Space War USA-China: The Next Chinese EMP Firecracker?

Space War USA-China: The Next Chinese EMP Firecracker?

It is not surprising that in addition to cyberspace, outer space will also increasingly be the battlefield of future wars. This has been and is already being played out in simulations, including by the newly founded US Space Command. Even security experts have already fought battles on paper. Such as Dr. Geoffrey Forden in his purposefully optimistic contribution, „How China Loses the Coming Space War“ along with How China Loses the Coming Space War by Noah Shachtman (January 10, 2008,) who responded with a contribution „How China wins a potential space war“ by Brian can read the original with the links below.

After China’s spectacular ASAT tests at that time it seemed that there had been calm in space for a long time, but now there are again alarmist articles regarding the newer ambitions of the Middle Kingdom. This time not due to conventional anti-satellite weapons, but nuclear weapons and EMPs in space, which exceptionally could affect the USA directly and for many  9-11 times.

„Nuclear strikes against satellites A nuclear war in the middle atmosphere – this disturbing vision brings the Chinese military into play.

The weapon could specifically turn off enemy satellites, so the idea. October 21, 2022, 6:57 p.m

Chinese scientists have studied how spaceships and satellites could be destroyed with an atomic bomb. According to an article published in the Chinese journal Nuclear Techniques, a team led by physicist Liu Li from a nuclear research institute under the Chinese army used computers to simulate explosions at different heights at the edge of space. Although the physical processes are extremely complex, the new model can estimate the radius of the explosion and the extent of the damage „with great reliability“, according to the researchers from the Northwest Institute of Nuclear Technology in Xian. A bomb with an explosive force of ten million tons, detonated at a height of 80 kilometers above the earth’s surface, could therefore knock out orbiting satellites or other spacecraft. This result is quoted by the „South China Morning Post“. and establishes a connection to the Starlink satellite program of the US company Space X by billionaire Elon Musk. A Chinese military study released in May called Starlink a threat to national security. The thousands of low-Earth orbiting satellites could provide communications services to China’s adversaries or destroy Chinese spacecraft in kamikaze fashion. Therefore, the country must develop capabilities to take down Starlink.

Too dangerous and ineffective

 Rocket attacks on satellites, which are to be outlawed internationally anyway on a US initiative, are ruled out. This would destroy individual important satellites, but the decentralized operation of Starlink would continue. So the attack would have to be more extensive to have an effect. The challenge here: to hit the American network sensitively without interfering with their own satellites. Liu Li and colleagues now present a possible nuclear answer. According to Liu Li’s team, there have already been several computer simulations of the use of nuclear bombs against satellites. However, they mostly assumed an explosion in space, outside the earth’s atmosphere. There is a lack of air molecules there, which is why the radioactive particles would quickly be bundled by the earth’s magnetic field into a radiating belt that would permanently endanger the spaceflight of friend and foe around the world – too dangerous and ineffective as a weapon. At an altitude of 80 kilometers, however, there is still air, where the explosion would form an atomic cloud. According to the calculations, the cloud, shaped like an upside-down pear, would spread to an altitude of almost 500 kilometers within five minutes and cover 140,000 square kilometers – almost 40 percent of the area of ​​Germany. Spacecraft such as satellites in this area could be knocked out by radioactive radiation or direct hits by debris. Most of the air particles would then fall back to Earth. an anonymous nuclear expert from Beijing told the South China Morning Post. Whether such a use would be legal, for example to defend against hypersonic weapons, is an open question. Detonating a real atomic bomb in the atmosphere or in space for testing purposes is forbidden under an international treaty. Although China did not join this agreement, it did sign an agreement in 1996 for a general ban on nuclear tests. This treaty has not yet come into effect, but ended China’s nuclear testing program. According to the researchers from Xian, their results match those of the „teak test“ conducted by the United States in 1958. At that time, the Americans detonated an atomic bomb more than 70 kilometers west of Hawaii to study the effects. China has been pursuing an ambitious space program for years and has set itself the goal of catching up with the USA in terms of technology. Military components also play a role here. In 2019, the United States established a so-called Space Force to prepare for possible conflicts in space.

Mind you, the USA had the atomic bomb from 1945, the SU since 1949, the hydrogen bomb followed, the carrier systems for nuclear weapons were still very differently developed or not yet available so quickly, Klaus Fuchs also changed some things about nuclear deterrence and the legend of deterrence, Mc Arthur wanted a nuclear and third world war like Patton, Truman dismissed him, but Eisenhower followed and threatened Mao with the nuclear bomb after Stalin died and it was unclear whether Khruchev wanted war with the USA because of China or even Taiwan. , which is why this eternal truce came about in Korea. The Second World War had been won and the first post-war war had to be waged again first, but then a kind of peace was brought about. Peace seemed to reign again when the Sputnik shock suddenly hit the USA in 1958. Here is a description of the Sputnik shock by a teacher, who rather describes its effects on the education system and the supposedly golden era of reform pedagogues, but omits the crucial point that it was not the Sputnik capsules and rockets as such that caused such a panic in the USA, but the military- geopolitically much more decisive category, that here for the first time was an ICBM that can bring a capsule, but much more important  bring a nuclear warhead into space and thus also to the USA.

