Thursday, June 05, 2008

Arms Race Update - Space Wars

Is this blunt enough for you? From Asia Times Online:

"Chinese military experts believe a confrontation in space, probably with the United States, is inevitable. What they haven't said is whether they expect to win."

China is concerned because of Bush's space doctrine that reserves to the United States the unilateral authority to decide which nations will be allowed to use space and, more importantly, the right to prevent others from placing satellites or other space craft into orbit. Sound a tad arrogant, belligerent even? It is and the Chinese know the nation that Bush is referring to but won't mention is theirs.

So the Chinese, it appears, will be gearing up to muscle their way into a region which, in reality, belongs to no one.

"...since they successfully shot down an obsolete weather satellite with a missile in an outer orbit in January 2007, the Chinese armed forces have been operating from a position of relative strength.

So powerful was the impact from the four-stage rocket, which was traveling at nearly 29,000 kilometers an hour when it struck the satellite, that it scattered debris halfway around the globe. A definite footprint of strategic intent.

No surprise then, that the Pentagon responded in February this year by shooting down one of its own wayward satellites over the Pacific Ocean with a rocket, thus shattering a 1980s undertaking not to conduct antisatellite (ASAT) tests.

Thirty-two countries are known to have a missile capability, including Asian foes India and Pakistan, South and North Korea, Israel, Syria, Taiwan, Iran, Vietnam, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Russia, China and the US. Any could technically wage a military campaign in space, even if it were limited to ground-to-air strikes.

Most of these countries are signatories to the Outer Space Treaty, an agreement approved by the United Nations in 1967 after tortuous negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union - though China is one of the few nations to fully accede to its provisions.

Core commitments are that signatories will not place "nuclear or any other weapons of mass destruction", military installations or fortifications in orbit around the Earth or on any celestial body, undertake testing of weapons there or conduct military maneuvers.

Conventional weapons based in space are totally legal. And there is no prohibition on the firing of ground-based missiles into space, as both the US and Soviet Union were developing intercontinental missiles and peaceful space programs when the treaty was signed.

Similarly, there is wide scope for interpreting "weapons of mass destruction"; as US defense officials have pointed out, practically anything that could be propelled into space could be used to ram a satellite without violating the treaty."

China has succeeded in getting American right-wingers apoplectic and suspicious to the point of paranoia.

Heritage Foundation vice president for foreign policy and defense studies, Larry M Wortzel, railed in a commentary, "China's strategy here is to blunt American military superiority by limiting and ultimately neutralizing its existing space-based defense assets, and to forestall deployment of new technology that many experts believe would provide the best protection from ballistic missile attack."

The Chinese are also in development of a new generation of stealthy, small, satellite killers:

"The Technology Research Academy has been working on an advanced ASAT weapon called a "piggyback satellite" that would attach itself to an enemy satellite, space station or space-based laser and jam communications or blow up the target.

A generation of mini satellites is being developed that would be so small they would be difficult to detect from the ground. They are said to be defensive, but would still be capable of surveillance, reconnaissance, communications and - theoretically - the destruction of other satellites."

Meanwhile U.S. sources revealed today that China is poised to beat the Americans to the moon. The US landing is scheduled for 2020 but the Chinese are expected to make it there by 2017 or earlier.

By the way, if the Chinese and Americans ever do get into a battle in space, prepare to return to the 1950's. Everything from cell phones to aerial navigation will go down if - make that when - the cascade of debris begins, rapidly taking down satellites until all that's left is debris. And, when that happens, don't count on anyone fixing the problem anytime soon. We'll just have to sit and wait about two generations before all that space debris falls back to earth before it'll be safe enough to put anything back up there again.

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