China Launches Three ASAT Satellites

Washington Free Beacon : “China’s military recently launched three small satellites into orbit as part of Beijing’s covert anti-satellite warfare program, according to a U.S. official.


The three satellites, launched July 20 by a Long March-4C launcher, were later detected conducting unusual maneuvers in space indicating the Chinese are preparing to conduct space warfare against satellites, said the official who is familiar with intelligence reports about the satellites.

One of the satellites was equipped with an extension arm capable of attacking orbiting satellites that currently are vulnerable to both kinetic and electronic disruption.

“This is a real concern for U.S. national defense,” the official said. “The three are working in tandem and the one with the arm poses the most concern. This is part of a Chinese ‘Star Wars’ program.”

China’s 2007 test of an anti-satellite missile shocked U.S. military and intelligence leaders who realized the U.S. satellites, a key to conducting high-performance warfare, are vulnerable to attack. Officials have said China could cripple U.S. war-fighting efforts by knocking out a dozen satellites. Satellites are used for military command and control, precision weapons guidance, communications and intelligence-gathering.

The official discussed some aspects of the Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) program on condition of anonymity after some details were disclosed in online posts by space researchers.

“The retractable arm can be used for a number of things – to gouge, knock off course, or grab passing satellites,” the official said.

The three satellites also could perform maintenance or repairs on orbiting satellites, the official said.

Details of the small satellite activity were first reported last week in the blog “War is Boring.”

The posting stated that one of the satellites was monitored “moving all over the place” and appeared to make close-in passes with other orbiting satellites.

“It was so strange, space analysts wondered whether China was testing a new kind of space weapon — one that could intercept other satellites and more or less claw them to death,” the report said.

The U.S. official said: “It is exactly what was reported: An ASAT test.”

According to space researchers who tracked the satellites movements, one of the satellites on Aug. 16 lowered its orbit by about 93 miles. It then changed course and rendezvoused with a different satellite. The two satellites reportedly passed within 100 meters of each other.

One space researcher was quoted in the online report as saying one satellite was equipped with a “robot-manipulator arm developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”

The Chinese appear to be testing their capability for intercepting and either damaging or destroying orbiting satellites by testing how close they can maneuver to a satellite, the U.S. official said.

“They are learning the tactics, techniques and processes needed for anti-satellite operations,” the official said.

The Chinese have given a code name to the satellites and numbered the satellites differently. Chinese state-run media identified the satellites as the Chuang Xin-3 (Innovation-3); the Shi Yan-7 (Experiment-7); and Shi Jian-15 (Practice-15). The Shi Jian-15 is believed to be the satellite with the robotic arm. The official said the designation used in the blog, SY-7, was not correct.”

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