Obama’s trip to the Middle East was headlined in several publications by Washington think tanks.
The Monitor analysis looks at the rarely mentioned growth in China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) capability. It’s been over two years since an Administration official spoke about it and it is clear that the Obama Administration is trying to limit public discussion on the subject by not revealing ongoing Chinese testing. We look at Chinese and American thinking about ASAT warfare and the type of weapons systems they would likely employ.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Heritage Foundation says Obama must mend fences with the GCC during his trip. They suggest, “At the GCC summit, President Obama must reassure the Arab Gulf leaders that he is fully aware of the military, subversive, and terrorist threats that Iran poses to GCC states. More important, he must show that he is willing and able to take action to deter and defend against those threats. Specifically, President Obama should: Affirm a strong U.S. commitment to defend allies threatened by Iran. Iran poses a significant ballistic missile and asymmetrical warfare threat to GCC states (with the possible exception of Oman, which has maintained good relations with Tehran). Washington should offer to help GCC allies to upgrade their ballistic missile defenses, integrate them into an overlapping multi-layered GCC-wide system, and develop joint early warning capabilities. Washington should also plan joint military exercises with GCC states, including the deployment of U.S. mobile Patriot batteries and U.S. Navy warships equipped with missile defense systems, and demonstrate a capacity to neutralize Iran’s missile threat.”
The CSIS looks at the Obama trip to the Middle East and sees changing perspectives. They conclude, “Unlike previous meetings, however, Obama is to some extent a lame duck President, and one clearly operating without the support of a Congress that Saudi Arabia sees as uncertain and to some degree hostile. In a year where every major security issue involves critical uncertainties, this U.S. President brings little clear leverage to the negotiations. His success will consist largely of restoring the image of cooperation without having an impact on the substance. Second, the Saudi royal family is all too familiar with the constant outside obsession with Royal politics and succession issues. This time, however, the U.S. President’s succession issues involve three main populist candidates whose foreign and security policies are almost all rhetoric and no clear substance. If the U.S. delegation is worried about future Saudi leadership, imagine how the Saudi leaders feel about the United States! Third, and perhaps most ironic of all — regardless of what the Saudi Arabia can or cannot say publically — the only competent U.S. Presidential candidate that serves the common Saudi and U.S. interests, and now seems to have a serious chance of winning, is a woman.”
The Heritage Foundation says lifting sanctions on Iran will have a major impact on Iran, which is still at odds with the U.S. on a wide range of national security matters. They note, “First and foremost, it took years to put the sanctions in place; removing them is a process that will take time. Moreover, according to the EIU, given the complexity of remaining sanctions, both those put in place by the Clinton Administration in 1995 and the significant listing of organizations and individuals because of terrorism or human rights issues, U.S. firms will not return to the Iranian market soon.”
In the run-up to President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia later this week, The Cato Institute looks at domestic issues which concern the U.S.-Saudi relationship – namely classified portions of the 9/11 report. However, they conclude, “Ultimately, the Saudi alliance is changing. Once thought unshakeable, common U.S.-Saudi interests such as energy security and anti-communism have diverged or disappeared entirely. Meanwhile, disagreements on regional stability, Saudi involvement in conflicts like Syria and Yemen, and their support for various extreme groups have helped to sour the relationship. Whether or not the 9/11 Commission report is declassified, it is these larger tensions which present the major obstacle to smooth U.S.-Saudi relations in the future.”
As America looks at inaugurating a new president in January 2017, the Heritage Foundation looks at suggestions for making the State Department more effective in pursuing American policy. They note, “Correctly or incorrectly, the State Department has been perceived as having internal political biases and entrenched institutional policy preferences and positions that make it difficult for Presidents to elicit enthusiastic support for policies that do not comport with those preferences. These general frustrations have been exacerbated by the urgency of pressures faced by modern Presidents. Recent Administrations have addressed this issue through increased political appointments, which are resented by career State Department employees who see it as limiting opportunities for their own advancement and, generally, eroding professionalism, effectiveness, and availability of institutional and practical skills and experience. To increase their direct control over foreign policy and their perceived capacity to deal with fast-evolving crises, modern Presidents have also increasingly empowered and expanded the size of the National Security Council (NSC).”
