful Mid-Infrared Chemical Laser. In 1997, it was used to temporarily blind sensors on an Air Force missile-launch and tracking satellite. The satellite remained intact and no debris was created.
Another American project is a three-stage missile that impacts an enemy’s satellite with a sheet of Mylar plastic, disabling it without producing any debris.
American ASAT capability now resides in most navy ships. On February 21, 2008, the U.S. Navy destroyed a malfunctioning U.S. spy satellite USA-193 using a ship-fired RIM-161 Standard Missile 3. However, like the Chinese weapons, this can cause thousands of pieces of space debris.
Unfortunately, the total scope of a possible ASAT war between China and the US is unknown, and we cannot discount Russia from being active in that regard and we will investigate their activities in future report. .
How to Make the State Department More Effective at Implementing U.S. Foreign Policy
By Brett D. Schaefer
April 20, 2016
In January 2017, the next President of the United States will enter office facing as daunting and diverse a set of challenges as any President in recent times. In order to address these challenges and threats, the next President will need more than new polices; he or she will need an effective and capable Department of State to implement his or her vision, including carrying out presidential instructions. The State Department, however, is not nearly as effective as it should be, to the detriment of American standing and effectiveness in the world. The Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer details the steps that would better equip the State Department to focus on its traditional mission, and be of true value to future U.S. foreign policy.
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President Barack Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman on Wednesday and with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Thursday. His trip is a follow-up to the May 2015 summit at Camp David that the President convened with leaders of the six GCC member states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. President Obama will seek greater GCC cooperation in the war against the Islamic State (IS), but his Saudi hosts, alarmed by the Administration’s flawed nuclear agreement with Iran and its passive reaction to Iranian provocations, are likely to be focused on obtaining greater U.S. cooperation in countering Iranian threats.
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Memo to a New President: How Best to Organize the National Security Council
By Kim R. Holmes
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The National Security Council is the President’s chief source of national security advice. Historical precedent reinforces how crucial a strong NSC is to the good of the country. A dysfunctional NSC can lead to disasters such as the Bay of Pigs and the Iran–Contra affair, while an effective NSC can lead to successes such as strategic arms control under President Ronald Reagan or the “surge” under President George W. Bush. Because the President’s leadership style has such a significant influence on the NSC’s shape and effectiveness, the next President must avoid the allures of groupthink and cult of personality and instead adopt the successful “advisor/honest-broker” model, monitor the implementation of policy, emphasize strategic planning, and focus on the essentials of presidential leadership. Failure in national security is not an option, and one of the best ways for the next President to avoid it is by properly organizing the National Security Council and then following its advice.
Domestic Developments in U.S.-Saudi Relations
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In the run-up to President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia later this week, two domestic issues which concern the U.S.-Saudi relationship are also gaining attention. Yet these developments – a congressional bill which allows Americans to sue foreign governments for supporting terrorist groups, and growing calls to declassify the remaining 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission’s report – are unlikely to substantially impact the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which is already on a downward trend due to other, more substantive factors. Certainly, the bill would have major legal implications for relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks, who have previously tried to sue the Saudi government for their possible involvement. However, their hope that the declassified report would yield a better understanding of the scope of that involvement is unlikely to yield any smoking gun revelations.
The Saudi and Gulf Perspective on President Obama’s Visit
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 20, 2016
Americans have never been particularly good at seeing the world from the viewpoint of other countries. Perhaps it is the production of distance and two oceans, or never having had modern war on U.S. soil, but it seems exceptionally hard for Americans to realize that even friends and allies can have different strategic perspectives, different priorities, and values that differ strikingly from those of a Western secular democracy. The fact is, however, that America’s strategic ties to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states — which in practice include Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE — have been critical to U.S. strategic interests ever since Britain withdrew from the Gulf, and the loose strategic partnership between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been progressively more important ever since President Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud on the deck of the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal on February 14, 1945.
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American Foreign Policy Council
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Israel and Turkey Approaching Reconciliation Amid Policy Challenges
By Michael Herzog and Soner Cagaptay
April 19, 2016
Israel and Turkey’s efforts to mend their strained bilateral relations are making progress. Two weeks ago, following another round of talks, the Turkish Foreign Ministry announced that a deal on restoring full diplomatic relations with Jerusalem should be expected soon. Previously, their energy ministers met away from the public eye during the recent Nuclear Security Summit in Washington — the first ministerial-level contact since 2010, when a flotilla of Turkish-sponsored ships tried to break Israel’s maritime restrictions on Hamas-ruled Gaza, leading to a violent confrontation. As reconciliation talks have advanced in recent months, the atmosphere between the two governments has noticeably improved. Following the March 19 Islamic State terrorist attack in Istanbul, which claimed the lives of three Israeli tourists, among others, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sent letters of condolence, and Israeli president Reuven Rivlin called Erdogan — the first presidential-level phone conversation between the two countries in six years. Jerusalem also publicly praised Ankara for the way it handled evacuation of the Israeli victims. Even so, the challenges to a lasting deal go beyond the realm of promising diplomatic gestures.