Inside the Ring: Chinese missile defense test?

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U.S. intelligence agencies are closely monitoring China’s missile facilities in anticipation of a test of China’s missile defense interceptor, which also doubled in the past as an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile.

The officials commented in response to reports that China is set to conduct another potentially destabilizing anti-satellite missile test in space. In 2007, China fired a missile that destroyed a weather satellite and resulted in tens of thousands of dangerous pieces of debris that threaten manned and unmanned spacecraft.

The Washington Free Beacon reported in September on new intelligence reports that indicate China is preparing to fire its Dong Ning-2 missile into space, this time at a high-earth orbit target.

Then last week Gregary Kulacki, a specialist with the Union of Concerned Scientist, reported on his blog, “All Things Nuclear,” that Chinese officials recently circulated an internal notice of an upcoming anti-satellite missile test in space, A U.S. official said a test at this point does not appear imminent. However there are signs an interceptor flight test is being prepared.

After the vehement international reaction to the 2007 space weapon test, China has sought to mask its anti-satellite missile program as a less controversial missile defense program, specialists say.

That is what took place in 2010, according to a classified State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks.

The Jan. 12, 2010, cable reveals that China’s military a day earlier had launched an “SC-19 missile from the Korla Missile Test Complex and successfully intercepted a near-simultaneously launched CSS-X-11 medium-range ballistic missile launched from the Shuangchengzi Space and Missile Center.

“An SC-19 was used previously as the payload booster for the January 11, 2007, direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) intercept of the Chinese FY-1C weather satellite,” the cable says. “Previous SC-19 DA-ASAT flight-tests were conducted in 2005 and 2006. This test is assessed to have furthered both Chinese ASAT and ballistic missile defense technologies.”

Chinese state-run media reacted to reports of a coming anti-satellite missile test with optimism. The Communist Party’s nationalist and anti-U.S. newspaper Global Times reported Sunday that “hopefully, the speculation about China’s anti-satellite tests is true.”

Claiming Chinese space policy is “peaceful,” the newspaper then stated:

It is necessary for China to have the ability to strike U.S, satellites. This deterrent can provide strategic protection to Chinese satellites and the whole country’s national security.

Richard Fisher, a China military affairs specialist, said China is developing its second anti-ballistic missile program after a Mao-era effort was halted in the 1980s. The current program is “directly linked to the ASAT program,” he said.
“China’s successful development of missile defenses would only accelerate its ability to undermine Asian confidence in the extended U.S. nuclear deterrent, on top of its already troubling thousands-of-kilometers-long ‘Underground Great Wall,’ hiding an unknown number of missiles,” said Mr. Fisher, who is with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

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