China is preparing to conduct a flight test of a new missile capable of destroying satellites in space, one of Beijing’s most potent asymmetric warfare weapons.
Test preparations for the Dong Neng-3 anti-satellite missile were detected at a military facility in central China, according to Pentagon officials familiar with reports of the impending test.
Intelligence agencies were alerted to the impending test by China’s announcement of air closure zones covering the expected flight path of the DN-3.
The flight test could come as early as Thursday, the officials said.
No other details of the missile test were available. A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment. A State Department official said, “We do not comment on intelligence matters.”
Asia watcher Henri Kenhmann reported on his website Eastpendulum.com this week that missile tests were expected from the People’s Liberation Army satellite launch facility known as Jiuquan, located in Inner Mongolia, and a second launch complex at Korla, located in Xinjiang, western China.
The expected tests were based on Chinese government announcements of air closure areas for Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 near those sites.
The last time China tested a DN-3 anti-satellite missile was Oct. 30, 2015 from the Korla Missile Test Complex.
The anti-satellite missiles are part of what the Pentagon calls “counterspace” forces, part of China’s large-scale military buildup.
In addition to missiles and lasers, China also is working on small maneuvering satellites that can grab and destroy orbiting satellites.
Richard Fisher, a China military affairs specialist, said the DN-3 appears to be based on the Kuaizhou-1 (KZ-1) mobile space launch vehicle.
“In late 2016 or by mid 2017 the PLA may test a larger solid fuel mobile space launch vehicle called the KZ-11, with a 2-meter diameter motor similar in size to the new large and multiple warhead armed DF-41 ICBM,” Fisher said.
Another space launcher on a mobile transporter is being developed called the Long March-11 (LM-11).
“Both the KZ-11 and the LM-11 are four-stage solid fuel mobile missiles that could also be used for anti-satellite missions,” Fisher said.
“The bottom line is that the PLA now has at least two deployed ground-launched, mobile, solid fueled direct-ascent ASAT [anti-satellite] systems and may be able to soon field two more larger third generation ground-launched ASAT systems,” he added.
The anti-satellite weapons programs are believed to be under the PLA’s new Strategic Support Force, a dedicated space warfare and cyber warfare service set up in late 2015.
The developmental KZ-11 and LM-11 systems may be used by China to target U.S. Defense Support Program (DSP) early warning satellites, along with high-orbit Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation satellites.
The DN-3 is known as a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile that destroys satellites with a warhead that rams into orbiting systems at high speeds. The DN-3 is also said to have the capability to intercept ballistic missiles in flight.
If the DN-3 test is carried out, it will be China’s ninth known anti-satellite missile test. An earlier anti-satellite missile test was carried out in July 2014.