“When the Soviet Union launched the first artificial earth satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957, the United States and the western world were shocked. This event demonstrated that the Soviet Union was technologically superior to the United States in space travel. The Sputnik shock led to sweeping reforms in technology, armaments, and education in the West. prehistory Since the beginning of the Cold War, the USA and the Soviet Union have faced each other with irreconcilable ideologies. While the USA emphasized capitalism and liberal democracy, the Soviet Union saw communism and a planned economy as the better system. The East/West conflict also reached space technology in the 1950s. The so-called space race broke out between the two superpowers. They tried to prove their own technical superiority and gain a military advantage. By 1957, the West firmly believed that the US was superior to the Soviet Union in every respect. However, this was changed by the Sputnik shock.1 Sputnik shock On October 4, 1957, the Earth satellite Sputnik 1 was successfully launched into space by the Soviet Union. This not only made it clear to the world public that the Soviet Union was superior to the USA in space technology. The Sputnik launch also demonstrated the long range of Soviet missiles. It became apparent to the US that it was technologically lagging and vulnerable. US President Eisenhower took this event as an opportunity to reform the American education system. The restructuring should allow more people to participate in education in the future in order to be able to train more engineers.2 consequences After the Sputnik shock, the USA and the western world invested more in their education systems and consequently also integrated the educationally disadvantaged classes. Mathematics, chemistry and physics were particularly encouraged. These measures were intended to make up for the technological and scientific backwardness of the USA compared to the Soviet Union. The USA founded NASA in 1958 for their space technology and shot astronauts into space in addition to their own satellites. The culmination of this “space race” was the moon landing in 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.”

You could also call it the first Cuban Missile Crisis if you’re malicious. At least, it was clear to the USA that they could counter the Russians with something. In this somewhat seemingly desperate situation, it was decided after the hydrogen bomb to ignite an equally important explosion technology that symbolizes the superiority over the Russians – and especially in that Yuri-Gagarin-contaminated space. Back in 1958 in Haiwai, the USA wanted to test the first Electomagnetic Pulse (EMP) using a limited detonation atomic bomb in space, the elimination of enemy satellites, the effects on critical infrastructure and biology on earth, etc. To make it short: That was a complete disaster, since more of their own satellites were destroyed, paralyzed, crashed, insofar as they existed then and afterwards. The Pentagon used this as a warning example of the catastrophes and wrong paths one can take when scientists and so-called experts study the effects and don’t even know how to properly narrow it down. The Soviet Union apparently perceived this disaster in such a way that they did not want to repeat it, for financial, military, technological, strategic reasons and the instinct of self-preservation and the obviously low chances of success to surpass it in a positive sense. At least China now seems to have come up with the idea that what the USA had done could be continued there, especially since new Chinese-born US scientists flooded under Mao’s patriotic“new democracy“ into basic research and much of the atomic research of the time – and economic espionage by China is described quite well in the book „Master of the Shadows“.

At least Xi now wants to show the USA that despite Zero-Covid, the real estate bubble, trade war, chip and high-tech war, Pelosi visits, Ukraine war and Putin’s nuclear weapons threats, he can still threaten with something. Just an EMP nuclear blast that will purposefully create Chinese hegemony in the cosmological sky and a Place of Peaceful Heaven under a Forbidden City as sure as there is the Death Planet in Star Wars. At least the Chinese scientists believe that they will do a better job than these US cowboys from MIT and Stanford, especially since the Chinese are always better in STEM subjects, meanwhile the technology and AI and Big Data and the social credit system are further than Mc Namanra-Fordist Pentagon computer Ada and as long as one does not only have to study or follow the now constitutionally established XI JInping thoughts and these do not yet penetrate the field of natural sciences. In any case, the Chinese meritotracy seems to think that one could repeat 1958, but this time pinpoint and Chinese- STEM- precise and successfully . All what is missing is Xi’s word of power, especially since Western media in particular spread such reports, but sometimes also refer to a Chinese publication. It’s not yet time for Xi to rock a Chinese EMP firecracker of the latest Chinese rejuvenation into space, but at the same time the Chinese are trying to demonstrate their future power by stealth drones in addition to their J-20 combat fighters and new Y-20 large-capacity troop carriers. The Chinese challenge with her stealth drones the USA, Israel and Turkey., after the Iranian drones in Ukraine are already struggling somewhat in terms of a success stor, even if they are welcome for a western media hype portraying Russian brutality and Ayatollah jihad.

The Chinese are more gentleman-like than the Russian barbarians. While Putin is trumpeting his nuclear threats worldwide and loudly in order to make an impression, also in the entire European and Western world community, which he intends to intimidate, any TV show masters from RT and Putin’s state broadcasters try to overfulfill Putin with Armageddon, world war, strikes against NATO countries, new Cuban Missile crises and other things that no one takes so seriously, but there remains the Chinese threat with the EMP bomb in space, which could also be much more disastrous for the USA than any tactical nuclear strikes by Russia against Ukraine and is therefore a much more credible threat. But just a threat. Nothing has been decided yet, but it is still a clear, much more extensive demonstration of power, which is not shouted out loud in alleged Chinese Wolfs warrior rhetoric like Putin, but only briefly mentioned in a Chinese science magazine, which is quoted by the Souh China Morning Post, which has become after the toppling of Ali Babab´s Jack Ma a Hongkong mouthiece of the CCP , but very purposefully reaches the most decisive representatives of the US elites without popular participation and their most competent and most relevant representatives without any populism and is also perceived as such. Much more threat, but much more sophisticated.

