Despite treaties banning the practice, China is rapidly moving towards a militarized space program, with a specific focus on ‘hunter killer’ satellites designed to destroy American space assets. The communist country is also quickly developing other varieties of space weapons to blind or otherwise interfere with U.S. military and commercial satellites.
While the country has publicly pledged not to militarize space, the Pentagon said in a report to Congress that China is moving ahead despite their words. This fits a usual pattern of Chinese diplomacy – say one thing, do precisely the other.
“By the end of October 2014, China had launched 16 spacecraft, either domestically or via a commercial space launch provider. These spacecraft mostly expanded China’s SATCOM and ISR capabilities, while a few others tested new space technologies,” said a DoD report released Friday.
China’s latest achievements include the first-ever launch of a satellite capable of sub-meter resolution imaging, the Chang’e-5 lunar mission and the completion of a new spaceport on Hainan Island.
At the same time China is acquiring new space assets of its own, it is developing “a variety of capabilities designed to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during a crisis or conflict, including the development of directed-energy weapons and satellite jammers,” the report detailed.
The most interesting item was a July 23rd, 2014 launch, which the Pentagon says was a follow-up of the 2007 destruction of an in-orbit defunct weather satellite. In both cases orbiting objects were destroyed. They could have potentially been U.S. satellites.
Another mission in May 2013 sent an object on a ballistic trajectory, just over 30,000 km. That’s high enough to reach geosynchronous orbit, in which many nations place communication and earth-sensing satellites.
The report says the mission didn’t actually put anything into orbit and was inconsistent with “with traditional space-launch vehicles, ballistic missiles or sounding rocket launches used for scientific research” indicating a test of an anti-satellite weapon.
Denying orbit access and taking out enemy satellites would level the playing field in a conflict against an enemy armed with advanced precision weapons systems. The U.S. relies heavily on just such systems.
“China’s continued development of destructive space technologies represented a threat to all peaceful space-faring nations,” the report said.