Other

As China tests ASAT, US pushes multilateral space security efforts

In a speech at a US Strategic Command symposium last week, a top State Department official made the case again for various multilateral efforts to improve space security, even as China appeared to perform another test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon.

Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance at the State Department, discussed space security efforts in an August 13 speech at the US Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium in suburban Omaha. Much of the speech was a broad overview of national space policy in the area of space security, including now-standard references to the contested and congested nature of space.

The speech, though, came just a few weeks after China conducted what many observers believe was another ASAT test. Although Chinese officials said the test was of a missile defense system, US officials believe it was an ASAT test, an assessment Rose included in his speech. “Despite China’s claims that this was not an ASAT test; let me assure you the United States has high confidence in its assessment, that the event was indeed an ASAT test,” he said.

Later in the speech, Rose made the case for multilateral agreements to preserve space security, citing the International Code of Conduct originally proposed several years ago by the EU and the UN’s Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) that crafted a set of transparency and confidence-building measures, or TCBMs, regarding space security. “The GGE report which was published in July of last year and was agreed to by China and Russia, endorsed voluntary, non-legally binding TCBMs to strengthen stability in space,” Rose said.

Rose did not mention another proposed treaty, offered by China and Russia, that deals with space security. In June, China and Russia introduced an updated version of their proposed Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT) treaty that would ban the placement of weapons in outer space. However, as Michael Listner and Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan note in an essay in The Space Review earlier this month, the updated PPWT doesn’t address many of the criticisms of the original proposal, including the fact that it doesn’t deal with ASAT weapons launched from the ground, like the direct-ascent ASATs tested by China.

42 comments to As China tests ASAT, US pushes multilateral space security efforts

  • Hiram

    I have to say that a non-destructive ASAT test seems to be something that the Chinese have every right to do. Such a test, which presumably puts a Chinese projectile very close to a satellite (which, as an “intercept” test, could certainly be considered a “missle defense” exercise), simply asserts that they consider satellites to be targetable, and they have the skill to do it. I would be astonished if the U.S. doesn’t do the same. A destructive ASAT test harms everyone. A non-destructive ASAT test just sends a message.

    Now, to the extent such a test violates an existing treaty, that wouldn’t be kosher. But to my understanding, there isn’t such a treaty agreement. This issue borders on space property rights, wherin one might put fences and “DO NOT ENTER” signs around space assets.

    • I am sure the Chicoms appreciate the understanding of their American apologists.

      • Hiram

        “I am sure the Chicoms appreciate the understanding of their American apologists.”

        Yeah, rationality is an admirable trait. Maybe we even have more of it than they do. American exceptionalism at its best!

    • Michael J. Listner

      “I have to say that a non-destructive ASAT test seems to be something that the Chinese have every right to do.”

      You’re pretty close. China justified its 2007 ASAT test by claiming that the United States and the Soviet Union created a customary norm during the Cold War with their ASAT tests.

      “A destructive ASAT test harms everyone. A non-destructive ASAT test just sends a message.”

      Many of us in the space policy community agree that the 2007 ASAT test was a shot across the bow. On the other hand, many deride the intercept of USA-193 using a sea-based ABM as a test of an ASAT, the official position of the United States is the intercept used a capability ancillary to missile defense. Personally, I feel the intercept was justified, but also agree that it sent a message.

      “This issue borders on space property rights, wherin one might put fences and “DO NOT ENTER” signs around space assets.”

      It’s more along the lines of non-interference. There is a customary norm that one nation will no interfere with the space objects belonging to another. Incidentally, this principle is one of the hindrances to effective space debris remediation.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “Many of us in the space policy community agree that the 2007 ASAT test was a shot across the bow.”

        Those of us who actually work space policy know that the PRC and even PLA leadership were almost certainly unaware of the nature, consequences, and timing of the test, and they therefore China’s leadership could not have intended to send a message via the test, shot-across-the-bow or otherwise.

