How China's ASAT technology can derail America's space power

Updated: Jan 18, 2022, 02:10 PM(IST)

According to a report, China is prepared to conduct prompt operations to dislocate US and allied space power advantages.

China's counter-space systems

According to a US report, China and Russia have long recognised and opportunistically sought to exploit vulnerabilities of the US Department of Defence’s space forces.

The DOD in its report had said China is the “most immediate and serious threat” to US national security objectives in space.

A report noted that during "Operation Desert Storm China’s military leaders noted that space systems provided US-led coalition forces with precision navigation and enhanced command and control across challenging terrain."

The report said China has rapidly fielded multiple space and counter-space systems with the intent to surpass and eventually gain military superiority over the United States.

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Dislocate US and allied space power advantages

In a report by Mitchell institute titled Maneuver Warfare in space: the strategic mandate for nuclear propulsion, it said that China would be prepared to conduct prompt operations to dislocate US and allied space power advantages.

China seeks to exploit US vulnerabilities in space through its unique view of deterrence and war fighting, the report claimed.

The report said China continues to expand its operational counter space weaponry, including its arsenal of ground-launched missiles carrying ASAT kinetic kill vehicles and space electronic warfare capabilities.

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Jamming intelligence satellites with lasers

The think tank said China could conduct disruption operations in a “period of tension” or combine them with “rapid and destructive” space attacks to create reversible and irreversible effects on US and allied space systems.

It could include "pre-conflict operations" including jamming intelligence satellites with lasers, it informed.

"Preemptive operations are intended to defeat an enemy before fighting has begun. China believes it is important to create psychological fear," it said.

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Chinese scientists are building JF-22 wind tunnel

The Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) had earlier confirmed that a Mach 8 wind tunnel called FL-64 had been completed and now had "testing capability", including "weapon separation and delivery".

Chinese scientists are also reportedly building the JF-22 wind tunnel which can simulate flight at 30 times the speed of sound, state broadcaster CCTV had reported in August last year.

The US is developing its own hypersonic glider under the ARRW programme, but that system's first real-life test failed in April.

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USAF’s hypersonic programme

The ARRW is being developed under USAF’s Hypersonics Prototyping Programme Element. Lockheed Martin has received $988.8 million contract to modify the ARRW critical design review, test and production readiness support.

The AGM-183A ARRW uses hypersonic boost-glide system allowing rocket to propels its payload to high speeds.

The missile had earlier transmitted telemetry and GPS data from its Instrumented Measurement Vehicle (IMV)-2 during a test.

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Thermal, mechanical and digital data

The captive carry flight was conducted with tactical hardware and fully instrumented to collect thermal, mechanical and digital data from the flight vehicle, according to Lockheed Martin.

It was the first time a tactical ARRW missile was assembled.

“This captive carry mission is the pre-cursor for our first booster test flight planned for early 2020s.” Dave Berganini had said.

 

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China developing multi-layered counterspace architecture

China and Russia have both developed ground-based and space-based anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons that can degrade, damage, and even destroy America’s vital space power capabilities, the research paper said.

"China is developing what it refers to as a multi-layered counterspace architecture. One layer includes capabilities like radio frequency jammers and illumination lasers that can temporarily debilitate satellites," it said.

"Another layer includes weapons that can permanently degrade and even destroy satellites, such as ground-launched ASAT missiles that can reach satellites at all orbital altitudes and directed energy weapons like high-power lasers," the institute said.

Russia is also reportedly developing "similar sets of weapons".

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Zircon, Russia's hypersonic missile

Russia meanwhile recently launched a hypersonic missile, called Zircon, from a submarine and deployed a hypersonic, nuclear-capable ballistic system in 2019, called Avangard.

Moscow has in recent years touted the development of weapons that it hopes will give it the edge in any arms race with the United States at a time of growing tensions with the West.

Hypersonics can travel more than five times the speed of sound and manoeuvre in mid-flight, making them much harder to track and intercept than traditional projectiles.

In November, the Russian military had said that it had fired the Zircon missile from the Admiral Gorshkov warship and hit a test target in Russia's Arctic waters.

The Zircon had already undergone several tests in recent years, including another launch from the Admiral Gorshkov and from a submerged submarine.

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Deploying mission extension vehicle

The report recommended that DOD should deploy ground-based and space-based kinetic ASAT weapons systems capable of holding Chinese and Russian targets at risk.

It added that DOD should hedge against "risk" by deploying the mission extension vehicle (MEV) to provide GPS and other vital satellite constellations the ability to conduct limited defensive manoeuvres while preserving their onboard chemical propellant.

(Photograph:AFP)

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