Publicly, the Chinese regime said last week’s ASAT test was an “anti-intercept test” that “achieved the preset goal,” according to Xinhua. According to a letter sent by the State Department to Space News, however, the test wasn’t to intercept incoming warheads, as Xinhua claimed.
The recent test is yet another case of China testing its ASAT while not mentioning the nature of the test.
In May 2013, the Chinese regime claimed it launched a sounding rocket. It was later revealed the rocket was actually its new Dong Ning-2 ASAT missile.
“That was deliberate misinformation,” said Richard Fisher, a Senior Fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, in a phone interview.
Fisher said in a phone interview the vague details provided by the Chinese regime on its ASAT weapons likely ties to the sensitivity of the weapon systems.
“Control of low-earth orbit is essential to practically any military endeavor,” he said. “Americans are particularly vulnerable because of their reliance on systems that use low-earth orbit.”
He said China’s People’s Liberation Army is targeting U.S. space assets in its military planning “to ensure their success in future wars.”
A State Department spokesperson told Space News the United Sates has “a high confidence” that China’s recent test was of an ASAT weapon.
The State Department letter says “We call on China to refrain from destabilizing actions—such as the continued development and testing of destructive anti-satellite systems—that threaten the long term security and sustainability of the outer space environment, on which all nations depend.”
The recent test has a fine tinge of irony. Less than a month ago, China and Russia signed a draft treaty that would ban space weapons. The United States has opposed the draft treaty, which was submitted to the United Nations.
Fisher said the recent test suggests China is stepping up its game by launching more sophisticated tests than it has over the last few years.
In January 2007, the Chinese regime destroyed one of its own weather satellites using a SC-19 ASAT missile. It created a cloud of dangerous debris that is still flying around in orbit. The test is one of they key reasons why NASA is forbidden from cooperating with the Chinese regime.
China’s subsequent ASAT tests over the years have used targets at lower altitudes.
According to Richard, the State Department’s response to the latest test could indicate that China has again brought out its SC-19 missile.
“The State Department’s statement indicates to me this may be an additional test of the original anti-satellite system,” Fisher said, adding that “China has multiple programs underway to give them capabilities to conduct space combat.”
There’s more to it, however. Fisher said “the larger issue is that China is developing a larger missile defense system, and my sources tell me it will likely be deployed by the early 2020s.”
He noted that China has thousands of miles of strategic missile tunnels—as Georgetown University students detailed in 2011—in addition to missile intercept systems and related technologies. Taken as a whole, Fisher said, it “equals a very formidable strategic missile capability.”