The US has long been avoiding the sensitive issue of pre-emptive self-defense in space, which is exercised before a space attack has actually started. However, facing a new game-changing threat under development in China and Russia, the US must address the issue and let the world know its position now. Bringing the issue up on the eve of pre-emption would be too late and could lead to a war both sides would want to avoid.
In November 2015, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission released its 2015 Annual Report to the Congress. It stated that “since 2008, China has tested increasingly complex space proximity capabilities.” It confirmed what it and the Department of Defense have been suggesting, that “China’s recent space activities indicate that it is developing co-orbital antisatellite systems to target U.S. space assets. 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.” It also confirmed that, in July 2013, “once all three were in orbit, the satellite with the robotic arm grappled one of the other satellites, which was acting as a target satellite.” A robotic arm could be used to disable a satellite while producing little space debris.
Space objects capable of close proximity operations and particularly equipped with a robotic arm could pose a game-changing threat. These space objects could be placed in orbit during peacetime. During a crisis, such as China seizing Taiwan or territorial disputes in the South China Sea, these space objects could be maneuvered to tailgate US satellites. China could deter US intervention by demonstrating that its space stalkers could almost simultaneously attack several critical satellites from such a close proximity that the US would not have time to save them—if it waited until the attacks had actually started.
Full article: China’s new space threat and the justification of US pre-emptive self-defense (The Space Review)