The Pentagon released a report last week, in its annual report to Congress on the Chinese military, that is filled with terms like anti-satellite missiles, lasers, jammers, orbiting killer robots, and cybertools. All of this futuristic-sounding technology is meant to “blind and deafen” a war enemy, the U.S. government claims.
“The [People’s Liberation Army] continues to acquire and develop a range of counter-space capabilities and related technologies, including kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, and orbiting space robots, as well as expanding space surveillance capabilities, which can monitor objects in space within their field of view and enable counter-space actions,” the 195-page report states.
The Pentagon also wants Congress to believe that Chinese space forces and related support elements are on a trajectory to “mature rapidly,” the implication being that the U.S. military needs a whole lot more money to keep up in this Space Race 2.0 scenario.
“Since at least 2006, the government-affiliated academic community in China began investigating aerospace engineering aspects associated with space-based kinetic weapons – generally a class of weapon used to attack ground, sea, or air targets from orbit,” the report adds. (Related: Communist China is also heavily into biological weapons development.)
Is advanced Chinese space weaponry a serious threat?
Firing off weapons from space is difficult enough, let alone getting those weapons to actually hit their targets. There are issues with methods of reentry into the atmosphere, separation of payload, delivery vehicles, and transfer orbits for targeting, to name just a few.
Up until now, honing such weapons systems has been challenging, to say the least. But the Pentagon alleges that China is well on its way to accomplishing this feat, having successfully tested a “fractional orbital bombardment system,” or FOBS, back in July 2021.
According to reports, the test involved the launch of an ICBM using a hypersonic glide vehicle from China that traveled roughly 24,800 miles and was in space for more than 100 minutes.
A report on this test launch called the FOBS the longest of any Chinese land attack weapons system to date, preceded only by a similarly successful Soviet Union FOBS strike that occurred back in the 1980s. The U.S., meanwhile, has no such strategic weapons system.
The U.S. Space Force, which was launched under the Trump administration, is reportedly trying to develop counterspace weapons. However, all such work on space warfare tools remains classified, meaning we really have no idea what is really going on in that department.
What the Pentagon report does not address is the possibility that these advanced weapons systems could be used preemptively to cripple the U.S. military long before a larger offensive commences.
“Crippling U.S. space assets would be a logical move on the part of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), given their view of deterrence is preemptive in nature and designed to escalate a situation to the point of dissuading an adversary from further escalating the scope of a conflict,” warns Michael J. Listner, a space expert with Space Law & Policy Solutions.
It is said that the Chinese military currently possesses a missile system capable of striking all satellites passing in low-Earth orbit, or about 1,200 miles or lower in space. This technology is routinely used in PLA war games, we are told.
The Chinese military is also said to be developing missiles capable of attacking strategic satellites in geosynchronous orbit where most military and intelligence satellites are in use.
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