“China’s GJ-11 stealth drone on display in Beijing, ‘capable of seizing air superiority’

By Liu Xuanzun

Published: Oct 23, 2022 07:08 PM Updated: Oct 23, 2022 07:04 PM

A scale model of China’s GJ-11 stealth armed reconnaissance drone is on display at the Airshow China 2021 in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province, from September 28 to October 3. The model has its two weapon bays open, exposing four precision ammunitions in each bay. Photo: Yang Sheng/GT

A scale model of China’s GJ-11 stealth armed reconnaissance drone is on display at the Airshow China 2021 in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province, from September 28 to October 3. The model has its two weapon bays open, exposing four precision ammunitions in each bay. Photo: Yang Sheng/GT

At a time when China’s latest armed reconnaissance drone, the stealth-capable GJ-11, is on display at an ongoing expo in Beijing, official media reported that the uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) is capable of conducting missions to size air superiority. 

Military analysts said that while the report seems counter-intuitive, it might indicate some new combat concepts.

The independently developed GJ-11, currently exhibited at the „Forging Ahead in the New Era“ show at the Beijing Exhibition Center, is a type of uncrewed combat aircraft with high stealth, high penetration and precision strike capabilities, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Thursday.

Not only can it fly high and fast, it can also carry out missions including offensive air superiority seizing and suppressive air defense operations under high threats and in highly contested environments just like the J-20 stealth fighter jet, CCTV said.

This is the first time an official media has revealed that the GJ-11 is capable of seizing air superiority, observers said.

It was widely believed that armed reconnaissance drones, including the GJ-11 which has a flying wing aerodynamic design and a top-mounted air inlet design, are not best suited for air superiority missions, which mainly means air-to-air combat, because of their subsonic speed and low maneuverability, but the air superiority seizing ability the GJ-11 is capable of might not be the same concept, said some military experts reached by the Global Times on Sunday.

Since the stealth aircraft can penetrate deep behind hostile air defense, it can conduct precision strike missions on enemy airfields and bases. In this way, the enemy will have to give up air superiority since they have no aircraft in the air in the first place, a Beijing-based military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times.

According to another recent report by CCTV, multiple stealth drones like the GJ-11 could accompany a twin-seat version of the J-20 in a joint mission.

In this concept, drones can serve as external missile carriers and fire air-to-air missiles for the J-20 remotely. This is another way the GJ-11 might conduct air superiority missions, experts said.

According to an official model of the GJ-11 displayed at the Airshow China 2021 held in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province, the drone has two weapons bays symmetrically positioned between the drone’s three landing gears. Each bay has four ammunitions which look like guided precision air-to-ground glide bombs. 

It is unknown if the GJ-11’s weapons bays could host air-to-air missiles, but analysts said they have the potential to carry multiple types of munitions.

The GJ-11 made its first public appearance at the National Day military parade on October 1, 2019 in Beijing.

“How China Loses the Coming Space War (Pt. 1)

A year ago to the day, China knocked a weather satellite out of orbit, and threw the international community into panic. Some figured the satellite-killer test was the harbinger of a future war in space — the kind of conflict that could cripple a tech-dependent United States military. Geoffrey Forden, PhD — an MIT research […]

*A year ago to the day, Chinaknocked a weather satellite out of orbit, and threw the international community into panic. Some figured the satellite-killer test was the harbinger of a future war in space — the kind of conflict that could cripple a tech-dependent United States military.Geoffrey Forden PhD — an MIT research associate and a former UN weapons inspector and strategic weapons analyst at the Congressional Budget Office — examines the possibilities of an all-out Chinese assault on American satellites

High above Asia, as the bars and clubs of Beijing begin to fill up at the end of another work day, a US early warning satellite spots the tell-tale plume of a missile streaking out of the wastes of Western China. Warning bells sound all through the Pentagon. Tensions have been running high between China and the United States, as the two countries struggle to resolve the latest installment of the Taiwanese crisis. And China has had a run of unprecedented activity in space: the past two days have seen China launch four large missions into deep space, three within the last six hours.. Fortunately, a high-resolution American spy satellite will be over that second launch site within minutes, giving the US a unique ability to determine what is going on. But even though tasking orders are given to photograph the suspected launch site, none are returned. The satellite, code-named Crystal 3, no longer responds to commands. Within minutes, US Space Command reports that four NAVSTAR/GPS satellites—used to guide American drones and precision bombs—have stopped broadcasting. China’s space war against the United States has started.


For years, the American armed forces have worried about an attack on US satellites; this could be how it begins. The United States military has become increasingly dependent on space. It uses photo-reconnaissance satellites to observe potential adversaries, GPS satellites to guide munitions with pin-point accuracy, communications satellites to handle the flow of information into and out of a theater of operations, and early warning satellites to detect and track enemy missile launches to name just a few of the better known applications. Because of this increasing dependence, many analysts have worried that the US is most vulnerable to asymmetric attacks against its space assets; in their view US satellites are “sitting ducks” without any sort of defense and their destruction would cripple the US military. China’s test of a sophisticated anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon a year ago, Friday — 11 January 2007, when it shot down its own obsolete weather satellite — has only increased these concerns. But is this true? Could a country—even a powerful country like China that has demonstrated a very sophisticated, if nascent, ability to shoot down satellites at all altitudes—inflict anything close to a knock-out blow against the US in space? And if it was anything less than a knock-out, how seriously would it affect US war fighting capabilities?

