China Is Branding Anti-Satellite Weapons as ‘Scavenger Satellites’

May 5, 2019 Updated: May 6, 2019

News Analysis

Rumors have been circulating for years that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has developed small satellites with robotic arms that could be used as anti-satellite weapons. A recently declassified Chinese report details these systems but brands them as research tools.

Since 2008, the CCP has been developing the weapons, which have dual uses for both military and scientific purposes. The weapons also include artificial intelligence, according to South China Morning Post.

It notes some of the smaller satellites are lighter than 22 pounds, yet have a triple-eye sensor to gauge the shapes of targets and can adjust their speed and rotation, allowing them to grab objects within a distance of six inches, using a single robotic arm.

“The scavenger satellite then fires up thrusters and steers the junk so that it can burn up while plunging through the atmosphere,” it states. “In military scenarios, they could remain attached to debris to avoid being tracked from the ground.”

It refers to the anti-satellite weapons as “scavenger satellites” and says the CCP has launched at least 10 of them over the past 10 years.

Given the CCP’s track record of using disinformation, the public numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but the fact that the regime is acknowledging the existence of such controversial weapons is significant.

It’s possible that the CCP is releasing information on these weapons at a time when the United States under President Donald Trump is beginning to take space warfare more seriously and is weighing the launch of a new Space Force as a new military branch.

Releasing the information allows the CCP to frame the perceptions around it—and so far, the reporting shows the regime is trying to brand its space weapons program as having peaceful intentions and as being similar to those of other nations.

The existence of the CCP’s anti-satellite “scavenger satellite” weapons was confirmed by Chinese researchers last month, notes South China Morning Post. It attributes the confirmation to Luo Jianjun, deputy director of the National Laboratory of Space Flight Dynamics Technology at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian, Shaanxi Province.

It adds that while the CCP partly declassified the program recently, “most details remained secret because of the technology’s potential military applications.” It quotes Luo stating, “We prefer not to talk about it publicly.”

Assassin’s Mace

The CCP has been testing anti-satellite weapons since at least 2005, yet made headlines in 2007 when, without warning, it destroyed its Feng Yun I-C weather satellite with a missile. The action sent more than 3,000 pieces of debris barreling through low-earth orbit. The CCP was then barred from working with NASA.

The details in the new report suggest the CCP began working on more subtle anti-satellite weapons after its controversial 2007 test. Rather than destroy satellites in orbit and create debris that can damage other assets in orbit, it created systems with robotic arms that can latch onto and destroy targeted satellites.

For the CCP, space weapons like these play a major role in its military strategies against the United States. They’re part of its so-called “Assassin’s Mace,” or “Trump Card,” program, which is designed to destroy the systems at the backbone of the U.S. military, such as satellites for GPS, communications systems, and weapons targeting.

“These modern Trump Card and Assassin’s Mace weapons will permit China’s low-technology forces to prevail over U.S. high-technology forces in a localized conflict,” states a 2011 report from the National Ground Intelligence Center.

In addition to these systems, the CCP has operated secret military bases for anti-satellite weapons and electromagnetic pulse systems. Retired Indian Army Col. Vinayak Bhat, who specializes in satellite image analysis focused on China, recently published his discovery of satellite images showing several of these bases in China.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Joshua Philipp
Joshua Philipp
Joshua Philipp is an award-winning investigative reporter with The Epoch Times and host of EpochTV's "Crossroads" program. He is a recognized expert on unrestricted warfare, asymmetrical hybrid warfare, subversion, and historical perspectives on today’s issues. His 10-plus years of research and investigations on the Chinese Communist Party, subversion, and related topics give him unique insight into the global threat and political landscape.