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[ISN] U.S. satellites dodge Chinese missile debris


By Bill Gertz
The Washington Times
January 11, 2008

Two orbiting U.S. spacecraft were forced to change course to avoid being 
damaged by the thousands of pieces of space debris produced after China 
carried out an anti-satellite weapon test one year ago today.

The maneuvering, ordered by ground controllers and conducted several 
months after the test, is an example of lingering problems caused by 
China's Jan. 11, 2007, missile firing in a bold demonstration of space 
weaponry against a weather satellite, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Ted 
Kresge, director of air, space and information operations at the Air 
Force Space Command in Colorado.

Gen. Kresge, a F-15 fighter pilot, said the Chinese ASAT weapon test 
changed the equation for the military, which is working to better 
understand strategic threats posed by China's satellite-killing 
missiles, ground-based lasers, cyberwarfare and other ground station 
attack capabilities.

The Space Command is conducting a series of reviews to better identify 
threats and develop defenses for U.S. and allied military and commercial 
satellites against future attack.

"We have embraced the notion that we now operate in a contested domain," 
the one-star general said.

However, other defense officials said the test set off a debate within 
the Bush administration over how to respond. Officials who seek to 
minimize China's arms development within the U.S. intelligence and 
policy communities are said to be playing down the seriousness of the 
ASAT weapon test, arguing in interagency meetings that it was a one-time 
event that poses no strategic threat.

Military officials, including Gen. Kresge and Marine Corps Gen. James E. 
Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, see Chinese 
anti-satellite weapons as new threats that could cripple the U.S. 
militarily and economically in a future conflict. They said the U.S. 
needs to step up spying efforts to learn more about the secret Chinese 
weapons program and develop defenses against it.

Chinese military writings have revealed that space weapons should be 
built in secret and used for "shock and awe" attacks against U.S. 
satellites, said defense analyst Michael Pillsbury who revealed the 
plans in a report to a congressional commission.

Gen. Cartwright testified before a Senate subcommittee last year that 
conventionally armed Trident missiles are needed to pre-empt space 
attacks through strikes on ASAT missile launchers in China.

But, Congress restricted funding for the program in the latest defense 
spending bill, and Pentagon civilians did not fight to keep the 
conventional Trident program going.

The White House opposed the curbs on the Trident conversion that are 
part of what the Pentagon calls "prompt global strike" weapons. The 
restrictions "limit the ability to field a near-term capability to 
strike globally, precisely, and rapidly with non-nuclear kinetic effects 
against high-priority, time-sensitive targets," the statement said.

The Chinese anti-satellite test used a ground-based mobile "direct 
ascent" missile that destroyed the orbiting Feng Yun-1C weather 
satellite by ramming into it.

By some estimates, China could produce enough space weapons to knock out 
all low-Earth orbit U.S. satellites by 2010.

China tried to carry out the test in secret but it was detected by U.S. 
intelligence agencies days before the launch. The Bush administration 
rejected State Department appeals to try and head off the test, fearing 
it would disclose U.S. spying capabilities. Instead, the administration 
organized a formal diplomatic protest to Beijing, that was joined by 
several other nations, including Britain, Japan and India.

China's government, which advocates a United Nations ban on space 
weapons, confirmed the test several weeks later, but Chinese officials 
have refused to reveal details of the arms program.

Beijing also is asserting national sovereignty over all space above 
Chinese territory, setting up the potential for a future confrontation 
with the U.S., which operates intelligence and other satellites that 
pass over China.

Gen. Kresge said international treaties protect space from such claims 
of national control, "so from my perspective that is an illegitimate 
claim on their part."

"If their intent was to enforce that, then we run into a space 
protection problem, and that is why we are so aggressively working the 
issue," he said.

Options for countering China's space arms include dissuading China from 
attacks through political, economic and diplomatic means, and deterring 
attacks by threatening U.S. counterstrikes, Gen. Kresge said.

Developing international coalitions with nations that operate satellites 
is being considered to help share satellites in an emergency, and 
"provide an adversary with a targeting problem," he said.

Defensive measures include maneuvering satellites or shielding them from 
damage from ground-based lasers. China fired a laser at a U.S. satellite 
in December 2006.

The broad area of wreckage in space is called the "Feng Yun-1C debris" 
and threatens about 800 satellites in space, 400 of which are American.

According to the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force 
Base in California, the commercial communication satellite Orbcomm FM 36 
maneuvered to avoid passing within about 123 feet of the debris field on 
April 6. A NASA Earth observation satellite Terra was moved June 22 to 
avoid coming within about 90 feet of the debris.

Gen. Kresge said the Chinese ASAT weapon test, after two misses, "made a 
mess" in space. There are no indications China is preparing more tests 
but doing so would create a "huge" problem, he said.

"Essentially what it did was increase the amount of space debris 
orbiting the Earth by about 20 percent," he said.

The debris threatens spacecraft for up to 100 years, he estimated.

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