        Even if you’re not in a government loop, some of the primary sources have become available via wikileaks, not to mention various secondary articles in the public domain:

        “China’s top leadership approved in general terms the
        testing of Anti-Satellite (ASAT) technology, but they most
        likely were unaware in advance of the details of the January
        test, including the precise date, scholars from the Ministry
        of State Security-affiliated China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) and the Central Party School (CPS) told Emboffs. Reftels reported similar views from other Chinese scholars.”

        “According to Fu Mengzi, Assistant President at CICIR,
        President Hu Jintao is believed to have approved in general
        terms the testing of China’s Anti-Satellite technology, but
        neither he nor most of the rest of the government were likely aware of the details, including the precise date. Moreover, few at a senior level had given much strategic thought to the ASAT test or considered its broader implications for Chinese foreign policy. Communication within the PRC bureaucracy was extremely poor and there was ‘great confusion’ afterward. Even most of the People’s Liberation Army was kept in the dark, Fu claimed.”

        http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BEIJING2903_a.html

        “China’s 12-day silence immediately after the test, uncoordinated messages (including a flat denial from the
        military), and absence of a clear communications strategy indicate a lack of internal coordination about the January ASAT test.”

        http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a517485.pdf

        “Some Americans officials, such as National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, suggested that while Chinese political leadership approved the test, they may have been unaware of its timing, and thus were caught off guard when it occurred. ‘It’s the kind of silence that makes you wonder what’s happening inside the country,’ another official told the Times.”

        http://www.spacepolitics.com/2007/01/22/more-commentary-but-little-news-about-chinas-asat-test/

        • Dick Eagleson

          I’m a bit unclear about what you believe the information in your post is supposed to do by way of influencing opinion about the 2007 ASAT test or China more generally. If we’re supposed to feel better about the whole thing since senior Chinese leadership figures were unaware of the test details, timing and both strategic and diplomatic impacts before it happened, I, for one, am not reassured.

          You paint a picture of Chinese leadership as incurious and slipshod and of its military as fully capable of ‘Seven Days in May’-style intrigues. Neither makes me feel more secure with respect to possible future ill-considered adventures at least some portion of China’s leadership might be inclined to undertake.

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “I’m a bit unclear about what you believe the information in your post is supposed to do by way of influencing opinion about the 2007 ASAT test or China more generally. If we’re supposed to feel better about the whole thing since senior Chinese leadership figures were unaware of the test details, timing and both strategic and diplomatic impacts before it happened, I, for one, am not reassured.”

            My point wasn’t to reassure or spin the test in a positive light. My point was that we shouldn’t construe a message from China’s leadership where there was none. It doesn’t change the physical results on orbit, but in terms of intent, we shouldn’t attribute to calculation and malice what we know was stupidity and internal miscommunication (or lack of communication).

            “You paint a picture of Chinese leadership as incurious and slipshod and of its military as fully capable of ‘Seven Days in May’-style intrigues. Neither makes me feel more secure with respect to possible future ill-considered adventures at least some portion of China’s leadership might be inclined to undertake.”

            Anytime we deal with strategic capabilities, the risks go up due to the serious nature of the outcomes, and the importance of control up and down the chain of command becomes paramount. Logically, the PRC and PLA should have greatly tightened the reins on their strategic assets and developments after this international embarrassment. But given the opaqueness, complexity, and ongoing power plays in these organizations, there’s no guarantees that they’ve done so.

            As worrying as China’s claims in the South China Sea and Russia’s moves in Ukraine are, the bigger danger in the coming years is that decay in the Russian chain of command and/or immaturity in the Chinese chain of command could result in serious consequences unintended by their leadership. Unlike the U.S., these are not mature, stable, robust strategic powers.

            • E.P. Grondine

              “Unlike the U.S., these are not mature, stable, robust strategic powers.”

