Friday, January 19, 2007

China still preparing for First Strike

This is an illustration of a Feng Yun (FY-1) meteorological satellite which was put into a polar orbit by China, seventeen years ago. Last week it was blasted into an estimated 40,000 pieces, and is now just an orbiting debris field; in other words, dangerous space junk which will fall daily for the next ten years. Why would they make such a mess? Well China has been developing an anti-satellite (ASAT) program, and though expecting the community of nations to scream bloody murder over yet one more veiled threat from Beijing, the PRC insists on testing its offensive systems.

The China apologists, who are legion, are already working overtime to dismiss this space weapons demonstration as nothing more than a sideshow. But it is more than that. Earlier this month the U.S. Congress was given an Intelligence briefing on what the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is up to. We are not privy to the details but it has been determined that there is a joint effort by Russia and China to develop the capability to hit U.S. satellites with both missiles and lasers. Further, last summer the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) revealed that the Chinese military had used ground based targeting lasers to "paint" or illuminate an American satellite.

We know that the ballistic missile launched by the Chinese army was a medium-range KT-1. A Russian general was quoted yesterday as saying that the Chinese launch vehicle was based on the old Soviet IS-1 ASAT system developed in the 1970s. This was a red herring launched by the Russians. Such interviews are not intended to be helpful, but to spread disinformation. The sub-text is that we have nothing to worry about because the Chinese threat is decades behind North American and NATO defences. That is nonsense.

Why would the Chinese continue to antagonize those populous democracies (including Canada) which are on their ICBM target list? Some analysts were quick to suggest that China's obvious motivation was to prod the White House into negotiating a treaty to ban space weapons. Oh really? So let me try to understand the tactical thinking at play in the Far East. Recently, when the North Koreans conducted underground nuclear tests, the "deep thinkers" claimed that it was actually a cry for help. The doves cooed that Pyongyang merely wanted to buy a larger denomination poker chip, and use its crude Nukes to bargain for more generous western aid. The Chinese implied that the North Korean's were unsophisticated old-guard Stalinist blockheads, with no diplomatic skills. And now, a few months later, we are asked to believe that Beijing tacticians are borrowing a page from Kim Jong Il's playbook. We are assured that this ASAT test is not even impressive, because the weapon was riding a beam of Chinese telemetry to the target. That too is disinformation. The relentless PLA drive to build a decisive First Strike capability, the much discussed "decapitation" option, is not to be sneered at. Si vis pacem para bellum.
Update, Jan. 22:

A computer graphic shows the orbital track of two overlapping debris fields created by the ASAT package slamming into the FY-1 satellite. The impact occured almost directly over the Chinese missile launch complex, which is indicated in the center of the graphic. Space junk will continue falling along that track, from North to South Poles, for at least ten years.

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