The answers to these questions should influence how the US responds to the threats China’s ASAT represents. There is at least one way to answer these questions: “war-gaming” a massive Chinese attack on US satellites, where China is only limited by the laws of physics and the known properties of their ASAT, and see how much damage could be done. Such an exercise also reveals what the US could do, and what it could not do, to minimize the consequences. The results of my calculations are reported here. They assume that China launches a massive attack and that everything works exactly as planned: every ASAT launches, the US does not respond until after the attacks are launched even though it will have overwhelming evidence ahead of time, and every ASAT hits its target. Thus, this is a worst case scenario for the United States. In the end, we’ll show, the US would still has sufficient space assets to fight a major conventional war with China, even after such an attack. America’s military capabilities would be reduced, for a few hours at a time. But they would not be crippled. Back in 2001, a commission lead by Donald Rumsfeld warned of a ”space Pearl Harbor”,  a single strike that could cripple America’s satellite network. It turns out, there is no such thing.

Let’s start with what we know about China’s ASAT capabilities today. And we know quite a bit. Because there are few, if any, secrets in space. Amateurs around the world track most, if not all, of the classified US military satellites from their backyards, posting their positions on the internet. NORAD,is capable of tracking objects as small as four inches across. In fact, NORAD’s measurements of the debris caused by China’s January 2007 test were posted on the web. In the case of the Chinese test, the orbital tracks of that debris can be used to reveal the capabilities and limitations of China’s ASAT weapon by reconstructing the collision — much like forensic scientists reconstruct a crime scene. By backtracking the debris to the point where they all converge, we can determine the two most important aspects of the Chinese ASAT: how China destroyed that satellite, and just how capable its satellite-killer really is.

The interception was almost head on at a combined speed of almost 18,000 miles per hour. The pieces of debris wound up with the greatest speeds—much higher than the original satellite. This means that China accomplished the most sophisticated of space maneuvers: a hit-to-kill interception, the equivalent of hitting a bullet with a bullet. This is equivalent to what the US is trying to develop in its national missile defense system and is much more sophisticated than the ASAT the Soviet Union was working in the 1980s: little more than a space mine that slowly snuck up on its target and detonated near by

We also know that the ASAT was highly maneuverable. Yes, the target satellite’s orbit was known well ahead of the interception. However, that does not mean that the satellite’s position was known well enough that the ASAT did not need to steer itself to hit the target. In fact, it is very likely that the interceptor needed to maneuver at high speeds, perhaps as much as six times the acceleration of gravity, to hit its target.

The orbital speed of the target satellite, which is determined by its altitude, also provides us with significant insight into the interceptor’s capability. The closing speed of the interception, which is a combination of the target satellite’s orbital speed and the speed of the interceptor, determines how much time is available to make final adjustments. For instance, just one second before the collision on January 11th, the interceptor and target were five miles apart. During that one second, the interceptor had to make any final adjustments to its trajectory to hit a target smaller than six feet across. Any decrease in the closing speed makes the attack that much easier. Since orbital speeds decrease with increasing altitudes, the Chinese interceptor would find it considerably easier to hit a target in higher orbit.

Finally, the interceptor needed to track its target, so that it could determine where it should move to place itself in front of the obsolete weather satellite; we have a good sense of how that was done, too. The most likely method it employed to track the oncoming satellite was an on-board telescope using visible light. Locking onto a target this way — as opposed to focusing on the infrared light emitted by the heat of the target, the way the US missile defense interceptor does — imposes significant limitations on the system. In particular, until it develops a far-infrared capability, which is probably decades away, its ASAT will be forced to attack satellites while they are in bright sunlight. Indeed, even though the site from which the interceptor was launched was cloaked in darkness, the target satellite was high enough to be brightly illuminated by the sun. Until China does develop better sensors, this imposes a very severe constraint on how and when it could attack other satellites: it must wait to attack low Earth orbit satellites when they are in bright sunshine. Attacks against satellites in significantly higher orbits, such as GPS or geostationary satellites, are less constrained by this requirement since they are almost always in direct sunlight.


China has informally stated a number of times that it will “never do this again.” But after having paid a very high price for testing the system once, both in resources and in political capital, it seems unlikely that they would abandon it altogether. Fortunately for China, it can continue to develop the system—including its on board tracking, guidance, and control systems—in the guise of a missile defense system. Such interceptions could be arranged at similar, or even greater, closing speeds as the January 2007 test. Only now, China could arrange to have both the target and the interceptor collide when they are both in downward portions of their trajectories, much like the US does during its missile defense tests. That way, they can test their system again – without creating orbital debris that might harm their own and other nation’s satellites.

“How China Loses the Coming Space War (Pt. 2)

This is part two of MIT researcher Geoffrey Forden‘s look at the possibilities of an all-out Chinese assault on American satellites. Click for parts one and three. If China and the US are going to come into armed conflict with each other in the next several decades, it will almost certainly be over the status […]

If China and the US are going to come into armed conflict with each other in the next several decades, it will almost certainly be over the status of Taiwan. China has, for instance, indicated that it would be willing to use force if Taiwan took steps to formalize its independence from the main land or otherwise prevent its eventual reunification under the rule of the People’s Republic. In such a scenario, it is entirely likely China could consider trying to negate or drastically reduce the US ability to use space at a tactical level.