              Ho, ho, ho…

              Let’s see, the wisdom of 300 years…

              DBN, you may be mistaking the rise of the US’s military apparatus since World War 2 for something else.

            • Dick Eagleson

              Given the number of Cold War-era nuclear war near misses we had with the old Soviet Union, I share your concerns about the maturity of current Russian leadership. Khruschev and Brezhnev at least never paraded around shirtless on horseback (thank God!).

        • Michael J. Listner

          More telling was the silence after the test occurred. It took awhile for the international community to raise its voice about the incident. I agree that there appears to be mixed signals between the bodies within the Chinese government, but that doesn’t take away from the supposition that this was in part a shot across the bow designed to see how the international community would respond.

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “More telling was the silence after the test occurred. It took awhile for the international community to raise its voice about the incident.”

            It took AvWeek a week or two to break the story. The silence was only in the public domain.

            “… that doesn’t take away from the supposition that this was in part a shot across the bow designed to see how the international community would respond.”

            Your supposition is incorrect. Read the diplomatic cables on wikileaks and the experts’ quotes in the articles. PRC and PLA leadership weren’t informed that the test was going to create thousands of pieces of debris. Therefore, they couldn’t have intended to see how other countries would respond to the same.

            • Michael J. Listner

              “Read the diplomatic cables on wikileaks and the experts’ quotes in the articles.”

              I don’t look at Wikileaks. I refuse to look at documents that should be classified.

              “Your supposition is incorrect.”

              That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. However, the unintended destructiveness of the test has no bearing on whether or not this test was meant to demonstrate an active ASAT capability and in part send a message, i.e. a shot across the bow to see how the international community would respond. I’m not the only who has this opinion.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “I refuse to look at documents that should be classified.”

                It’s not a classified document.

                “However, the unintended destructiveness of the test has no bearing on whether or not this test was meant to demonstrate an active ASAT capability and in part send a message, i.e. a shot across the bow to see how the international community would respond.”

                It’s more than the debris. Leadership didn’t know what date the test was going to take or even that this specific test was planned. They couldn’t intend to send a message via an action they didn’t know about.

                “I’m not the only who has this opinion.”

                Anyone who shares that opinion is out of touch with reality:

                “Bush administration officials said that… they were uncertain whether China’s top leaders, including President Hu Jintao, were fully aware of the test”

                “protests filed by the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia, among others, were met with silence — and quizzical looks from officials in The Chinese Foreign Ministry, who seemed to be caught unaware”

                “The American officials presume that Mr. Hu was generally aware of the missile testing program, but speculate that he may not have known the timing of the test.”

                “In an interview late Friday, Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush’s national security adviser, raised the possibility that China’s leaders might not have fully known what their military was doing.”

                “‘It’s the kind of silence that makes you wonder what’s happening inside the country,’ said another senior American official who has been monitoring the case. ‘I’m sure the Chinese leadership knew there were tests under way, in a general sort of way. But they don’t seem to have been prepared for a success, and they clearly had not thought about what they would say to the world.’”

                http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/22/world/asia/22missile.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0&ref=world

              • Michael J. Listner

                “It’s not a classified document.”

                I beg to differ.

                “Anyone who shares that opinion is out of touch with reality:”

                Whatever.

              • Michael J. Listner

                I would also suggest anyone who uses the New York Times as a source and/or believes everything China says is out of touch with reality.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “I beg to differ.”

                It’s still not a classified document. Just because a document is on Wikileaks doesn’t mean that said document ever had distribution and handling restrictions.

                “I would also suggest anyone who uses the New York Times as a source”

                I would suggest that anyone who tries to argue that I’m relying on the Times when I’ve also provided diplomatic cables from Wikileaks, references from the Defense Technical Information Center, and references from a Space Review article is being disingenuous. Or is seriously lack in their reading comprehension.

                “believes everything China says is out of touch with reality.”

