A forthcoming report by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission provides new details of China’s space-weapons programs, dubbed counterspace arms, that are aimed at destroying or jamming U.S. satellites and limiting American combat operations around the world.
“China is pursuing a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities, which includes direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons,” a late draft of the commission’s annual report states. “China’s nuclear arsenal also provides an inherent anti-satellite capability.”
China military planners expect to use a combination of kinetic, electronic and cyber attacks against satellites or ground support structures in a conflict.
Two direct-ascent missiles capable of hitting satellites in both lower and higher orbits are under development, the SC-19 and the DN-2. Anti-satellite missile tests were carried out as recently as last year.
The high-orbit DN-2 can hit U.S. Global Positioning Satellites but appears more suited for blowing up U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites. The DN-2 could be deployed in five to 10 years.
For space-based weapons, China is developing co-orbital anti-satellite weapons.
“These systems consist of a satellite armed with a weapon such as an explosive charge, fragmentation device, kinetic energy weapon, laser, radio frequency weapon, jammer or robotic arm,” the report says.
The co-orbital arms maneuver in space close to satellite targets and then deploy weapons to disable or destroy them. They also can crash into satellites or grab them with a robotic arm.
In 2008, a Chinese miniature imaging satellite passed within 28 miles of the International Space Station with no notification, in what the report said was a simulated co-orbital anti-satellite attack.
“The PLA assesses U.S. satellites are critical to the United States’ ability to sustain combat operations globally,” the report says. “PLA analysis of U.S. military operations states that ‘destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision-guided weapons into full play.’”
The PLA estimates 50 U.S. surveillance satellites, along with drones and manned aircraft, provided 70 percent of battlefield communications in the 1990s operations in Kosovo.
China is also planning military cyberattacks that can take control of satellites by hacking into the microwave signals used by satellites. Chinese military researchers have written that during a conflict, the PLA will “attempt to conduct computer network attacks against U.S. satellites and ground-based facilities that interact with U.S. satellites,” the report says.
“If executed successfully, such attacks could significantly threaten U.S. information superiority, particularly if they are conducted against satellites with sensitive military and intelligence functions,” the report says. “For example, access to a satellite’s controls could allow an attacker to damage or destroy the satellite; deny, degrade, or manipulate its transmissions; or access its capabilities or the information, such as imagery, that can be gained through its sensors.”
The report said Chinese hackers probably were behind several computer attacks against U.S. space assets, including a September 2014 hack of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration satellite and weather service systems.
Admiral: China cyberattacks rob U.S. blind
The commander of the U.S. Northern Command bluntly described Chinese government cyberattacks on U.S. information systems as having the effect of “robbing us blind.”
Northcom commander Adm. William Gortney said in remarks to the Atlantic Council he does not expect the recent agreement reached between President Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to work. China’s industry is heavily dependent on Chinese cyber economic espionage, he said.
“They’re robbing our intellectual capital blind, the Chinese are,” Adm. Gortney said. “They can’t keep their industry moving without robbing our intellectual capital from our private industry. And they’re robbing us blind.”
In May, the Chinese hacked university engineering schools at Penn State, Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, MIT and Berkeley. Also in May, United Airlines was hit by Chinese hackers.
Full article: New details of Chinese space weapons revealed (Washington Times)