But China could not launch the massive attack required to have anything like a significant effect on US ability to utilize space without months of careful planning and pre-positioning of special, ASAT carrying missiles around the country. It would also have to utilize its satellite launch facilities to attack any US assets in deep space: the GPS navigation satellites and communications satellites in geostationary orbit. Most importantly, it would have to time the attack so as to hit as many US satellites as simultaneously as possible. And, despite all that movement, Beijing would somehow have to keep the whole thing secret. Failure to do so would undoubtedly result in the US attacking the large, fixed facilities China needs to wage this kind of war before the full blow had been struck. Even if the United States failed to do so, China would undoubtedly plan for that contingency.

Based on the orbits of US military satellites determined by the worldwide network of amateur observers, there appears to be a large number of low Earth orbit military satellites over China several times each week. To hit them, China would have to preposition its ASAT-tipped missiles and their mobile launchers in remote areas of China, one position for each satellite. (If reports of low reliabilities for these missiles are correct, two or more missiles might be assigned to each satellite.) Furthermore, these positions are really only suitable for a particular day. If China’s political and military planners have any uncertainty at all about which day to launch their space war, they would need to pre-position additional launchers around the country. Thus, attacking nine low Earth orbit satellites could require as many as 36 mobile launchers—enough for two interceptors fired at each satellite with a contingency day if plans change—moved to remote areas of China; areas determined more by the satellite orbits than China’s network of road. (As will be discussed below, nine is about the maximum they could reasonably expect to hit on the first day of the space war.)


At the same time that China would be trying to covertly move its mobile missile launchers around the country, it would also have to assemble a fleet of large rockets — ones normally used for launching satellites.
The more large rockets China uses for this task, the more deep-space satellites it can destroy. At present, however, China only has the facilities for assembling and launching a total for four such rockets nearly simultaneously. Two would have to be assembled out in the open where they could be observed by US spy satellites and two could be assembled inside a vertical assembly building during the 18 days it takes to stack and fuel the Long March rocket’s stages while preparing to launch. * [See right.] *
Even the two assembled indoors would need to arrive by train and eventually would have to be moved, one after the other, to the launch pad. Each of these rockets, usually reserved for launching satellites into geostationary orbits, could carry three to four interceptors and their special orbital maneuver motors to attack either US navigation satellites, at about 12,000 miles altitude, or communications satellites at about 22,000 miles.

Four days prior to the attack, China would launch the first of its
Long March rockets carrying deep-space attack ASATs; the same launch pad would have to be used for the second rocket stacked inside the vertical assembly building. As the technicians renovated that pad, the first rocket’s payload would circle the Earth in a parking orbit at about 200 miles altitude waiting to be joined by the other deep-space
ASATs. This would appear to be a tell-tale sign of an impending strike. But China could explain the delay to the international community by claiming that the third stage, intended to take the payload it its final altitude, had failed to fire and that they were working on it. Roughly six hours before the first the attack on the
US’s low Earth orbit military satellites, the other three Long March rockets would have to be fired since it takes roughly that long to get their payloads up to their target’s orbits. Delays or failures to launch any of these rockets would strand their interceptors on the launch pad and subject them to possible retaliatory bombing by the US.

If all goes as planned, China would have launched between 12 and 16
ASATs, each capable of destroying a strategically important deep-space satellite. However, the United States military has many, many more deep space satellites. There are, as of December 2007, 32 functioning GPS
navigation satellites even though the original design calls for only
24. * [See above, left] *In addition, the US has 23 military communications satellites, six early warning satellites that observe missile launches, and six surveillance satellites—most of which detect and monitor electronic transmissions of potential adversaries but one, apparently capable of photo-reconnaissance—in geostationary orbit.
These satellites are reinforced by a private network of 90 commercial communications satellites, owned and operated by US corporations, that presumably could be used to replace destroyed military communications satellites. (Eighty-four percent of the space communications to military forces in the Iraqi theater of operations during Operation
Iraqi Freedom used commercial satellites.) On top of that, there are
75 civilian and the 64 military/civilian communications satellites in low Earth orbit— although they do not have the same transmission capacity as the geostationary satellites. The United States may be the country most dependent on space for its military activities. But it is also the least vulnerable, because of the tremendous redundancy of its space assets.

Of course, China does not have to destroy all these satellites to seriously hamper US military efforts in the Taiwan Straits. It would only have to destroy those satellites that have a direct line of sight to the conflict: this includes eight military and 22 US civilian communications satellites in geostationary orbits. Nevertheless, China would have to choose between attempts to destroy the satellites that guide US precision guided bombs and those satellites which relay the orders to drop those bombs. It simply cannot launch enough ASATs to destroy both systems.