                So Stephen Hadley worked for the PRC? And senior Bush Administration officials worked for the PRC? And diplomat Dan Shields worked for the PRC?

                That’s some weird reality. Where do you get your hallucinogens?

                “Whatever.”

                Ah… another cogent rebuttal backed by irrefutable evidence.

              • Michael J. Listner

                “That’s some weird reality. Where do you get your hallucinogens?”

                I must be hallucinating to think I could get an intelligent, respectful discussion on this forum, especially from someone who doesn’t have the balls to use his (or her) real name. More evidence that I need to stop wasting my time here and spending more time writing space policy articles.

              • Michael J. Listner

                Dark Blue Nine: An addendum: Even though you don’t have the guts to use your real name, I have a strong suspicion who you are. If I am right, which I probably am, I’ve shut you down on many occasions in public forums on space policy discussions so it’s probably a good idea to keep your face hidden lest you suffer further embarrassment.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “I must be hallucinating to think”

                No, you’re hallucinating because one of your arguments amounts to Stephen Hadley, Dan Shields, and other Bush II Administration officials working for China.

                “I could get an intelligent, respectful discussion on this forum”

                This from the poster who, after failing to produce any actual evidence to support his position and being shown multiple primary and secondary sources demonstrating that his position is patently wrong, dismisses the entire argument with a juvenile “whatever”.

                (This from the same poster who relied on the same juvenile “whatever” routine when his predictions on the SpaceX/USAF case turned out to be grossly wrong.)

                This from the poster who, instead of following, reading, and comprehending the other posters’ links and arguing the evidence, makes lame attempts to discredit those sources by claiming that they’re classified when they’re not. Or that an objective article in a leading US newspaper quoting White House officials is not a valid source. Or that the other poster relied solely on said article, when he did not.

                This from the poster who claims that the other poster is out of touch with reality, and then gets offended when told that he’s hallucinating in return.

                This from a poster who should have just read the evidence and admitted he was wrong three posts ago. Or just left the discussion if he wasn’t big enough to do that.

                If you want respect, then show respect. If you can’t, then don’t post.

                “especially from someone who doesn’t have the balls to use his (or her) real name”

                Several points:

                1) It’s the comments area of an internet blog, not a mortgage deal, for crissakes. We’re allowed and encouraged here to use pseudonyms. And for all we know, “Michael Listner (Listener?)” is a pseudonym.

                2) You’re the poster lamely relying on anonymous others who supposedly share your “opinion” to support your position, not me. If you’re so worried about anonymity, then reference your sources.

                3) It doesn’t matter what our identities are, whether one of the posters is Norm Augustine and the other is a janitor at Lockheed Martin. One argument clearly has the weight of evidence behind it, and the other is totally lacking in evidence.

                4) If you’ve run out of logic and evidence and have to resort on ad hominem attacks to continue the argument, then either admit that your position was wrong or just stop posting. Don’t waste my or your time.

                “Even though you don’t have the guts to use your real name, I have a strong suspicion who you are. If I am right, which I probably am”

                As usual, you’re wrong. The only other forum I’ve frequented in this area (and stopped months ago) is nasaspaceflight.com, where I’ve gone by the same moniker. And I’ve never run across a Michael Listner there.

                “I’ve shut you down on many occasions in public forums on space policy discussions so it’s probably a good idea to keep your face hidden lest you suffer further embarrassment.”

                Wow, there is some serious paranoia on display in that post.

                Dude, it’s only the comments area on a blog. It’s not a test of your manhood. It’s okay to be wrong. Grow up, get some perspective, do your research before posting next time, and/or see a psychiatrist for that paranoid personality disorder.

                Yikes…

              • Hiram

                Let me just add to this “discussion” that identification of the poster is irrelevant in an online discussion forum. It’s either in the words expressed, or it isn’t. Read the words. Famous names can write stupid words. This is all about words, and not names. Arguments are posed in the form of words, and not in the form of reputations.

