Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA Jan-Feb 2017 Contents DEBALINA GHOSHAL / HYDERABAD
CHINA'S GROWING A-SAT CAPABILITIES
Two of China's declared Shashoujian (assassin's mace) strategies include Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD) capability
(denying the adversary from enjoying military superiority) and Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) capability. Both are based on
hard kill technologies.
A-SAT weapons are designed to target
vulnerable US space infrastructure to deny
the United States any advantage it could gain
from its conventional superiority in forces. In 2015 the
US Department of Defense (DoD) report to the US
Congress on "Military and Security Developments
Involving the People's Republic of China 2015'
warned that China was developing capabilities
"designed to limit or prevent the use of space based
assets by adversaries, including the development of
directed weapons and satellite jammers that pose
a "threat" to peaceful nations". This is not surprising
as the year before China's President Xi Jinping
instructed the Air Force to be upgraded in a way that
it could integrate with China's space program.
Accordingly, in June 2016, China conducted a
test of the an A-SAT device known as Aolong-1 or
Roaming Dragon mounted atop a Long March 7
rocket. China defended this move on the grounds
that Roaming Dragon was officially used to collect
and remove old debris from space -- a very worthy
objective. However, because of the ability of Roaming
Dragon to manoeuvre, there has been concern that
it could also be used as a weapon to destroy the
satellites of adversaries.
China maintains that it believes in the peaceful
use of space and that the tests are defensive in
nature and does not threaten any country. But
since Roaming Dragon is small, lightweight and
easy to launch, there have been concerns that
China could launch a swarm of them against
satellites of adversaries.
Also the People's Liberation Army (PLA) lays
stress in its doctrine on the need to destroy,
damage and interfere with enemy satellites used
for communication and reconnaissance and other
activities. Despite this, China states that it remains
committed to "control and reduction" of space
debris to "fulfil its obligations and responsibilities"
according to Tang Yogang, a senior satellite scientist
with the China Aerospace Science and Technology
In addition to Roaming Dragon, in October
2015, China was preparing to test fire an anti-
satellite missile threatening the space assets of
the United States. Called the Dong Neng-3 (DN-3)
exa-atmospheric vehicle, it was launched from the
Korla Missile Text Complex in the Xinjiang province
and is believed to be an improved version of the
DN-2 that also relies on a high energy kinetic
impact to destroy targets.
Direct-ascent A-SAT missiles such as DN-2 and
DN-3 are designed to disable or destroy a satellite
or spacecraft using one of several possible kill
mechanisms such as the kinetic kill vehicle (KKV).
These missiles are launched against pre-selected
targets. These A-SAT weapons have to wait for the
target satellite to pass overhead within a certain
distance from the launch site, or target a stationary
satellite within range of the launch site. Unlike
co-orbital A-SAT systems, direct-ascent A-SAT
missiles "do not establish a persistent presence in
space, enter into long-term orbits, or loiter to await
commands to engage a target."
However, China states that these missiles are
actually defensive interceptors. This is not new
because in 2010, 2013, and 2014, China has
disguised its A-SAT tests as land based missile
interception. After the 2013 A-SAT test, Brian
Weeden, a space specialist, stated that the orbital
paths are above 2000km over the earth and that
"[no] other country has tested a direct ascent ASAT
weapon system that has the potential to reach
deep space satellites in medium earth orbit, highly
elliptical orbit or geostationary orbit." The U.S.-China
Economic and Security Review has in fact raised
concerns over China disguising it's A-SAT tests as
that would bring in the complications of transparency.
The inventory includes the DN-1 missile based
on the SC-19 anti-satellite missile, DN-2 high
earth-orbit attack missile and also Hong Qi-19. The
DN-2, DN-3 and HQ-19 are direct ascent missiles.
The HQ-19 is a counter to the US Terminal High
Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system. The DN-3
missile is based on the KZ-11 launcher that can hit
targets at higher orbits.
Beijing has earlier proposed a ban on outer
space weapon systems under Prevention of Arms
Race in Outer Space (PAROS). Also, while the
Outer Space Treaty prohibits use of weapons of
mass destruction (WMD) in space, it does not
ban use of conventional weapons. In 2008, China
along with Russia presented to the Conference on
Disarmament (CD) a draft Treaty on the Prevention
of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and
of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space
Objects (PPWT) which however, did not make any
progress. Despite China's proposal for peaceful
use of outer space and detesting weaponization
of outer space or arms race in space, Beijing has
continued with developing anti-satellite weapons to
keep pace with the United States.
This has continued since 2007 when China first
tested an A-SAT weapon against one of its own
satellites, the Fengyun-1C. The A-SAT's Kinetic Kill
Vehicle (KKV) was probably boosted by the DF-21
medium range ballistic missile (MRBM).
The United States and Russia have also
developed direct ascent anti-satellite missile
systems. As recently as May 2016, Russia has
test fired the "Nudol' A-SAT weapon. In fact, many
US analysts have feared that China is planning to
launch a pre-emptive strike on US space assets
and calls the possibility the 'Space Pearl Harbour'
which Beijing, an asymmetric power, could employ
to gain a decisive victory against the United
States. Washington has also accused Beijing
of irresponsible A-SAT tests that has resulted in
the release of harmful debris in 2007. The debris
released in 2007 from the FY-1C created hazards
for the International Space Station and other low
orbiting space craft. Since then, according to
Mallory Stewart, the US State Department's deputy
assistant secretary, the Chinese have conducted
A-SAT tests without generating debris.
In June 2016, China conducted a test of the an A-SAT device known as
Aolong-1 or Roaming Dragon mounted atop a Long March 7 rocket.
DefenceReviewAsia | JAN-FEB 2017 23
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