But does China have enough to wipe out even a single set of American satellites? Let’s examine the possibilities:

Attacking Navigation Satellites
You need a launch pad to attack a target in deep space, like an American GPS satellite. China has just three of these pads. This really restricts China’s offensive capabilities in space. Assuming that China devotes all its deep-space
ASATs on GPS satellites, it could destroy at most 16 satellites. At the current time, with 32 functioning navigation satellites, that would still leave 16 satellites still working. Over a period of years, the debris from those collisions would represent a significant threat to more than those satellites immediately attacked. They would pass, time and time again, through the belts of debris that resulted from the interceptions. However, it would probably take longer than the military conflict China initiated with these attacks before additional satellites were destroyed by subsequent collisions.

Usually, there are about nine GPS satellites over China at any given time. If China somehow managed to destroy all of these, it could eliminate America’s use of precision-guided munitions—for a few hours, until the orbits of other GPS satellites take them over the Taiwan
Straits. Quite quickly, the constellation’s other 23 satellites would fill in the gap due to their normal orbital movement. Even if it destroyed 16 satellites, China could still only interrupt GPS over the
Straits for about eight hours. During the other 16 hours there would be the four or more satellites present over the target area for bombing runs, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flights, and ship tracking. This pattern of eight hours off followed by 16 hours when GPS could be used would be repeated every day until new satellites are launched. This outage would certainly cause difficulties; GPS not only guides American precision bombs – it helps pilot UAV spy planes, and monitor ships. US
casualties might increase , with air crews forced to fly missions during daylight hours – and conduct some of the „dull, dirty, and dangerous“ missions now flown by robotic planes. It’s a situation no
American commander would want to face. But it would not be a catastrophic one. And it would not eliminate precision weaponry, UAVs, or any other American activity that depends on GPS.

Keep in mind, this is the worst of the worst-case scenarios. It is highly unlikely that China could remove all the satellites over the conflict area at the same time. After all, attacking 16 satellites, all in different orbits with ASATs launched on just four different rockets involves some fairly complex orbital maneuvers. A much more likely scenario is that, at best, China could destroy four GPS
satellites in the initial wave followed roughly seven hours later by four more, a third wave at roughly 45 minutes after that, and the final wave two hours later. Thus, the GPS attack is spread over ten hours and never eliminates all the satellites visible over the area of conflict at the same time. This Chinese attack on US navigation satellites would not eliminate or even significantly degrade the US’s ability use precision-guided munitions..

Attacking Communications Satellites
While it is possible for China to eliminate the eight US military communications satellites in geostationary orbits that can broadcast to the Taiwan Straits,
Beijing does not have enough the lauch capacity for as many ASATs as it would take to eliminate all 22 civilian communications satellites that could also be used. However, not all of these satellites have equal capacities for transmitting information; it might be possible for
China to destroy enough of that capacity to limit the US military.

During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, US armed forces sent and received a tremendous amount of information via satellite. This included video conferencing between the Pentagon and the commanders in the field, satellite photographs downloaded to operations planners, orders directing jets where to drop their bombs, and soldiers emailing their families back home. At its peak, all of this added up to about three billion “bits” per second, a tremendous amount of information.
Bandwidth was – and continues to be – a premium on the battlfield, particularly at the tactical level. And the appetite for information is only increasing. But the total amount of information transmitted over satellites is certain to increase by the next time we go to war;
perhaps it could triple or even quadruple to twelve billion bits per second in the next ten years.

Assuming that the eight military communications satellites are destroyed first, that leaves at most eight ASATs to destroy the eight most capable civilian communications satellites. If these eight are removed, then there is still a total capacity of over 14 billion bits per second in US owned and operated civilian communications satellites. Thus, there should be enough transmission capacity for our military — even if the demand for satellite communications increases by a factor of four. And the US military is used to using civilian satellites, as the 2003 invasion of Iraq showed. The vast majority
(84%) of all military communications into and out of the theater of operations went through civilian satellites.

Attacking Early Warning Satellites
The United States has five satellites in geostationary orbit that detect missile launches using the heat released from their exhaust plumes. These satellites are primarily used to alert US nuclear forces to massive nuclear attacks on the homeland. However, in recent years, they have played an increasing role in conventional conflicts, such as both Gulf Wars, by cueing tactical missile defenses like the Patriot missile defense systems that gained fame in their engagements with Saddam’s SCUD
missiles. Because of this new use, China might find it useful to attack them with ASATs. Since there are only five of them, China could destroy the entire constellation but at the cost of diverting some of the few available deep-space ASATs from other targets. Of course,
China would not have to attack all five but could limit its attack to the three that simultaneously view the Taiwan Straits area.

If China did decide to destroy these early warning satellites, it would greatly reduce the area covered by US missile defenses in Taiwan against SCUD and longer range missiles. This is because the area covered by a theater missile defense system is highly dependent on the warning time it has; the greater the warning time, the more effective the missile defense system’s radar is. Thus a Patriot battery, which might ordinarily cover the capital of Taiwan, could be reduced to just defending the military base it was stationed at. Some analysts believe that China would gain a tremendous propaganda coup by having a single missile make it through US defenses and thus might consider this use of its deep-space ASATs highly worthwhile even if it could not increase the probability of destroying military targets. On the other hand,
China would run a tremendous risk of the US believing it was under a more general nuclear attack if China did destroy these early warning satellites.