                There are several posters out there (not just in this forum), who are patently paranoid about who they are “discussing” things with. To them, the words are modulated by reputations of those writing them. Well, sorry to those posters. If they can’t derive meaning from the words, but need reputations for validation of those words, those words are simply incomplete. We’ll give you some more. Just ask.

                Speculations about revealed identity are usually laughable. As if it matters.

                You can call me Norm. Or maybe you can’t.

              • common sense

                I agree with both Hiram and Dark Blue Nine.

                I will add you should respect people’s right for anonymity if provided by the forum OR post elsewhere.

  • vulture4

    The recent conference on missile defense, where visitors were prohibited from photographing slides, was a discussion of just such US weapons. Satellites are more predictable in their locations, so easier to hit than missiles.

  • Vladislaw

    The destructive sat test china did was a very low hanging fruit, from my understanding. Wouldn’t you have to fly a lot farther then 200 miles to get to a lot of these assets?

    • Michael J. Listner

      China has demonstrated a direct-ascent capability reaching into medium-earth orbit (MEO) where the GPS satellites reside in semi-synchronous orbit. There have been suggestions that China is working on a direct-ascent capability that can reach geostationary orbit.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “China has demonstrated a direct-ascent capability reaching into medium-earth orbit (MEO) where the GPS satellites reside in semi-synchronous orbit. There have been suggestions that China is working on a direct-ascent capability that can reach geostationary orbit.”

        The MEO- and GEO- (and HEO-) intercept capabilities are one and the same system, and there’s more to it than mere “suggestions”:

        “… the available evidence strongly suggests that China’s May 2013 launch was the test of the rocket component of a new direct ascent ASAT weapons system derived from a road-mobile ballistic missile. The system appears to be designed to place a kinetic kill vehicle on a trajectory to deep space that could reach medium earth orbit (MEO), highly elliptical orbit (HEO), and geostationary Earth orbit (GEO).”

        http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2473/1

        • Michael J. Listner

          I play it on the conservative side with any assessment simply because I am not privy to the hard intelligence on the capabilities. Of course, if I was privy I wouldn’t be here speculating either. :)

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “I play it on the conservative side with any assessment simply because I am not privy to the hard intelligence on the capabilities.”

            I’m not quoting from an intelligence source. I referenced an article in the public domain (on a sister site, no less) that draws its conclusions from open source information and commercial remote sensing images.

  • Tibet was viewed by China as a tactical high ground.

    Space is the ultimate tactical high ground.

    Any proposals by China will be to deter US tactical and strategic development in space until China can supersede such efforts with their own program. It’s not really a big secret.

  • The US is aware of the growing need for space surveillance and satellite defense countermeasures. It is a big part of the ULA launch backlog which SpaceX is trying to impede.

  • Michael J. Listner

    On the silly side, the latest annual report to Congress on China’s military capabilities does not even mention the term “ASAT”. Rather there is a small blurb that mentions China’s ASAT capabilities as “information blockade”.

    • Dick Eagleson

      That’s what comes of having an administration full of people who share the President’s view that too much American assertion in the world is the cause of most of its problems. That’s especially true of his appointees to top posts in the national security and intelligence apparats – people who had no public tolerance for “all this Caliphate talk” and were then caught flat-footed by the rise of ISIS.

      • Dick, I agree with what you’ve implied about the weaknesses of the current Administration’s too-passive foreign policy. On the other hand, it is understandable, and preferable, in light of the prior Administration getting us into an extraordinarily expensive “optional” war against a country that was far less of a threat to us then than it is now, and that we taxpayers will be paying for (in medical care if nothing else) for the rest of our lives. (This is in contrast to Afghanistan, the war we should have fought far more aggressively, and probably would have were we not tied down in Iraq.) Let us hope for a middle ground in the next Administration, whoever that may be.

