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China Satellite Kill Proves Need For Space-Based BMD: Analyst

By | January 22, 2007

      The Chinese destruction of one of its satellites proves the Asian giant can cause immense damage to U.S. military and other communications and intelligence satellites, clear evidence that the United States must move swiftly to erect a space-based ballistic missile defense, a new paper argues.

      “There can be no doubt that space is now weaponized,” argues Jeff Kueter, president of the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington think tank.

      When China shot down its satellite with a hit-to-kill weapon atop a missile, it ended any argument about whether space should be weaponized, Kueter asserted.

      While some may have clung to a pleasant dream that space might never be weaponized, it now is time to awaken to reality, according to Kueter.

      “If there were ever serious doubts about the impossibility of that dream, they are dispelled now,” by Chinese actions such as the satellite shoot-down and the earlier Chinese use of a ground-based laser to “paint” a U.S. military satellite in orbit, he stated.

      “In destroying their own satellite, China has signaled to the world its capability to threaten essential satellites directly, by physically destroying them, and indirectly, by using lasers and other jamming techniques to deny free use of them,” Kueter warned. “The Chinese die is cast. They are a military space power and a force the U.S. must reckon with immediately.”

      Kueter dismisses as strained and irrelevant the arguments that China, in its satellite kill, wasn’t really weaponizing space because the missile was launched from the ground. “Arguments over whether an Earth-launched [anti-satellite weapon, or ASAT] is really ‘a space weapon,’ … ignores the practical reality that an ASAT launched from either the ground or from space brings war to space,” he wrote. “So the question now facing America’s leaders is how does the U.S. best deter, deny, and dissuade the Chinese, and other emerging space powers, from hostile actions in space?”

      The answer to that must include “serious work on ways to protect our critical space assets from both direct and indirect threats,” Kueter argued, because “diplomacy alone can not restore U.S. security.” China excels at ignoring world opinion in many areas, and this will be no different, he predicted. “Absent the ability to enforce compliance or punish offenders, a code of conduct rule regime may be weak and, more likely than not, ineffectual,” Kueter cautioned.

      And the U.S. government isn’t likely to use the leverage it has over China by blocking imports of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods to U.S. corporations each year. “Is the United States ready to impose real economic sanctions or other punitive actions on China over a weapons test?” Kueter asked. “Likely not. Without some kind of punitive economic, political, or military measures backing them up, diplomatic protests will have little impact.” And some kind of space treaty for nonproliferation also would have little restraint upon the Chinese.

      So what is needed that would work is “improved cooperation between the U.S. government and commercial satellite operators,” he continued. “Washington also will need to coordinate its space protection activities with military and civil space authorities in allied and friendly nations.”

      He added that a toothless treaty is no option. “If a prospective treaty is neither enforceable nor verifiable and there are strong reasons to suspect that cheating will occur, then it is a treaty that is best left alone,” Kueter argued.

      Rather, the United States needs a space-based missile defense system, to guard against missiles killing U.S. and allied satellites, and the deadly debris that such shoot-downs scatter through space, “If the international community is truly worried about the debris-generating effects of ASAT weapons, then it ought to embrace, indeed demand, development and deployment of boost-phase missile defenses capable of intercepting ASAT missiles long before they reach their satellite targets,” Kueter asserted. “This orbital interceptor constellation could build upon capabilities developed in a precursor system of rapid replenishment satellites. Combined with a new emphasis on satellite protection, groundbased replenishment capabilities and spacebased missile defenses could frustrate any attempts to block the peaceful use of space by America and her allies.”

      Kueter’s paper entitled “Crossing the Rubicon in Space Again: Iacta alea est” can be viewed at and clicking on space security and national defense.

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