Thursday 27 March 2008

Chinese Submarine Launched ASAT Program

One year and one week following China's 2007 ASAT test, Bill Gertz has a story in his Inside the Ring column from yesterday regarding China's anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons program.
Pentagon officials are increasingly worried that China's military is advancing its clandestine anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons program by building a submarine-launched direct-ascent missile system.
New information indicates the secret ASAT program, which Chinese leaders refused to discuss in recent meetings with visiting U.S. military leaders, will involve a space-capable ASAT warhead for the new JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile. The new missile is being readied for China's new ballistic missile submarine, called the Jin-class, or Type 094. The ASAT submarine will provide the ultimate in stealth weapons and could cripple U.S. satellites.
Last week a three part series (part1) (part2) (part3) by MIT researcher Geoffrey Forde on the ASAT issue. What is interesting about the three part series, all ASAT launches described in the analysis are conducted from mainland China. In reading the excellent analysis and scenario presented by Forde, one conclusion that can be reached is that dispersal of ASAT launch sites is an emerging requirement for China to be competitive against the US, and nothing increases dispersal of the launch sites than using a submarine as a launch platform.
"An Assessment of China's Anti-Satellite and Space Warfare Programs," that China's sea-based and submarine-based ASAT were mentioned in 2004 by Liu Huanyu of the Dalian Naval Academy.
"An Assessment of China's Anti-Satellite and Space Warfare Programs" is an 80 page report that was put together following the Chinese January 11th ASAT test. It is a long read, but is the most up to date collection of research in the open source of the Chinese ASAT test, including hard to find materials on a Chinese ASAT strategy. Combined with the recent contribution by Noah over at Danger Room, the big picture in China's Space Power strategy becomes more clear.

If China is in fact building ASAT capabilities into its Type 94 SSBN fleet that would represent a major capability for their nuclear submarine forces. This kind of capability would require a great deal of testing, and a great deal of expertise and efficiency, all of which is something we have not observed from the Chinese strategic submarine force. As an emerging capability this could take several years to develop, although given China has already conducted one successful ASAT test some of those years may have already passed.
This report is an interesting combination of Sea Power and Space Power, but directly contributes to their Soft Power strategy particularly regarding Taiwan. ASAT, particularly submarine launched ASAT, contributes directly to the perception of an ever expanding anti-access / area denial strategy by China to push back the US Navy from freedom of operation in the Pacific Ocean in response to a Chinese military move on Taiwan. Space warfare, string of Pearls, and an expanding massive regional A2AD military network contributes to concerns of the expanding regional influence by China.

The challenge is to find balance between those who choose to ignore the potential of a confrontation between US and China, and those who want to create a cold war between the US and China. In the 21st century, we believe the emergence regional superpowers like India and China, and potentially Brazil a few decades, represents the prize to be won for successful US foreign policy in the 21st century. There are also many people, in all of the various nations mentioned, who see the relationships between the US and these nations as inevitable in eventual confrontation. The line that separates one from the other is very thin.

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