In the same vein, the Heritage Foundation also looks at how a new president could best organize the National Security Council. They warn, “Beware of overly aggressive or independent National Security Advisors. A highly independent Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA) involved directly in operations, as Admiral Poindexter was, is extremely risky not only because of potential legal problems, but also because the NSC lacks the expertise, capabilities, and accountability to run operations properly. Strong National Security Advisors like Kissinger and Brzezinski can be effective in some cases, but the price is usually a high degree of discontent and dysfunction in the policymaking process. It is fine to have a visionary APNSA so long as he or she reflects the views of the President and is not imposed on NSC principals outside of the consultative process. The APNSA’s job is to get what the President (not the APNSA) wants done and to get it done through responsible departments and agencies (not the NSC staff).”
The American Foreign Policy Council says Obama’s attempt to keep his landmark Iranian nuclear deal in place has made things worse as he makes major concessions to Iranians on other issues. They note, “Washington’s post-deal maneuvering should not surprise us, for it mirrors the pre-deal negotiations during which the administration discarded several of its pledges to Congress and the public on key fronts – e.g., to secure “anywhere, anytime” inspections of suspected Iranian military-related nuclear sites, to include Iran’s ballistic missiles program in a final agreement and to prevent it from ever achieving nuclear weaponry. As the president and his team discarded these and other pledges during the many months of negotiations, they essentially mocked Obama’s promise to walk away from a “bad deal.” Now, in their post-deal maneuvering, they’re doing whatever they can to ensure that Iran doesn’t walk away.”
The Washington Institute looks at the warming relations between Turkey and Israel. One stumbling block to this improved relationship is “is Erdogan’s deeply hostile relationship with Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Ankara tried to take Sisi’s government to the UN Security Council for sanctions after it ousted the Turkish-supported MB government of Mohamed Morsi in 2013. In return, Egypt has played the Cyprus card, building intimate ties with the Greek Cypriots and conducting joint military exercises with them, Greece, and Israel in 2015. Meanwhile, Egyptian-Israeli ties are at their best in decades (albeit mostly below the radar), and Sisi has made clear to Jerusalem that its normalization efforts with Ankara should not take place at the expense of Cairo’s interests. In addition, Egypt has serious reservations about Turkey’s ambitions in neighboring Gaza. Like Israel, Cairo regards Hamas as an enemy because of its affiliation with the MB and its cooperation with Islamic State elements in the Sinai Peninsula…Egypt has no desire to see Hamas empowered, nor does it want Turkey to assume a lead role in Gaza. Israel attaches high importance to Cairo’s views on both matters.”
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.
Obama Needs to Mend Fences at Gulf Cooperation Council Summit
By James Phillips
April 20, 2016
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.
Lifting of Sanctions on Iran Complicates Policy Options
By William T. Wilson
April 14, 2016
In a landmark agreement reached in January 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency judged that Iran was compliant with its internationally agreed upon nuclear obligations. The nuclear deal that the Obama Administration helped to negotiate remains controversial and contested in the U.S. In fact, U.S. commitments under it could well be overturned by the next President. In the meantime, it is worth noting that the deal will have a major impact on Iran, which is still at odds with the U.S. on a wide range of national security matters. As part of the accord, the U.S. and the European Union (EU) will terminate all nuclear-related economic sanctions, including an embargo on buying Iranian crude oil and an end to restrictions on Iranian trade, shipping, and insurance. Approximately 300 Iranian individuals and companies will be removed from the EU sanctions list and, most critically, Iran will regain access to the international financial system and currency markets. As a result, Iran will be able to export as much crude oil to the world as it is capable of exporting.
Memo to a New President: How Best to Organize the National Security Council
By Kim R. Holmes
April 14, 2016
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
By Emma Ashford
April 18, 2016
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.
Making a Bad Iran Deal Worse
By Lawrence J. Haas
American Foreign Policy Council
April 14, 2016
We’re witnessing a strange spectacle in U.S. foreign policy, one with no obvious precedent: President Barack Obama is trying desperately to protect his cherished nuclear deal with Iran, making one concession after another in response to Iran’s post-deal demands to ensure that Tehran doesn’t walk away from it. Thus despite the terms to which U.S.-led global negotiators and Iran supposedly agreed in July, the deal is less a firm agreement than a continuing drama with one storyline: Tehran demands a concession, the administration proposes a response, Iran-watchers in Congress and elsewhere voice concerns and U.S. officials offer a middle ground to satisfy Tehran without igniting a revolt in Washington. But the concessions – the most recent of which involve Iran’s ballistic missiles program and its access to the U.S. financial system – are not just rewriting the previous consensus among government officials, diplomats, nuclear experts and Iran-watchers in the United States, Europe and the Middle East over how the deal would work. They’re also serving to expand Iran’s military capability, strengthen its economy and leave U.S. allies in the region feeling more abandoned.
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.