China to Shoot at High Frontier
October 16, 2012
China's military is set to conduct a test of a new and more capable anti-satellite missile that United States intelligence agencies say can knock out strategic satellites in high-earth orbit, according to U.S. officials.
However, a recent intelligence assessment said the test of the Dong Ning-2 direct ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon is being delayed in an apparent effort to avoid upsetting President Barack Obama's reelection bid, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Intelligence reports from September and this month revealed China will test fire the new DN-2 missile from a ground base sometime in early to mid November.
The missile is described by intelligence agencies as a high-earth orbit interceptor designed to destroy satellites by ramming them at high speeds. The intelligence reports called the new missile a strategically significant counterspace weapon, said the officials familiar with the reports.
Testing a high-earth orbit anti-satellite missile would represent a major advance in China's satellite-killing capability, which has been underway for more than a decade. High-earth orbit, also known as geosynchronous orbit, is the location of major communications and navigation satellites, which orbit at a distance of between 12,000 miles and 22,236 miles from earth.
China's last ASAT test in 2007 destroyed a low-earth orbit weather satellite about 558 miles in space, causing an orbiting debris field of tens of thousands of pieces of metal that U.S. officials say will threaten orbiting satellites and human space travelers for 100 years.
U.S. officials said it is unlikely China will conduct an impact test of a kinetic kill vehicle against an aging weather satellite as occurred in 2007, although the possibility of a second, major debris-causing test cannot be ruled out.
Instead, officials said the test most likely will be a demonstration of a precision-guided direct ascent missile flying out tens of thousands of miles.
"If the United States loses the strategic high ground of high-earth orbit [from a Chinese high-altitude ASAT missile], we are in real trouble," said one U.S. official.
U.S. Global Positioning System satellites, used for both navigation and precision missile guidance, are located in medium-earth orbit, or about 12,000 miles, and thus would be vulnerable to the new DN-2.
Whether or not the test is successful, development of the new high-altitude DN-2 ASAT reveals that China's military is planning for future high-orbit space warfare despite seeking international agreements banning weapons in space.
China's January 2007 ASAT test drew protests from the United States and other spacefaring nations, who saw it as a major threat to satellites used for both military and civilian purposes. That test also produced tens of thousands of pieces of space debris which threaten satellites.
A second possibility is the DN-2 missile test will be fired against a target missile, as occurred in 2010 as part of a joint Chinese ASAT-missile defense test.