        – Donald

        • E.P. Grondine

          Other people have other opinions about what is wrong with US foreign policy. Occasionally they get to express their opinions.

        • Dick Eagleson

          Iraq was in reasonable shape when Bush turned things over to Obama. It would have been in far better shape had we gone with the original plan and installed a military government of occupation for a decade or so while the locals got the hang of this self-government thing from the grassroots up.

          But Bush put the clueless Paul Bremer in charge and he installed a government of opportunists, thieves and grudge-settlers because that’s all we had to work with initially. Despite this major miscue, the presence of U.S. troops was grinding active terrorist resistance slowly to powder.

          Then Obama flubbed the negotiations on the Status of Forces agreement – probably because he didn’t want one in the first place – and pulled his precipitous bug-out. Things quickly got bad, then they got worse.

          The mistake was not in invading Iraq – that manifestly needed doing. The problem was in electing Obama. That, error we will be decades digging out from under, just as we have been with the foreign policy miscues of James Earl Carter.

          • Dick: TThe mistake was not in invading Iraq – that manifestly needed doing. The problem was in electing Obama.

            I profoundly disagree with you regarding Iraq. We had no business there. They did not attack us and they did not threaten us. Nor could we afford to stay there forever.

            But even if you are 100 % correct, in the long view, both in the future of this nation and the future of humanity, the “newspace” rennaissance in space exloration is at least as important as fixing the mess in Iraq. And, we have Obama to thank for that. Anybody else would have continued the disaster that Constellation had become, and killed any real future in space for this nation. And, I believe, if we do not have a future in space, our nation has no long term future.

            As far as space exploration is concerned, we were very lucky Obama was elected; we escaped abject failure by the skin of our teeth.

            – Donald

            • Dick Eagleson

              On Iraq, they >i>did attack us. We imposed a no-fly zone over the Kurdish Autonomous Region after Desert Storm. As early as the Clinton administration, Iraq was taking potshots at our patrolling aircraft with AAA and SAM’s. This intensified early in the Bush administration.

              Plus, the sanctions regime was crumbling, undermined by high-level corruption in places like France and the British Parliament. Absent intervention, Saddam would still be in power and likely have had nuclear weapons as well as kilotons of poison gas by now.

              He sent a lot of this stuff to Syria right before our 2003 invasion. Syria tried making A-bombs using Saddam’s materials and technical help from North Korea. Israel blew up the covert facility in 2007.

              We had plenty of business being in Iraq. Obama simply chose not to finish it for ideological reasons.

              Now he is finding, as has been demonstrated other places as well, that reducing American presence and influence in a region does not generally result in peace breaking out.

              As for space, no question Obama has done better than Bush. But COTS and Commercial Crew pre-existed Obama. Obama gets credit for killing Constellation, but John McCain might have done the same if he had been elected. It was pretty flagrantly out of control by 2009.

              That said, space policy is one of the few bright spots in the Obama administration’s otherwise dismal record of serial domestic and foreign policy disasters. I attribute this mostly to Lori Garver’s tenure as Deputy Administrator and the fact that Obama cared too little about space to even be bothered to mess it up.

              With a modest bit of additional luck, the next two to three years should see the U.S. transitioning to an era in which commercial activity increasingly dominates American space activity. NASA will fade slowly into the background – along with all the associated Congressional porkstering and posturing.

          • For the record, I do blame Obama for the rapid rise of ISIS. It happened during his watch when he didn’t have his eye on the ball, and he was too slow to react.

            – Donald

  • Malmesbury

    This is one reason that there is a lot of interest in short notice launches – the recent spaceplane project, for example, from DARPA.

    Ultimately the days of the aircraft carrier priced sats may be numbered – too vulnerable. Big, no manoeuvrability, no defence against anything.

  • Jeff Foust

    Let’s keep the discussion focused on the topic of the post, and not on other non-space policy issues or each other. Thank you for your cooperation.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>