China is developing an “impressive” array of space weapons, including missiles and jammers, and is moving toward placing nuclear weapons in space to attack U.S. satellites, the commander of U.S. strategic forces told the Senate yesterday.
The Chinese military has “undertaken what we would call a very disciplined and comprehensive continuum of capability against … our space capabilities,” Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright yesterday told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.
Their capabilities go “all the way from temporary and reversible effects — [Global Positioning System] jamming, things like that, [communications] jamming, all the way through direct ascent ASAT,” he said, referring to anti-satellite weapons. “Eventually, they’ll probably be looking at co-orbital” weapons — missiles that orbit near a satellite and then explode.
“Then, the one that you really worry about is introducing weapons of mass destruction into space on a missile,” he said.
The testimony provided the first details from the Bush administration about China’s space-weapons program.
Subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said that China is expected to have enough ASAT weapons by 2010 to “basically knock out most of our satellites in low-earth orbit.”
Gen. Cartwright said countering that threat will require the military to develop “prompt global strike” weapons — missiles and bombers that can hit targets around the world very rapidly.
China’s across-the-board program of ground-based jamming and ground-launched missiles shows the arms program is sophisticated in terms of science and technology, he said. China’s Jan. 11 ASAT test, when a missile destroyed a weather satellite in orbit, was not a surprise and was Beijing’s third attempt to destroy an orbiting satellite with a missile.
“What was for us impressive was that in three attempts, they made significant changes each time and were able to, in three attempts, come to a successful intercept — on their third attempt,” he said.
Additionally, China already has deployed weapons at the lower end of the anti-satellite scale — weapons that jam or disrupt satellites.
In his testimony, Gen. Cartwright questioned whether the Chinese space-arms program should lead the United States to develop similar weapons.
“We have the technical capability,” he said. “My belief right now is knowing what we believe we know about this threat after the demonstrations that it is premature to start thinking about an arms race in space. …We do not have to have a space response to that threat.”
However, the four-star general said it would be “prudent” to improve the U.S. space-defense posture and improve surveillance and intelligence on space threats. Also, U.S. national security satellites should be hardened with “passive-type defenses,” such as lens shutters or turn-off systems, he said.
Gen. Cartwright’s comments yesterday contrast with his remarks in October, when he said reports China had fired a laser at a U.S. satellite in an apparent ASAT test were “uncertain.” Gen. Cartwright, who is in charge of U.S. nuclear-warfighting forces, also suggested the United States might choose to use nuclear missiles to stop a country such as China from using missiles fired from hard-to-reach interior bases to destroy U.S. satellites.
“If there are many targets that are out of the reach of our bombers, conventional forces … in large countries, the question would be, as an example, how many satellites would we be willing to lose before we went to a nuclear alternative, because the only thing we have to reach those targets is nuclear,” he said.