Throughout the history of the Cold War, the US has had a policy of only launching a “retaliatory” nuclear strike if an incoming attack is detected by both early warning satellites and radars. Without the space leg of the early warning system, the odds of the US
misinterpreting some missile launch that it detected with radar as a nuclear attack would be greatly increased even if the US did not view the satellite destruction as a sufficiently threatening attack all by themselves. Such a misinterpretation is not without precedent. In
1995, Russia’s early warning radars viewed a NASA sounding rocket launch off the coast of Norway and flagged it as a possible Trident missile launch. Many analysts believe that Russia was able to not respond only because it had a constellation of functioning early warning satellites. Any Chinese attacks on US early warning satellites would risk both intentional and mistaken escalation of the conflict into a nuclear war without a clear military goal.

Attacking Low Altitude Satellites
China would launch its first attack against a US electronic intelligence satellite in low
Earth orbit minutes before the first wave of deep space ASATs hit their targets. The same type of ASAT used to target the deep-space satellites could also be launched on short range missiles from
Transporter-Erector-Launchers (TELs). These are 22-wheeled vehicles that look very similar to tanker trucks. They’re more sophisticated than the mobile launchers that Saddam used during the first Gulf War to launch SCUDs toward Israel and Saudi Arabia but would be no easier to find and destroy.

The exact order of attacks will depend upon the specific day and hour chosen but a typical attack might involve a first launch against a
Lacrosse signals intelligence satellite followed within seconds by another, this time against a Keyhole 11 high-resolution spy satellite.
Moments later, three ASATs would be launched against small groups of three NOSS satellites that the Navy uses to locate an adversary’s ships at sea. These travel around the Earth in closely spaced groups of either two or three satellites and triangulate on the radio signals emitted by warships. During a span of about twenty minutes, China could attack and destroy a total of nine US military satellites in the scenario considered here. Inevitably, however, there would eventually be a lull in satellite crossings because of the random clumpings of satellites along their orbits.


If the United States does nothing to protect itself, such as change the orbits of its lower altitude satellites, China could continue to shoot down military satellites as they come over the horizon using pre-positioned ASATs. It is highly unlikely, however, that the United
Sates would simply roll over while these attacks took place. Even today, with no formal satellite defenses, we could be fairly effective at stopping the destruction of our satellites.

Nevertheless, the loss of those satellites that were destroyed would be significant. It would increase the “revisit” times between spy satellites, which might not matter so much for reconnaissance satellites in a tactical setting. The loss of a significant fraction of the Navy’s enemy ship surveillance system, however, might be more important in battles around the Taiwan Straits. Without timely determination of enemy locations, the US would have to increase the number of aircraft devoted to scouting — and subsequently
decrease the number of combat missions — as these planes are diverted.

“How China Loses the Coming Space War (Pt. 3)

This is part three of MIT researcher Geoffrey Forden‘s look at the possibilities of an all-out Chinese assault on American satellites. Click for parts one and two. If China was to attack the strategically important deep-space satellites it would give the United States at least an indication of the impending attack two or more weeks […]

If China was to attack the strategically important deep-space satellites it would give the United States at least an indication of the impending attack two or more weeks prior to launch as it assembled its Long March rockets on their launch pads. There could be few other reasons for China to assemble so many rockets at its satellite launch centers for near-simultaneous launches. The US could, if it wished to initiate hostilities, destroy the rockets before they were launched using either stealth bombers or cruise missiles. Alternatively, it could wait and use its National Missile Defense interceptors—which have an inherent ASAT capability—to shoot down the first group of deep space ASATs as they wait for D-day in their parking orbit.


[Left: An example of the “shotgun” blast of debris that is created if the ASAT is destroyed before it hits its target. On the first pass, a “defender” satellite intercepts the ASAT (shown in red) as it approaches the NAVSTAR/GPS satellite (in this case NAVSTAR 59). The debris created by this collision continues in the original orbit but spreads out each pass.]

Once on their final trajectory, however, there is little or nothing the US could do to prevent them from striking their targets. It would be impossible, for instance, to move the targeted satellites out of the way in the final moments before the collision. The Chinese ASATs are known to be capable of very high speed maneuvers and trying to move a GPS or communications satellite to avoid a collision would require such dramatic changes in velocity as to shear off their solar cell panels and antennas. Having “protector satellites” in orbit near strategically important targets would also be counter productive. If such protectors raced out and destroyed an approaching ASAT they would simply create a shotgun blast of debris that would continue to circle the Earth and would every twelve (if attacking a GPS satellite) or 24 hours (for a communications satellite as the target) have another chance of colliding with its target. Time, in this case, is very much on the side of the attacker.

Since China doesn’t have enough deep-space ASATs to stop communications — or even prevent GPS being used during most hours of the day — Beijing might not even attempt to attack those targets. Which means the United States wouldn’t have much of warning, to prepare for the onslaught. In that case, it is almost certain that China could destroy a number of surveillance and signals intelligence satellites in low Earth orbit before the US could take action.

If we assume that the US chain of command takes an hour, due to bureaucratic inertia, to react, China could destroy a total of nine such satellites before the US responds in the specific case examined here. This includes two out of the three functioning Keyhole high resolution photo-reconnaissance satellites, one of the three Lacrosse signals intelligence satellites in orbit, and six of the 15 NOSS satellites that the Navy uses to locate enemy ships at sea. This represents billions of dollars lost and, more important, a large fraction of the US space assets in low Earth orbit that could have been used in the subsequent conflict.

