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China Threatens U.S. in Growing Space Race

By    |   Tuesday, 06 January 2009 04:42 PM

Ambitious nations, and China in particular, are challenging U.S. space supremacy with research programs that have led to their first deployments in space — and eventually could station deadly military prowess miles above Earth.

“Perhaps the ultimate asymmetrical strategy against the United States lies in the possibility of a nuclear detonation at an altitude between 40 and 400 kilometers designed both to disable and destroy U.S. satellites and to have devastating EMP effects against infrastructure on Earth,” warn study authors.

“The Space and U.S. Security Net Assessment (January 2009)” surveyed the status of U.S. space activities and drew comparisons with other countries that have developed space programs in recent decades.

“The growing commer¬cialization of space will create a more level playing field as additional actors gain greater access to the products and services of the commercial space sector and to the enabling technologies as well,” says the report, which the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis just published.

Most ominous, however, is what the capture of these technologies by old and new enemies may mean to U.S. security in the 21st century.

Given present trends, several important conclusions emerge from the net assessment, conclude the authors:

  • There is substantial agreement that the United States can avoid the “weaponization” of space by restricting its future space-related national security programs, including foregoing deployment of space-based missile defense.

  • The ability to destroy or disable satellites from Earth, which the Chinese demonstrated in 2007, eventually will be available to others as a result of proliferating rocket and other technologies.

  • Weapons deployed in space will have to be protected. Given the inherent problem of defining a space weapon, it probably would be impossible to design a verifiable international treaty against such a capability.

  • The wider availability of high-resolution imagery will lead to situations in which the United States could find itself fighting enemies with such capabilities.

  • Terrorists have access to unprecedented high-resolution imagery on the Internet. Together with states, and perhaps aided by states, such groups are able to identify and gain detailed knowledge about their targets before, during, and after a military operation.

    As a result, the ability that others will have to threaten or to inflict destruction on the United States will grow as a result of the proliferation of space technologies, products, and services, spurred by the commercial sector.

  • The threat to the United States from missile proliferation will increase as more countries gain access to propulsion technologies and warhead designs.

  • By 2020, increasing numbers of countries will pursue space programs capable of challenging the United States. “Under such circumstances, the United States will have little alternative but to pursue as fully as possible space programs, both by itself and in collaborative ventures, both in the commercial and military sectors, if we are to remain in the forefront as a space faring nation.”

    Enter the Dragon

    Although at least 35 countries have space research programs, China has muscled ahead with tapping space for military purposes.

    “China is currently developing and acquiring technologies needed for space-based military pur¬poses in order to leapfrog past the present U.S. technological dominance of space,” the report’s authors conclude.

    That communist country’s use of the U.S. GPS and the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) provides Peoples’ Liberation Army units and weapons systems with navigation and location data that could be used to improve ballistic and cruise missile accuracy.

    During the past few years, Chinese research on small mobile launch vehicles has targeted nano-satellites, which could enable China to launch satellites swiftly from mobile launchers.

    China also is developing high-powered lasers that could be used to “blind” satellites.

    Indeed China successfully tested anti-satellite weapons, on Jan. 11, 2007.

    It takes no great military intelligence analysis to conclude that U.S. satellites are to be in the cross hairs.


    Meanwhile, India has been active in space-related activities since its national space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization, was established in June 1972 and its first national satellite was launched into orbit in April 1975.

    The space report notes that India places great emphasis on attaining and maintaining a sophisticated series of satellites for television and radio broadcasting, telecommunications, and weather data.

    Furthermore, India recently added the ability for space exploration missions to the moon, Mars, asteroids, and the sun, as well as technology for manned spaceflight.

    “It remains to be seen whether India will eventually deploy military assets in space, although Indian military officials have announced the formation of an Aerospace Command,” the report authors conclude.

    The Russian Bear Revives

    The former Soviet Union’s jump-start into space with powerful boosters and the miracle feat of Sputnik helped launched the original space race in 1960.

    According to the report, Russia is well along in retooling itself as a space powerhouse.

    “Though there are still certain areas within Russia’s space programs that have not yet reached pre-1990 levels, a revived space program and new technology are helping to restore Russia’s space programs to their former status,” wrote report authors.

    Central to its space programs are Russia’s military and dual-use satellites.

    GLONASS is a formation of radio-based satellites that provide navigation services for military and civilian purposes. Russia and India run the system jointly, with the goal being to achieve constant, complete coverage of their territories, then total global coverage by 2010.

    Russia maintains a booming commercial satellite-launching service with converted older ICBMs.


    “Iran has become almost entirely self-sufficient in its military industry and has built up one of the largest ballistic missile inventories in the Middle East,” notes the report.

    Iran has one satellite in orbit and four more under different phases of development and construction. Iranian efforts to complete an indigenous space launch vehicle are thought to be near completion.

    “Iran has made great strides toward development of an indigenous space launch capability,” warn the authors.

    In February 2007, it successfully tested a “space rocket” built in Iran; and a year later unveiled its first space center.

    European Space Agency

    The European Space Agency (ESA) is the world leader in providing commercial space launch services, with more than 50 percent of the world market for launching satellites into geosta¬tionary transfer orbit. Paramount is the Aurora program, established in 2001 to plan for exploration of the solar system with robotic spacecraft designed to prepare the way for manned exploratory missions.

    Europe’s worldwide satellite navigation system GALILEO is scheduled for deployment in 2013.

    Others in the Race

  • As prime contributor to ESA, France is pursuing several ambitious space-based projects. France employs a new military satellite telecommunication system known as SYRACUSE-3, the purpose of which is simultaneously to link military command centers in France with several theaters of operation.

  • Germany allocates $1.35 billion of governmental funds space-related projects.

  • Italy’s Agenzia Spaziale Italiana is the third-largest contributor to ESA.

  • The United Kingdom’s space budget in 2006 was $381 million, 65 percent of which was directed toward ESA-led projects.

  • Write the report authors: “Japan has solid foundations for an effective wide-ranging space program and through existing and planned multilateral cooperative agreements and projects should gain an increasingly influential voice among the space powers of the world.”

    Israel on the Defensive

    Israel is also a player in the new space race – but with a different set of priorities.

    Because of Israel’s always-precarious posture in the Middle East, a very large part of Israeli space investment is directed toward defense. The Israel Space Agency has an annual budget of around $280,000 for commercial purposes, compared with a $50 million budget for the military space program.

    “Foreign cooperation enables Israel to develop and conduct more sophisticated projects in space. Israel is and will continue to grow in the civilian and commercial spheres of space activity,” the experts wrote. “The military sphere of the Israeli space program is an area that is continuing to receive sufficient funding and will undoubtedly continue to grow in scope and sophistication.”

    At the heart of Israel’s program is the deployment of a missile defense system, the Arrow, developed jointly with the United States. This system is being upgraded to counter ever more sophisticated threats.

    Editor’s Note: The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis Inc., in its 33rd year, provides innovative ideas and assesses options and strategies to meet the security challenges/threats of the post 9/11 era.

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    Ambitious nations, and China in particular, are challenging U.S. space supremacy with research programs that have led to their first deployments in space — and eventually could station deadly military prowess miles above Earth. “Perhaps the ultimate asymmetrical strategy...
    Tuesday, 06 January 2009 04:42 PM
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