China is likely will field a ground-based laser weapon that can counter low-orbit space-based sensors by 2020, and by the mid-to-late 2020s, it may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites.
A declassified Pentagon report last month said that "China is likely will field a ground-based laser weapon that can counter low-orbit space-based sensors by 2020, and by the mid-to-late 2020s, it may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites."
China had tested its first anti-satellite (ASAT) missile back in 2007 when it destroyed a defunct weather satellite.
In recent years there has been speculation that it tested the ASAT a few more times although it couldn't be confirmed as China consistently denied it, however, the Pentagon report stated that "China plans to use high-energy ground-based lasers in a future war to disrupt Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites that provide pinpoint targeting of US missiles."
After India tested its ASAT on Wednesday, in a cryptic reply China's foreign ministry said it hoped that "each country will uphold peace and tranquillity in outer space".
Last month, China had launched the final satellite in its homegrown geolocation system designed to rival the US GPS network. China started building its global navigation system in the early 1990s to help cars, fishing boats and military tankers navigate using mapping data from the country's own satellites.
Now the service can be used on millions of mobile phones to find nearby restaurants, petrol stations or cinemas, to guide taxis and missiles and fly unmanned drones.
Around 120 countries including Pakistan and Thailand are using Beidou's services for port traffic monitoring, to guide rescue operations during disasters and other services, according to Chinese state media.
US Air Force was especially concerned in 2015 after speculation grew that China had tested an ASAT missile in 2014. Reports said the US Congress added $32 million to Air Force's space budget to study future anti-satellite capabilities, including offensive and "active defence" capabilities.
The International outer space treaty has a major lacuna in that in does not disallow conventional weaponry in orbit and bans only weapons of mass destruction in orbit and outer space, nations including China have taken full advantage of the gap and stepped up its anti-missile hunt.
India may have entered the ASAT race on Wednesday but China has ramped up its arsenal in the last ten years and is now being seen as a major threat to safety of satellites placed in orbit which include military and communication satellites.
A US defence report last year had pointed out that "China is stepping up the militarisation of space despite public statements to the contrary".
China’s space program continues to mature rapidly, the Defense Department report noted.
"China is developing multiple counter space capabilities to degrade and deny adversary use of space-based assets during a crisis or conflict," it said.
In 2017, China launched 18 SLVs, of which 16 were successful, orbiting some 31 spacecraft, including communications, navigation, ISR, and test/engineering satellites, the report said.
"The PLA is acquiring a range of technologies to improve China’s counter space capabilities. In addition to the development of weapons and satellite jammers, China is also developing direct-ascent and co-orbital kinetic kill capabilities and has probably made progress on the anti-satellite missile system it tested in July 2014," the US Defense Department report said.
China is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and is probably testing dual-use technologies in space that could be applied to counterspace missions," it said.
"The PLA in recent years has emphasized the importance of cyberspace as a new domain of national security and an arena for strategic competition," the report pointed out.
During wartime, cyber capabilities can “help the PLA understand the enemy’s trend, help the troops plan the combat operations, and ensure victory on the battlefield.”
The establishment of the Special Security Force (SSF) may represent the first step in developing a cyber force that creates efficiencies by combining cyber reconnaissance, attack, and defence capabilities into one organisation, the US Department of Defense report said.
Clearly, India has a lot of catching up to do if it has to take on China's ASAT capability in the years to come. DRDO chairman G Satheesh Reddy had announced on Wednesday that the country now possesses the capability to strike satellites in outer space with centimetre-level accuracy and precision.
Reddy, who oversaw the top-secret operation, said the government accorded clearance to the project around two years back with an aim to deter threats to the country's space assets.
Compared to this, China tested its missile way back in 2007 having researched it for several decades earlier. India, however, has developed its capability indigenously, now it will have to ensure that further research and development continues on the project and investment, including government support for the mega-project continues.
Japan's move comes even as China is targeting a July launch for its ambitious plans for a Mars mission which will include landing a remote-controlled robot on the surface of the red planet.
China has already carried out a similar mission to the Moon, and in January 2019 landed a small rover on the dark side of the lunar surface, becoming the first nation to do so.
The US, which has already sent four exploratory vehicles to Mars, intends to launch a fifth this summer. It should arrive around February 2021.