28 March 2019
China developing counter-spacecapabilities
even as India test-fires ASAT

By Shaurya Karanbir Gurung
The Economic Times, India Times


China also intends to have additional ASAT weapons that are capable of destroying satellites at Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) at altitudes of about 36,000 km.

NEW DELHI: While India conducted its first Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test on Wednesday, China has been developing its counter-space capabilities by having formed military units that are training with ASAT missiles and by 2020 is likely to deploy a ground laser weapon to target space sensors.

China also intends to have additional ASAT weapons that are capable of destroying satellites at Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) at altitudes of about 36,000 km. It is already making progress in its ASAT missile system which it tested in July 2014.

In 2007 as well it had demonstrated an ASAT capability, which resulted in international disapproval. All this is a follow through of the PLA’s emphasis on ‘destroying, damaging and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance and communication satellites’. The PLA also believes that such systems and navigation and early warning satellites could be the targets of an ASAT attack, meant to ‘blind’ the enemy. These developments were shared in recent reports of the US’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) on China.

For India, China’s counter-space capabilities mean a threat to its satellites for communication, earth observation, navigation and scientific research. India’s space programme is a ‘critical backbone’ of its security, economic and social infrastructure. It has already undertaken 102 spacecraft missions. On Wednesday, India entered an elite club of nations by conducting an ASAT missile test, which successfully hit a satellite in low earth orbit. Besides China, only Russia and the US have this capability.

Russia is pursuing ASAT missiles to strike low-earth orbit satellites, according to a 2017 report of the US’s Director of National Intelligence. It is testing such a weapon for deployment and is also developing an aircraft-launched missile capable of destroying satellites. “Russia is developing an airborne laser weapon for use against US satellites,” said the report.

Russia is also developing an air-borne ASAT laser weapon system to use against space-based missile defence sensors, according to a January DIA report. Before July 2018, Russia began delivering a laser weapon system to its Aerospace Forces, which is intended for an ASAT mission.

Another US government report states that Russian and Chinese ‘destructive’ ASAT weapons are likely to reach initial operational capability in the next few years. “China’s PLA has formed military units and begun initial operational training with counter-space capabilities that it has been developing, such as ground-launched ASAT missiles...Both countries are also advancing directed-energy weapons technologies for the purpose of fielding ASAT weapons that could blind or damage sensitive space-base optical sensors, such as those used for remote sensing or missile defense,” it said.

Even military reforms in the two countries over the past few years indicate an increased focus on establishing operational forces for attacks against space systems. “Russia and China continue to pursue ASAT weapons to reduce US and allied military effectiveness,” it said.

The US had performed the first ASAT tests in 1959 when satellites were new. In 2008, US performed another test. Its ship-based SM-3 missile destroyed one of its satellite in a test called Operation Burnt Frost. Meanwhile, India had the technical capability to develop ASAT weapons since 2012, but agencies were not given the green signal.

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