At that point, however, the United States could effectively stop China’s attack simply by changing the remaining satellites’ orbital speeds by as little as 200 mph (they are typically moving at over 16,500 mph). This very small change will have a large effect in the position of the satellite the next time it crosses over China; effectively putting the satellite out of range of the pre-positioned ASAT launcher. This is not an excessive change in speed and, unless the satellite is very close to the end of its operational life, is well within the capability of its onboard fuel supply. Furthermore, it does not have to change its speed very rapidly the way a deep-space satellite would have to in order to avoid collision in its final moments. Instead, this relatively small velocity change has tens of minutes or even hours to change the position of the satellite before the next time it crosses over China. During this time, it is steadily moving away from its original position so that it could be hundreds of miles from where China thought it was going to be.

While it is possible that the pre-positioned ASAT missiles could still reach their target even after it had changed, they would not know where, exactly, to aim the missile. Instead, they would have to perform a radar search for the satellite in an ever expanding volume of space. This volume quickly becomes too large for even the most powerful of mobile radars. In fact, it would take a fairly large
(perhaps 50 feet in diameter) to detect the satellite during its next pass and China does not have a lot of those radars. So most, if not all, of the satellites remaining after the first hour would be safe for the next 24. During that time, the United States could try to destroy all of China’s fixed radars that are capable of tracking the satellites in their new orbits. (In other words, it does not matter how many additional ASATs China has to shoot at low Earth orbit satellites; a very different circumstance than the deep-space ASATs.)

This might, however, prove difficult; especially those facilities in the center of China that are out of reach of Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Currently, only B-2 bombers could reach those sites with any chance of success and timing might prove difficult if they need to transit other countries during night time. A Global Strike capability, such as a conventionally armed Trident missile, might ease this task. Of course, even if all the radars are destroyed, China could still use optical telescopes to determine the new positions of the satellites but these methods are too slow to be used for aiming the ASAT missiles. And even then, China would have to spend days repositioning its mobile ASAT
launchers, a task that would probably take several days and would extend the time the US could use for hunting down and destroying
Chinese assets.

The short-term military consequences of an all attack by China on US
space assets are limited, at most. Even under the worst-case scenario,
China could only reduce the use of precision-guided munitions or satellite communications into and out of the theater of operations.
They would not be stopped. China could destroy a large fraction of strategic intelligence gathering capabilities; but not all of it. With a greater than normal expenditure of fuel, the remaining US spy satellites could continue to survive their crosses over China and photograph Chinese troop movements, harbors, and strategic forces but, of course, at a reduced rate. The war would, however, quickly move into a tactical phase where the US gathers most of its operational photographs using airplanes, instead of satellites. US ships and unmanned vehicles might, theoretically, have difficulty coordinating, during certain hours of the day. Most of the time, they would be free to function normally. China’s space strike would fail to achieve its war aims even if the United States failed to respond in any way other than moving its low Earth orbit satellites.

When it warned of a space Pearl Harbor, the Rumsfeld space commission was afraid that a lesser power could launch a surprise attack that would wipe out key US strategic assets and render the US impotent.
This is what Japan tried, but failed, to do at the start of World War
II. And much like Japan’s failure to destroy the US carrier fleet, a
Chinese attack on US satellites would fail to cripple our military,
China’s strategic goal in launching a space war.

But if the short term military consequences to the United States are not that bad, the long term consequences to all space-faring nations would be devastating. The destruction of the nine satellites hit during the first hour of the attack considered here could put over
18,900 new pieces of debris over four inches in diameter into the most populated belt of satellites in low Earth orbit. Even more debris would be put into geostationary orbit if China launched an attack against communications satellites. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the debris from each satellite would continue to “clump”
together, much as the debris from last year’s test. However, over the next year or so—well after the terrestrial war with China had been resolved—the debris fields would fan out and eventually strike another satellite.

These debris fields could easily cause a run-away chain of collisions that renders space unusable — for thousands of years, and for everyone. Not only is this a quickly growing and important sector of the world’s economy (sales of GPS receivers alone reportedly exceeds $20 billion annually), but space is also used for humanitarian missions such as forecasting floods in Bangladesh or droughts in Africa. We cannot allow space to be forever barred to our use for what turns out to be a very minor military advantage. If the military utility of attacks in space are so minor; if the active defense of space assets is impractical, counterproductive, and unnecessary; and if the danger resulting from the consequent debris affects all space-faring nations for thousands of years to come, it is clear that diplomacy is in every country’s interest.Formularende

The first step the United States should take is a simple declaration that we guarantee the continued flow of information to any country whose satellite is destroyed by an ASAT. We could do this using either our military or civilian-owned satellites. After all, if the space assets of the United States are not vulnerable to attacks because of the inherent redundancy, the same cannot be said of China’s other potential regional competitors such as Australia, India, or Japan.
Each of these countries has only a handful of satellites that could be quickly destroyed if China chooses to attack them. This declaration would effectively eliminate any military advantage that a country might get from attacking its neighbors limited fleet of satellites. After that, we should adopt the code of conduct that is being developed by the Stimson Center that establishes “rules of the road”for responsible space-faring nations. Finally, we should work toward a treaty banning the future testing of these most dangerous of anti-satellite weapons: the so-called
„kinetic kill interceptors“ that create such large amounts of debris. It’d be a first step towards containing the worst effects on war in space.

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