Monday, November 20, 2006

It Wasn't Long in Coming - Weaponizing Space

Barely three months ago, President Bush unveiled America's new and very aggressive space policy. Under this new deal, America will brook no effort to restrain its options in space, including the deployment of weapons, and reserved the right to "deny adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests."

Put simply, if anyone is going to put weapons in space it will be the United States and only the US.

Bush's tough talk doesn't seem to have deterred China which is now thought to be on the verge of deploying its own weapons systems in space according to this report in today's Christian Science Monitor:

"New alarms are sounding over signs that China may be developing space weapons, reinforcing suspicions that the People's Liberation Army is increasingly interested in the final frontier as a theater of war.

"The latest alert came Thursday from an independent panel - created by Congress to assess the economic and security situations in China - that questions Chinese intentions and urges lawmakers to lean on the Bush administration to talk with Beijing about curtailing space militarization.

"Concerns about China's intentions rose in September, with a report that China in recent years has tested a ground-based laser against US reconnaissance satellites. The presumed aim: to be able to blind them, temporarily or permanently. The report, published in Defense News, suggested that the Bush administration has been mum on the issue because it needs China's help in dealing with North Korea's nuclear-weapons program.

'In addition, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have taken note of a recent incident "that has them very concerned," says Gregory Kulacki, a China specialist for the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program. Members wouldn't disclose details, he continues, so "we're not sure what it is, but they said it didn't involve lasers."

"The incident might involve tests of a solid-fuel rocket the Chinese are developing, Dr. Kulacki speculates. China tested an early model, dubbed the KT-1, in 2002 and 2003. The tests reportedly failed. But China has pressed ahead, developing a follow-up KT-2. It's a three-stage rocket designed to loft nearly 1,800 pounds into low-Earth orbit. Such a rocket would be capable of launching minisatellites aimed at disabling US satellites, he adds. Moreover, perfecting solid-fuel, multistage motors could also allow China to build smaller, antisatellite rockets that could be launched from a jet fighter - similar to the three-stage weapon the US tested in 1985.

"Divining Chinese intentions is tough, analysts agree, and the difficulty of piercing the bamboo curtain can lead to misinformation. Kulacki, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, recalls efforts to track down reports that China was developing a "parasitic" satellite that could sidle up to another satellite and explode or jam it. The "program" was listed in some Pentagon reports, but he and a colleague tracked it to a blog maintained in China by someone professing an interest in the Chinese military's use of space.

"One way to try work around the lack of information, Dr. Wortzel says, is for the two militaries to agree on rules for behavior in space and for addressing suspicious events. During the cold war, he notes, the US and the Soviet Union agreed to keep hands off each other's reconnaissance and early-warning satellites - even as they researched antisatellite weapons. That's still the practice, he says. The Chinese have approached the State Department on this issue, with no success so far, he adds."

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