China pursues ASAT missile technology
Posted: 02/13/2013 12:00:00 AM EST
Reports from the Chinese press have confirmed that China successfully launched a new test of its anti-satellite (ASAT) missile in January.
Several weeks ago, U.S. intelligence reports had picked up on a memo circulated among Chinese officials at the end of last year in advanced preparation, which if accurate would see the launch of a Dong Ning-2 missileand mark another step forward in ASAT trial experience since China undertook its first steps with a launch in 2007.
That initial test knocked out a deliberately positioned Chinese weather satellite, casting thousands of pieces of debris into orbit which threatened to damage other orbital assets – a situation that international governments and private companies have had to assess in light of the recent launch of a North Korean test missile that presented similar danger.
Other ASAT technology available – and worth testing – could be based on non-impact solutions, such as electronic pulse, which could avoid creating a debris field that could endanger a nation’s own interests. Other suggestions highlight the likelihood of testing for higher orbital reach to develop capabilities against navigational satellites.
The controversy over the initial testing ASAT systems led to the Chinese re-branding the tests in the name of missile defence, according to a 2010 U.S. State Department cable, in efforts to avoid allegations of aggression.
At that time, the SC-19 missile launched from the Korla Missile Test Complex “successfully intercepted a near-simultaneously launched CSS-X-11 medium-range ballistic missile launched from the Shuangchengzi Space and Missile Center… [the SC-19] was used previously as the payload booster for the January 11, 2007, direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) intercept of the Chinese FY-1C weather satellite. Previous SC-19 DA-ASAT flight-tests were conducted in 2005 and 2006. This test is assessed to have furthered both Chinese ASAT and ballistic missile defense technologies.”
The intelligence reports coincided with separate claims that a new orbital tracking site is under construction near the small city of Kashgar in south-western China, which has led to armchair analysts probing OPINT data to locate other suspicious construction work in the Chinese deserts. It has been suggested however that much of this is nothing more than agricultural development.
Both Russia and the U.S. are understood to have ceased “destructive” ASAT testing since the early development of their respective space programmes but difficulty remains in identifying the true purposes of missile tests in what is arguably a double-edged sword for military chiefs.
A Russian security council official also announced last month that Russia plans on enhancing its cooperation with China when it comes to missile defence, reportedly in response to growing American and allied missile strength in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific.
Last year, Defence IQ reported on the progress of Russo-American collaboration on integrated ballistic missile development which at the time was being stalled by disagreement over the presence of U.S. systems in Poland and a Russian demand that NATO sign a legally binding agreement that they could not be turned against Moscow.
In these past twelve months, there has been no resolution to this issue and the Kremlin appears to be turning instead towards bilateral consultations with its partners in the East, along with possibilities of increasing its volume of ICBMs by 100-150 by 2015.
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