New Report Finds China's Space Plans Threaten U.S. Military Ability

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China's Space Mission
The Shenzhou-9 -- China's fourth manned space mission -- blasts off from the Jiuquan space base, northwest China's Gansu province in the remote Gobi desert on June 16, 2012. Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images

China is developing space technologies aimed at blocking U.S. military communications and destroying its ability to win conflicts, according to a report commissioned by a panel created by the U.S. Congress.

“China’s improving space capabilities have negative-sum consequences for U.S. military security,” the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation said in the report. Its progress requires “the U.S. to prepare to confront an adversary possessing space and counter-space technologies.”

The report, released Monday in Washington, comes as Congress debates President Barack Obama’s request for a Defense Department budget increase of 7.7 percent to $534.3 billion and ways to align defense strategy and spending. The top U.S. intelligence official and the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command both warned last week that China’s space program threatens U.S. military communications.

The program is part of President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” strategy of strengthening national power and reshaping the Asia-Pacific political environment into one in which its interests are given greater attention.

“China’s goal is to become a space power on par with the United States and to foster a space industry that is the equal of those in the United States, Europe, and Russia,” according to the report, which was prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

“With improved military capabilities, and the potential for growth in the commercial aerospace industry, China’s development” of space technologies will allow it to “more effectively wield international power,” the commission said in a press release on Monday.

Space-Based Information

Chinese military analysts consider that space-based information will become a deciding issue in future wars, that space will be a dominant battlefield, and that in order to achieve victory on Earth, one must first seize the initiative in space, the institute said.

“This will require China to achieve space supremacy, defined as the ability to freely use space and to deny the use of space to adversaries,” according to the report, titled “China Dream, Space Dream: China’s Progress in Space Technologies and Implications for the United States.”

The assessment that space is the dominant battlefield has led the People’s Liberation Army to conclude that war in space is inevitable, the institute said in the report led by Kevin Pollpeter, deputy director of the Study of Innovation and Technology in China at the IGCC.

Increasing Threat

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the threat to U.S. space systems and services will increase this year as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counter-space capabilities.

“Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and services and are developing capabilities to deny access in a conflict,” Clapper said. “Chinese military writing highlights the need to interfere with, damage and destroy reconnaissance, navigation and communication satellites.”

Clapper’s comments were included in his wide-ranging summary of a “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”

Admiral Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told a House Armed Services subcommittee last week that China’s space capabilities threaten U.S. strategic satellite systems.

“We’ve seen very disturbing trends in space from particular nation-states like China, as well as Russia, who’ve been public about their counter-space endeavors and ambitions,” he said, referring to their space warfare capabilities.

Anti-Satellite Test

He cited China’s “non-destructive” anti-satellite test in July last year, which the Chinese said was a “land-based anti-missile technology experiment.”

“We’ve seen direct descent, anti-satellite kill vehicles launched just as most recently last summer from China,” he said. It shows “that they are not very transparent in sharing their intent with us.”

If the current trajectory of China’s space program continues, by 2030 China will have a new line of advanced launch vehicles, a robust, space-based command and control network and more capable electronic intelligence communication satellites, the report said.

“Although China is probably truthful when it says that it is not in a space race, such statements mask the true intent of its space program: to become militarily, diplomatically, commercially, and economically as competitive as the United States is in space,” the institute said in the report.

(An earlier version of this story was corrected because it described the panel that commissioned the report inaccurately.)

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