Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A New Threat

With the introduction of China’s new weapon system that can successfully destroy an orbiting satellite, the United States is going to have to reevaluate its intelligence, communications, and military systems. There has been a long running controversy over the use of weapons in space, though the technology is available, it is not known with certainty that there are active weapons systems in space at this time. However, if the reports are true of China’s test, this could bring a new era of a space arms race; one aimed at combating the new technological threats.

Through out the past decade, the United States has increasingly relied on satellite systems for the nation’s national security. They are not only used to protect the home front, but used extensively for military engagements through out the world. The Department of Defenses (DoD) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program relies on GPS and satellite systems to conduct their missions. Smart bombs to pinpoint and strike targets, as well as troops on the ground to know exactly where other forces are located in real time rely on GPS and satellite communications. Additionally, these systems are used for intelligence gathering. The National Security Agency (NSA) uses satellites for surveillance, and most all other radio detection and interception. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) uses them for surveillance on foreign locations and intelligence collection. Most all communications systems for intelligence and military units on the ground are made through the use of satellite systems.

If this new technology is exploited further, there are many concerns that would need to be addressed. The path our national security agencies have been traveling could have leaded us in the wrong direction. We have come to rely on satellites, that if they can be destroyed when we need them most, we do not have a reliable system in place. If America got in a conflict with China regarding any number of issues particularly Taiwan, our satellites would be in grave risk and so would our strategic capability. America needs to be researching and developing new technologies for its communications and intelligence gathering needs. Satellites that are undetectable or that create ghosts to conceal its true location are a few of the defenses our satellites currently have. But new, more secure ways must be developed.

Finally, this new Chinese system may be the start of the new space arms race. Undoubtedly, our intelligence agencies are working to acquire information regarding this Chinese technology. Though America has been the leader in developing new defense technology, it is still necessary to know your opponents full capabilities. A whole new type of weaponry and communications is in the future. Even if this technology is not pursued further, the fact the capabilities are present is something the United States cannot ignore. The Chinese are in the lead when compared to the United States since they have developed this technology first and they likely are already developing ways to combat it. America must make every effort to be at the forefront of this race, if not, our national security policy could be much different than it was just a month back.


Hans Morgenthau said...

I appreciated your comments and agree with your point that the US must always remain at the forefront of defense technology. I wanted to point out one detail you might have misunderstood. You mentioned that, “The Chinese are in the lead when compared to the United States since they have developed this technology first and they likely are already developing ways to combat it.”

On January 11th the Chinese used a “direct-ascent anti-satellite missile” on an aged weather satellite that was scheduled to be decommissioned. This technology is technologically 20 to 30 years behind the United States. The military hardware to remove satellites from space was first sought after by the Soviet Union in 1968. By the early 1980’s, the basic research had been completed. The United State’s conducted similar research and testing followed by a US missile attack on an orbiting satellite that ended with a bang in 1986. In the 1986 case the US used a missile launched from and F-15 platform.

Why the lull in anti-satellite weapons development since 1986? The US legislature got involved in 1985-1986, in fact Senator John Kerry sponsored the first Senate bills to ban anti-satellite weapons usage. There are severe environmental and commercial consequences for removing satellites from orbit.

The Chinese are not the first to develop this technology, and are certainly not first to use it. There are now three powers with demonstrated ability to remove satellites from orbit, however it is entirely feasible that American allies with advanced space programs would also have the capacity to design similar weapon systems if they so desired.

That’s the point though. The Chinese took the next step and demonstrated this ability, so your point remains noteworthy; the implications for the United States are significant. While it isn’t the technology itself that surprises American analysts, it’s the public use thereof.

So in this obviously high-context diplomatic language, what is the message for the United States? Simple deterrence. The missile attacks are in line with the overall Chinese strategy of increasing the costs for the United States of using American military ascendancy too close to China or Chinese concerns.

atom said...

Thomas, I don’t agree on your claim that the US “must make every effort to be at the forefront of this race, if not, our national security policy could be much different”.

First, it cost much more for the US to revive the antisatellite program. According to the New York Times, the US test-fired its last antisatellite weapon in 1985, and there has been no program to develop antisatellite system since then. It is difficult to find the researcher and scientists who were in that program; even if there are qualified people, what's more difficult is to continue the program. As Dr.Farley said in the class about the British new plan for the new nuclear submarine, it'll take decades to resume a program that stopped long ago. Yes, the US can do that. But does it worth it? If the US establishes a more advanced antisatellite system against China, US satellites are always in danger.

In contrast, China avoid direct arms race with the US because it's difficult to fill the gap in the near future. So it'll be realistic way is to creat the balance by decreasing the US advantage rather than increasing that of China. However I don't think the US should be so worried, because the antisatellite missile is a defensive weapon. China's aim is to pursue its own security rather than to attack the US.

The economic and effective way to deal with Chinese antisatellite missiles and enhance US defense is to conduct military reform so as to relying less on the satellite.